San Diego Juvenile Crimes Attorney

San Diego juvenile crimes attorneyAfter receiving a call that your child has been arrested, your first instinct may be to let them be taken to juvenile detention so they can “learn a lesson.” Unfortunately, such a decision could have many unintended consequences. When a teen or young adult is sent to a juvenile detention facility—or someplace worse—they are likely to be exposed to other youth who may have serious emotional and/or psychological problems or who are victims of child abuse.

The best action you can take once you receive that call is to immediately call an experienced San Diego juvenile crimes attorney. Even for less serious crimes, a skilled criminal lawyer can advocate strongly for your child, maximizing the chances for a positive outcome. Attorney Vikas Bajaj has over 15 years experience helping families who find themselves in the juvenile criminal system. Contact the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC today for a free consultation.

Consequences of  a Juvenile Crimes Conviction

A criminal conviction could have an extremely negative impact on your child’s ability to attend college, obtain student loans or financial aid, find employment or housing, maintain a valid driver’s license, obtain a professional license, or even join a branch of the military. 

In other words, your child’s arrest, which is certainly a bad situation, can become infinitely worse, should you fail to take immediate action on your child’s behalf. 

Understanding the Juvenile Crimes Process in San Diego

San Diego County has two maximum security juvenile detention centers and two minimum security detention centers. The maximum security centers are:

The minimum security centers are:

After your child has been arrested in San Diego County, the arresting officer may decide to take the child to juvenile hall. If so, the child will be taken to Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Center, at which time a probation officer will decide if the minor should be released to a guardian or parent or kept in custody. Due to limited space, only the most serious offenders are kept in juvenile hall.

After the minor is taken to juvenile hall, a probation officer has 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) to request a “petition filing” by the district attorney’s office. The district attorney then has 48 hours to file charges, which then would require the minor to answer to those charges in Juvenile Court.

Detention Hearing

While the minor is in juvenile hall, the probation officer can either release the minor or request that the minor stay in custody. If the latter, a detention hearing must be held the following day after the “petition filing” occurs. Probation officers typically request to keep a minor in custody for the following reasons:

  • The minor has previously violated a court order,
  • The minor has escaped from the commitment of the Juvenile Court,
  • The minor is a flight risk, or
  • It is necessary for the protection of someone’s person or property.

It is a good idea to retain an experienced criminal lawyer prior to the detention hearing so that your child will have competent representation.

Charged as an Adult vs. Charged as a Juvenile

In certain cases, the prosecution may push to charge the child as an adult, which can vastly increase the penalties and consequences. Because many juvenile crimes can be handled in either juvenile or adult court—depending on the age of the child and the nature of the offense—as a parent you will want to do everything in your power to prevent your child from being tried in adult court.

There are certain crimes for which minors 14 and older will be charged as an adult. Those crimes include:

  • Murder with special circumstances, and
  • Rape with force or violence, spousal rape with force or violence, or forcible sex in concert with another if the prosecutor claims the minor personally committed the offense and there are other extenuating circumstances.

There is a long list of crimes for which your child could be charged either as an adult or a juvenile. There are 30 crimes listed in Section 707(b) which can be tried either in adult or juvenile court. Some of those crimes include:

  • Murder or attempted murder;
  • Arson which caused bodily injury;
  • Rape or sodomy with violence or force;
  • Kidnapping for ransom or with bodily harm;
  • Assault with a firearm;
  • Assault with a destructive device;
  • Assault which produces serious bodily injury;
  • The manufacture, compounding or sales of one-half ounce or more of salt or solution of a controlled substance, and
  • Any violent felony in violation of Penal Code 186.22(b), criminal street gang sentencing enhancement. 

Fitness Hearing

Courts will sometimes hold a “fitness hearing” which will determine whether the juvenile will be transferred to the adult court system. The factors involved in this determination include:

  • How criminally sophisticated the juvenile is;
  • Whether the juvenile has prior criminal offenses;
  • Whether there have been prior attempts to rehabilitate the juvenile;
  • The seriousness of the current offense;
  • The criminal sophistication of the juvenile, and
  • Whether the court believes future attempts at rehabilitation will be successful.

Juvenile Delinquency Court

San Diego juvenile court handles felony and misdemeanor crimes allegedly committed by minors, as well as status offenses such as truancy and curfew violations. San Diego County has five juvenile courts. Juvenile delinquency proceedings may be referred to as Section 602 proceedings; in a 602 proceeding there are defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys and judges, but no juries.

Juveniles are not found “guilty” or “innocent” in juvenile court. The equivalent of a guilty verdict is known as “petition sustained” or a “true finding,” and the a not guilty verdict is “petition denied.”

Disposition Hearing

If your child is “found guilty,” then a disposition hearing is held, which is the equivalent of a “sentencing hearing” for adults. At this hearing, the judge will determine the appropriate punishment for the minor. 

