Los Angeles Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney

How to win a juvenile criminal case.  Learn from juvenile defense attorney and former prosecutor Aaron Spolin, of Spolin Law.

    1. How to Win in Juvenile Court
    2. What is Juvenile Delinquency?
    3. Punishments for Juvenile Crimes
    4. Timeline of a Case
    5. The Importance of the Juvenile Attorney

    How to Win in Juvenile Court

    If the state of California believes that your minor child has committed a crime, it will bring a juvenile delinquency proceeding in juvenile court. The juvenile delinquency process is separate from the criminal process for adults, but is just as serious. A juvenile court’s judgment can have a lasting impact on your child’s life, for good or ill.

    Winning in juvenile court requires the help of an experienced juvenile delinquency attorney, who is familiar with the process and can work quickly to bring your child’s case to a successful resolution. Spolin Law—led by former prosecutor Aaron Spolin—takes some of the following steps to successfully fight and win juvenile cases:

    • Get out of jail (juvenile hall) during the course of the case. When a juvenile delinquency petition is filed, the minor accused of a crime is often held in custody. The juvenile court must hold a detention hearing to determine whether the minor can be released as the case progresses. Obtaining a release minimizes the disruption to your family. See below, “Detention Hearing.”
    • Avoid transfer to adult court. In some cases, a minor who is at least 14 years old can be tried in criminal court as an adult. The penalties in criminal court are much greater than those in juvenile court and can include life in prison. Avoiding transfer to adult court is therefore critical to your child’s success. See below, “Can a Juvenile Be Tried as an Adult?”
    • Alternatives to state custody. Juvenile courts have many options in dealing with minors who have committed a crime, ranging from unsupervised probation to drug treatment programs, to confinement in a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility. An experienced defense lawyer can help convince the court to choose a less onerous punishment. See below, “Dispositions in Juvenile Court.”
    • Rehabilitate the juvenile. Unlike the criminal process for adults, the purpose of the juvenile delinquency system is not to punish the defendant, but to rehabilitate him or her to be a law-abiding member of society. A good attorney can change the outcome of a juvenile court case by showing the court how the juvenile can be reformed.

    Spolin Law is led by a former prosecutor. The firm defends juveniles accused of crimes.

    • Win the juvenile trial (called a “jurisdiction hearing”). Winning at the jurisdiction hearing is the ultimate goal of many juveniles accused of a crime. This can be accomplished by showing the court that the prosecution hasn’t proved its case, or by presenting enough evidence to show an applicable legal defense.

    Juvenile defense attorney and former prosecutor Aaron Spolin, of Spolin Law, has a track record of success handling juvenile cases.  While prior success does not guarantee a similar outcome on a future case, the firm provides free consultations.  To speak with Mr. Spolin, call (310) 424-5816.

    1. How to Win in Juvenile Court
    2. What is Juvenile Delinquency?
    3. Punishments for Juvenile Crimes
    4. Timeline of a Case
    5. The Importance of the Juvenile Attorney

    What is Juvenile Delinquency?

    Juvenile delinquency is the commission of a crime by a minor. Rather than prosecuting minors in the same way it does adults, California has established the juvenile courts as a special type of court to hear juvenile delinquency cases.

    Such cases are different from adult criminal prosecutions in several ways. Juvenile delinquency cases progress more quickly than criminal cases. Some aspects of the criminal process—like bail and trial by jury—are not present in juvenile delinquency cases.

    In addition, the penalties available in juvenile court are generally less severe than in criminal cases. For example, when an adult commits a gang-related robbery, he or she could be incarcerated for more than 30 years. However, some minor crimes can carry higher punishments in juvenile court.

    In contrast, the juvenile court’s jurisdiction normally ends when the minor turns 21. If the minor committed certain types of crimes and was held by the DJJ, the court’s jurisdiction lasts until he or she turns 23 (or 25, if committed before July 1, 2012), although it may be extended further for dangerous individuals at the request of the DJJ.

