Criminal behavior can begin at a very early age, but because a person is not considered mentally and physically developed until age 18, California has a separate justice system dedicated to the punishment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. Unlike punishment in the adult criminal system, the goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate youthful offenders. Therefore, several alternatives may be available to rehabilitate juveniles without being formally “convicted” of crime.

There are three types of juvenile cases that a minor may be involved, which include a status offense, delinquency offense, or a juvenile being tried as an adult.


A status offense is found when the act would be legal, if the individual was an adult. For example, when a minor is truant from school or violates curfew. However, such offenses can be more serious such as those involving alcohol.

For instance, in California, a juvenile is generally prohibited from driving with a 0.01% blood alcohol level until he or she reaches the age of 21. California Vehicle Code section 23136.


A delinquency offense is any act that would be a crime regardless of the age of the person who committed it. For example, if a juvenile commits an act of vandalism, found in possession of a controlled substance, or gets into a fight, then the crime can be charged as a delinquency offense.


A delinquency or status offense case will proceed through three primary stages, which include the detention hearing, the jurisdictional hearing, and the disposition hearing.

The detention hearing takes place if the defendant is being held in juvenile hall. At this hearing, the juvenile defendant may enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The judge may decide to release the juvenile in the custody of the parents or legal guardian if the judge determines the minor is not a serious risk to the community. However, the judge has the discretion to keep the juvenile in custody if there is a serious risk to society.

In a delinquency proceeding, the court determines whether the facts as charged against the juvenile are true. The juvenile does not have a constitutional right to a jury trial or bail because this is not a “criminal” proceeding. Instead, the juvenile court judge, in a bench trial, is the finder of fact and law. On the other hand, like an adult trial, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, the defendant is entitled to be represented by an attorney, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to assert the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

If the juvenile defendant is found guilty, the judge is said to have “sustained the People’s petition,” and the case will proceed to a disposition hearing for determination of a sentence. Typical sentences in juvenile cases involve serving time in juvenile hall, as well as fines. In most cases, the court will hold the parents liable to pay the fines for their child’s conduct.


Under Proposition 21, California law permits a juvenile over the age of 16 to be tried as an adult for any crime under the court’s discretion. Between the ages of 14-16, the juvenile can only be tried as an adult for serious violent or sex-related crimes, such as

  • Murder with special circumstances (if the minor personally killed the victim);

  • Rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm;

  • Spousal rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm;

  • Forcible sex in concert with another;

  • Lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14 with force, violence, or threat of great bodily injury;

  • Forcible sexual penetration; and

  • Sodomy or oral copulation by force, violence, or threat of great bodily injury.

Before a juvenile can be tried as an adult, the court must make a determination of his or her fitness to stand trial as an adult. The decision will turn on whether the treatment, training, and care programs of the juvenile system would be effective in rehabilitating the minor, and whether the court believes these programs would be able to reasonably deter the minor from future criminal behavior. This involves reviewing multiple factors concerning the case and the defendant’s circumstances, including:

  • The gravity of the offense and the circumstances of the case;

  • The minor’s degree of criminal sophistication;

  • Whether rehabilitation could be achieved prior to the expiration of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction;

  • History of delinquency; and

  • Whether past attempts at rehabilitating the minor by the juvenile court have been effective.

If the court determines that the juvenile must be tried as an adult, the case will be moved into the adult court system, and, if found guilty, the defendant can be punished in the same manner that an adult would be punished for the crime he or she committed.


Assuming the minor is tried in the juvenile system, there are a variety of available punishments for status and delinquency offenses. The punishment of these crimes is generally intended to correct the behavior of the offender and teach them to be productive members of society before they reach adulthood. These punishments can include:

  • Probation;

  • Restitution to the victim;

  • Fines;

  • Community service;

  • Time in a correctional facility or Juvenile Hall;

  • Placement in a foster home;

  • Training programs; and

  • Secured detention in the Division of Juvenile Justice (formally California Youth Authority).​


Juvenile records can be sealed, which means that the criminal record that was acquired before the age of 18 can be erased from public records. This prevents the record from being discovered by a background check for employment, and allows an applicant with a juvenile record to deny its existence without penalty. The records of any arrest without a charge or conviction can also be sealed.

The process of sealing a juvenile record is not automatic, and certain types of offenses are ineligible to be sealed, such as murder, arson, robbery, carjacking, many sex offenses, and any other violent felonies. To seal a record, the juvenile must file a petition with the juvenile court in the county he or she was convicted, and meet the following criteria:

  • Be 18 years of age or older;

  • Have no misdemeanor or felony convictions as an adult involving a crime of moral turpitude (dishonest or immoral behavior);

  • Convince a court that he or she is rehabilitated; and

  • Have no pending civil litigation as a result of the juvenile criminal acts.

At the Law Office of Brett Parker Davison, we understand the particular needs of the juvenile client and work diligently to preserve their future. We work extensively with your family to help you understand and repair the underlying problem, not just deal with the current charges. We evaluate the circumstances of each case, keeping our client’s freedom as our first priority. Call today for a free consultation!