For more information on the process, see the San Diego County Superior Court’s Delinquency Proceeding Chart.

San Diego Penalties for Juvenile Crimes

Even though the goal of the San Diego juvenile justice system is rehabilitation, this in no way means your child will receive no punishment if convicted of the crime he or she is charged with. Some of the sanctions associated with more minor juvenile crimes (when the juvenile is not charged as an adult) include:

  • Fines and/or restitution to the victim;
  • Community service;
  • Commitment to a juvenile detention center;
  • Commitment to a juvenile camp or ranch;
  • Attendance in a victim impact class;
  • Foster home placement;
  • Probation, and
  • Parole, following time in juvenile detention.

If probation is ordered, the juvenile may be bound by the following restrictions: mandatory attendance at school, restrictions on curfew, counseling for substance or alcohol abuse, prohibitions from spending time with certain people, community service and restitution.

Rehabilitation Rather Than Punishment for San Diego Juveniles

Juveniles are supposed to receive the education, treatment and services they require in order to move past their crime and become a productive citizen, and, unlike adult court which has a purpose of punishment, juveniles are supposed to be rehabilitated. While the stated goal of the courts is to rehabilitate rather than seeking severe punishments for juveniles, this may not always be the reality.

Prosecutors may want to make an example of your child, treating him or her as an adult, and significantly increasing the criminal penalties for the crime. In many cases, one of the most crucial junctures in the juvenile proceeding is the preliminary hearing, which could determine whether your child will be charged as an adult or the case will be returned to juvenile court. Having a knowledgeable San Diego juvenile crimes attorney by your side during this hearing can make all the difference in the outcome.

San Diego Juvenile Crimes Facts

A 2013 report found that the number of juveniles behind bars in the U.S. has actually decreased more than 40 percent since 1995. Even so, the United States still leads the industrialized world in the rate at which juveniles are incarcerated and California is among the top twelve states for juvenile incarceration. In San Diego in particular, recidivism appears to be a significant problem, with 31 percent of the juveniles on probation in 2011 reoffending.

The number of juvenile crimes is intertwined with juvenile curfew:

  • More juvenile crimes happen outside of curfew hours;
  • The number of curfew arrests for juveniles in San Diego has increased 112% between 2007 and 2010, and
  • Gang violence is the primary reason for the increased enforcement of San Diego’s 10:00 p.m. curfew for juveniles.

Police believe physically removing minors from San Diego streets at night will prevent them from being perpetrators of crimes or victims of crime.

Types of Crimes Your Juvenile Could Be Charged With

Offenses which are unique to juveniles include truancy and breaking curfew, however most crimes committed by an adult can also be committed by a juvenile. These crimes include the following:

  • Simple assault;
  • Trespassing;
  • Shoplifting;
  • Theft;
  • Burglary;
  • Drug charges;
  • DUI;
  • Underage drinking;
  • Computer crimes;
  • Rape;
  • Sexting;
  • Underage drinking;
  • Assault with a deadly weapon

Obviously, some of these crimes are much more serious than others. A conviction for a sex crime could leave your child with the requirement of registering as a sex offender, which, in turn, could completely derail his or her dreams for the future. It is a mistake to believe you don’t need to call an attorney if your child is charged with a less serious crime—such as underage drinking—a conviction for any criminal offense can change your child’s life in ways that are both negative, and, in some cases, permanent. 

Problems Associated with the San Diego Juvenile Justice System

While the objectives of the juvenile court system may be noble, in reality, the system has some fairly public failures. The state of California has experienced significant troubles associated with the juvenile court justice system, including a 2003 lawsuit which alleged appalling conditions at the California Youth Authority such as:

  • Children being confined in cells for as long as 23 hours each day;
  • Children being locked in cages while attending “school”;
  • Excessive use of force, including children being sprayed with mace while restrained;
  • No provisions for mental or medical health services for the juveniles;
  • The use of psychotropic medications as a method of control, and
  • Exposure of juveniles to gang-related violence.

Why You Need a Proactive, Aggressive San Diego Juvenile Crimes Attorney

It is crucial to have an aggressive San Diego juvenile crimes attorney by your child’s side from start to finish. Your attorney can insist the prosecution take a reasonable approach to the charges, taking your child’s age into consideration, and ensuring any potential sentence is truly focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Following a comprehensive evaluation of the charges facing your child, your attorney can clearly lay out your options, and will work on your child’s behalf to ensure he or she faces the least amount of long-term consequences possible.

Many children are simply not aware of the magnitude of their actions and don’t deserve a severe sentence. Other juveniles may need medication or a therapist to help with their impulse control problems, while still others could suffer from learning disabilities which contributes to their poor choices. Yet the juvenile justice system in the state of California can be overly aggressive with these juveniles, which is why an experienced juvenile defense attorney is so important. Call Vikas Bajaj today for a free consultation.