    Even the terminology used in juvenile court differs from that in adult court. Below is a comparison of terms used in juvenile court and their more familiar counterparts from adult criminal court:

      Criminal Court Juvenile Court
    Defendant pleads . . . “Guilty”/“Not Guilty” “Admit”/“Deny”
    Trial is called . . . “Trial” “Jurisdiction Hearing”
    A prosecution win is called . . . “Guilty Verdict”/


    “True Finding”/

    “Petition Sustained”

    Punishment is called . . . “Sentence” “Disposition”


    Can a Juvenile Be Tried as an Adult?

    Since the passage of Proposition 57 in November 2016, all charges against minors must initially be filed in juvenile court. However, the prosecutor can file a motion to transfer the case to adult court if:

    • The juvenile is at least 16 years old and accused of a felony; or
    • The juvenile is 14 or 15 years old and accused of a crime listed in & Inst. Code § 707(b).

    The court will consider the following factors in deciding whether to grant the prosecution’s transfer motion:

    • The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor.
    • Whether the minor can be rehabilitated before the juvenile court’s jurisdiction expires.
    • The minor’s previous delinquent history.
    • The success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor.
    • The circumstances and gravity of the offense alleged.

    What are Your Rights in a Juvenile Delinquency Case?

    Although juvenile delinquency cases are not technically criminal prosecutions, both the minor and his or her parents or guardians are guaranteed certain rights similar to the rights of a criminal defendant. The minor’s rights include:

    • The right to counsel. A minor is entitled to be represented by an attorney in juvenile court. If he or she cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one.
    • The right against self-incrimination. Like adults, minors have the right to refuse to make self-incriminating statements. They also have the right to a lawyer during any interrogation while in police custody.
    • The right to cross-examine witnesses. Minors in juvenile court have the right to confront and question the prosecution’s witnesses.

    The minor’s parents or guardians also have rights in a juvenile-delinquency case, including:

    • The right to notice. When a petition is filed against a minor in juvenile court, the minor’s parents or guardians must be notified.
    • The right to be present at juvenile court proceedings. Juvenile court cases are generally closed to the public, but the minor’s parents or guardians are entitled to attend.
    • The right to counsel. The minor’s parents or guardians are entitled to be represented by counsel at juvenile court hearings. If they cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for them.

    Punishments for Juvenile Crimes

    If the juvenile court finds the juvenile guilty, it is called a “true finding.” The “true finding” can have both immediate and more long-lasting consequences.

    Dispositions in Juvenile Court

    After finding guilt in juvenile court (called a “true finding), the court will determine a disposition for the minor. Broadly, the court may order one of three dispositions: (1) dismissing the case, (2) temporary probation without wardship, and (3) wardship. In addition, the court can order the minor or his or her parents to pay restitution and fines.

    1. Dismissing the Case – Welf. & Inst. Code § 782

    Even after a “true finding,” the juvenile court can set aside its findings and dismiss the case if it determines that the interests of justice and the welfare of the minor require dismissal or that the minor is not in need of treatment or rehabilitation. An experienced juvenile defense attorney can seek this outcome in any case where the circumstances allow it.

    1. Probation Without Wardship – Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 725, 729.2, 729.10

    The juvenile court can place the minor on probation for up to six months without making him or her a ward of the court. If it does so, it must impose the following conditions on probation:

    • The minor must attend a school program without absence.
    • The parents or guardians must participate in a counseling or education program with the minor.
    • The minor must be at home between 10 P.M. and 6 A.M. unless he or she is accompanied by his or her parents, guardians, or another adult with legal care or custody of the minor.

    If the crime involved was the possession, use, or furnishing of a controlled substance; public intoxication; or possession of alcohol, then the court must also require the minor to successfully complete an alcohol or drug education program.

    If the minor fails to comply with any condition of probation, the court can declare the minor a ward of the court.

    1. Wardship – Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 726 – 731.1

    “Wardship” means that the juvenile court makes a minor its ward, and it will exercise ongoing authority over the minor as if it were his or her parent.

    If the juvenile court makes the minor its ward, several dispositions are available to it, including (1) a juvenile camp, ranch or juvenile hall, (2) various types of probation, or (3) confinement to a DJJ facility.

    The court may allow the minor to continue living at home with his or her parents or guardians by:

    • Placing the minor on unsupervised probation, unless the minor committed a crime listed in Welf. & Inst. Code § 707(b) or (d)(2), Penal Code § 459, or Health & Safety Code § 11350.
    • Placing the minor on supervised probation at home. In doing so, the court may require the parents or guardians of the minor to participate with the minor in a counseling or education program.

    If the court orders the minor to be removed from home, it may:

    • Place the minor in the care, custody, and control of the probation officer. The probation officer may then place the minor with a relative, a foster home, the home of a resource family, or a licensed community care facility.
    • Commit the minor to a juvenile home, ranch, camp, or forestry camp, or, if there is no such facility in the county, to the county juvenile hall.
    • Commit the minor to the DJJ. This option is only available if the minor is at least 11 years old and has committed certain types of crimes.

    In general, before the court can order the minor to be removed from his or her parents’ or guardians’ physical custody, it must find that one of the following is true:

    • The parent or guardian is incapable of providing, or has failed or neglected to provide, maintenance, training, and education for the minor.
    • The minor has failed to reform while on probation in the past.
    • The welfare of the minor requires that custody be taken from his or her parents or guardians.
    1. Restitution and Fines – Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 730.5 – 731

    In addition to the above, following a “true finding,” a juvenile court must require the minor to pay the following:

    • Restitution to the victims in the amount necessary to fully reimburse their economic losses. The court can waive this requirement only if it has compelling and extraordinary reasons to do so.
    • A restitution fine paid to the court. If the crime committed was a felony, the restitution fine must be between $100 and $1,000. If it was a misdemeanor, the restitution fine may not exceed $100. This fine must be imposed regardless of the minor’s inability to pay it.
    • A wardship fine. If the court makes the minor a ward, it may also require the minor to pay a $250 fine and the same fines that could be imposed on an adult for the same offense.

    Importantly, a parent or guardian who has joint or sole custody of the minor is presumed to be jointly and severally liable with the minor for all the above amounts. However, the parent or guardian can be relieved of this obligation if he or she proves an inability to pay.

    Lasting Consequences of a Guilty Verdict (i.e., “True Finding”)

    In addition to the immediate consequences imposed by the juvenile court in its disposition, a “true finding” can have lasting consequences even after the juvenile court’s jurisdiction expires. These include:

    • Three strikes law. California’s three strikes law requires harsher sentences for defendants convicted of certain crimes if they are repeat offenders. A minor who is at least 16 years old and who is found to have committed certain offenses will receive a strike.
    • Registration requirements. A minor may be required to register as a sex offender, arson offender, or gang offender, depending on the crime committed and the disposition given.
    • Firearms restrictions. A minor found to have committed any of several crimes listed in Penal Code § 29820 is prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm until he or she turns 30 years old.

    1. How to Win in Juvenile Court
    2. What is Juvenile Delinquency?
    3. Punishments for Juvenile Crimes
    4. Timeline of a Case
    5. The Importance of the Juvenile Attorney

    The Timeline of a Juvenile Delinquency Case

    The timeline of a juvenile delinquency case is shorter than the timeline for a criminal case. In general, the time between the filing of charges with the juvenile court and the disposition hearing after a “true finding” is limited to 30 calendar days. However, the process involves multiple distinct stages, which are outlined below.

    1. Arrest
    2. Detention Hearing
    3. Arraignment Hearing
    4. Other Pre-Trial Proceedings
    5. The Jurisdiction Hearing (Trial)
    6. The Disposition Hearing (Sentencing)
    7. Subsequent Proceedings
    1. Arrest – Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 625 – 631, 652 – 654

    A police officer may arrest a juvenile without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe the juvenile committed a misdemeanor or felony. After the arrest, the officer can deliver the minor to a probation officer for further processing.

    If the police officer delivers the minor to a probation officer, the police officer must provide a written statement of probable cause. The probation officer will then investigate the circumstances of the arrest and decide whether to release or detain the minor.

    The law requires the probation officer to release the minor unless one of the following is true:

    • Continued detention is a matter of immediate and urgent necessity for the protection of the minor or reasonable necessity for the protection of the person or property of another.
    • The minor is likely to flee the jurisdiction of the court.
    • The minor has violated an order of the juvenile court.

    However, even if the probation officer makes that finding, he may still be required to release the minor on home supervision. A minor on home supervision must agree to certain restrictions, and the law still considers the minor to be detained for purposes of calculating the deadline for a detention hearing, discussed below.

    In addition, the probation officer will decide whether to ask the prosecutor to file a petition in juvenile court. The probation officer may place the minor on informal probation rather than request that a petition be filed. Informal probation can last for up to six months, and may involve conditions agreed to by the minor and his or her parents or guardians.

    Nonetheless, at any time during that six-month period and for 90 days thereafter, the prosecutor may file a petition with the juvenile court against the minor.

    1. Detention Hearing – Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 632, 635; Rules of Ct. 5.756 – 5.762

    If a juvenile has been taken into custody and not been released, then the juvenile court must hold a detention hearing to determine whether the minor will remain in custody while the case progresses.

    The detention hearing must be held as soon as possible. It must be:

    • Within 48 hours after a warrantless arrest for a misdemeanor that didn’t involving violence, a threat of violence, or possession or use of weapons, but only if the minor is not currently on probation or parole; or
    • Before the expiration of the next judicial day after a juvenile court petition is filed.

    If the detention hearing is not held by the applicable deadline, the minor must be released from custody.

    At the detention hearing, the prosecution has the burden of proof for keeping the minor in custody. The court will order the minor to be released from custody unless the prosecution shows that staying in the parent’s or legal guardian’s home is contrary to the child’s welfare and at least one of the following is true:

    • The minor has violated an order of the juvenile court.
    • The minor has escaped from the commitment of the juvenile court.
    • The child is likely to flee the jurisdiction of the court.
    • Custody is a matter of immediate and urgent necessity to protect the child.
    • Custody is reasonably necessary to protect the person or property of another.
    1. Arraignment Hearing – Welf. & Inst. Code § 700; Rules of Ct. 5.778

    At the arraignment hearing, the minor will be informed of his or her rights and the charges in the petition. The arraignment hearing may be combined with the detention hearing if the minor is in custody. After hearing the charges, the minor will be able to enter one of the following pleas:

    • Admit the allegation.
    • Deny the allegation.
    • Plead no contest to the allegation.
    • Deny the allegation by reason of insanity.

    Before the juvenile court can accept an admission or plea of no contest, the judge must be satisfied that the minor understands the nature of the conduct alleged and the consequences of the plea. The minor’s attorney must consent to either plea, and an admission must be made personally by the minor.

    If the minor denies the allegation, then the court must set a date for the jurisdiction hearing. A minor who denies the allegation by reason of insanity can be confined to a mental health facility if he or she was insane at the time the crime was committed.

    1. Other Pre-Trial Proceedings

    Before the trial (i.e., the “jurisdiction hearing”), the court may hold one or more hearings in addition to those just discussed. These include hearings on an insanity plea, a motion to transfer the case to adult criminal court, and a motion to suspend proceedings to determine whether the minor is competent to proceed.

    These can also include hearings on other motions filed by the prosecution or defense attorney. Some of the most important motions a minor’s attorney can make during this time are:

    • Motions to suppress evidence for Fourth Amendment violations, such as evidence obtained during an illegal search.
    • Motions to suppress statements by the minor obtained in violation of the minor’s right against self-incrimination.
    • Motions to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, retaliatory prosecution, or other grounds.
    • Discovery motions that require the prosecution to disclose evidence to the minor’s attorney.

    During this time, the minor’s attorney can also negotiate with the prosecution for a reduction of charges or a plea bargain.

    1. The Jurisdiction Hearing (Trial) – Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 657, 701.1; Rules of Ct. 5.780

    The jurisdiction hearing is the equivalent of trial in a criminal case. If the minor remains in custody, the jurisdiction hearing must be scheduled within 15 court days of the detention hearing. Otherwise, it must be scheduled within 30 calendar days after the case was filed.

    At the jurisdiction hearing, the prosecution will present evidence to the juvenile court judge. If the prosecutor fails to prove his or her allegations against the minor, then the minor’s attorney can move to dismiss the case. If the court denies the motion to dismiss, then the defense attorney can present evidence to rebut the prosecutor’s case.

    To sustain the petition, the court must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the allegations in the petition are true. This is known as a “true finding.”

    1. The Disposition Hearing (Sentencing) – Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 702, 725.5

    If the court makes a “true finding” (i.e., the minor is found guilty), the court will determine the appropriate disposition of the minor. It does this at the disposition hearing, which generally occurs immediately after the jurisdiction hearing. However, the court can postpone it:

    • Until it receives a social study of the minor from the probation officer, if it has not already received one;
    • For up to 10 court days if the minor is detained; or
    • For up to 30 days after the petition was filed if the minor is not detained, and up to an additional 15 days after that if good cause is shown.

    At the disposition hearing, the court will review the disposition recommended by the probation officer in his or her social study, as well as evidence presented by the prosecution and defense attorneys. In coming to its decision, the juvenile court must consider all the following:

    • The minor’s age.
    • The circumstances and gravity of the offense committed by the minor.
    • The minor’s previous delinquent history.
    1. Subsequent Proceedings

    The juvenile court’s disposition order is not necessarily the end of the juvenile delinquency process. After judgment, the following options are available:

    • Appeal. The juvenile court’s judgment can be appealed to the court of appeal within 60 days.
    • Petition for Modification. If there is a change in circumstances or new evidence is discovered, a minor who is a ward of the court, the minor’s parent, or any other person with an interest in the minor may petition the court for a modification of its judgment or termination of its jurisdiction.
    • Sealing of juvenile records. Five years after the juvenile court’s jurisdiction terminates, or any time after the minor turns 18, he or she may petition the court to seal the case records. If the court grants the petition, the law will treat the case as if it never occurred.

    1. How to Win in Juvenile Court
    2. What is Juvenile Delinquency?
    3. Punishments for Juvenile Crimes
    4. Timeline of a Case
    5. The Importance of the Juvenile Attorney

    The Importance of the Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney

    The attorney you choose can make a huge difference on your child’s life.  A skilled, experienced juvenile defense attorney can focus the court on helping and rehabilitating you child (as opposed to a focus on punishment and retribution).

    Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Aaron Spolin

    Juvenile defense attorney and former prosecutor Aaron Spolin, of Spolin Law

    Spolin Law is led by juvenile defense attorney Aaron Spolin, who is also a former Assistant District Attorney.  He has handled a wide array of juvenile cases, from juvenile car theft to juvenile murder charges.

    Spolin Law’s success is based on the steps it takes, including:

    • Investigating the facts and developing a strong defense. Being prepared is the key to winning in juvenile court, but the short timeline leaves little time to find your footing. Spolin Law frequently retains private investigators to thoroughly examine what occurred.
    • Filing motions in court. A juvenile delinquency case can be won or lost long before the prosecution calls its first witness. When appropriate, Spolin Law prepares persuasive written motions seeking to exclude illegal evidence, dismiss the case, and put the law on the child’s side.
    • Retaining experts. Juvenile court judges rely on testimony from child psychologists, counselors, and other outside experts to understand what is best for each minor. In developing a defense for your child, Spolin Law may retain expert witnesses to help demonstrate what outcome is in the juvenile’s best interests.
    • Rebutting the prosecution’s case. The prosecution will work hard to make sure its evidence can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. However, often the prosecution will overlook key evidence or fail to see a weakness in the material they present. An experienced juvenile defense attorney can often rebut the prosecution’s case.
    • Getting admission into rehabilitation programs. The primary goal of juvenile court is rehabilitation, and no judge wants to remove a minor from his or her home if that can be avoided. Spolin Law helps show the court alternatives to confinement that can better serve to reform your child.
    • Working with the court and parents to rehabilitate the minor. Even more important than winning a juvenile delinquency case is making sure your child has the resources necessary to become the best version of him- or herself. Spolin Law works closely with you, the court, and community agencies to help make that happen.

    Spolin Law provides free consultations on all juvenile criminal cases.  If your son, daughter, or relative is facing charges in juvenile court, call us to learn what we can do to fight the case and help the minor.  The firm can be reached at (310) 424-5816.

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