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Are Children Ever Charged With Crimes in California?

As frightening as the justice system can be for an adult, it is often much worse for children. In recognition of this, California courts treat children charged with crimes very differently from adults, who have separate courts, detention facilities, laws, as well as rules and procedures. Unlike adults, who are “tried” and later “convicted” if found guilty, children are “adjudicated” and the “petition is sustained.” While the criminal justice system prioritizes punishing adult offenders, it instead emphasizes treatment and rehabilitation among child offenders. If your child was charged with a crime, read the following to inform yourself and contact a Tehema County juvenile crimes lawyer today.

How the State Categorizes Children Charged with Crimes

Like adults, children can be charged with misdemeanors and even felonies. However, children are placed in one of four categories specific to them, depending on the severity of the crime involved and the attitude of the child.

Informal probationers are children accused of less serious offenses. Probation officers often have a great deal of flexibility in how to approach these cases. Typically these children receive assistance regarding substance abuse and mental health, and may be placed in crisis shelters or other services.

Status offenders are children accused of more serious crimes, that are nevertheless still considered offenses unique to children. These include curfew violations, truancy, and incorrigibility. Status offenders might be placed on formal probation, but they will not be detained or incarcerated with the next category, criminal offenders.

Criminal offender is the court-designated category for children who have committed adult-like crimes. Juvenile courts have jurisdiction over criminal offenders. Criminal offenders can be placed on formal probation and detained before or after their adjudication at a county ranch or by the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), formerly known as the California Youth Authority.

Juveniles remanded to superior court are children who courts believe are not fit for adjudication in juvenile court. This would include 16- and 17-year-olds who are accused of one of 30 serious felonies, as well as children 14 or above if they have committed murder.

How the State Categorizes Crimes Committed by Children

While there are different categories for children and adults who commit crimes, the crimes themselves belong to the same categories, regardless of the offender’s age.

This means that even children can be convicted of the most serious crimes. These crimes are called felonies and include violent crimes, sex offenses, and drug and property violations.

Misdemeanors—such as assault and battery, petty theft, and public drunkenness—are less serious crimes. Offenders may face probation, county detention at a juvenile facility, or a fine. Children accused of a misdemeanor may also face a combination of the aforementioned penalties.

The least serious offenses are called infractions and are typically punishable by a fine. Infractions include, for example, many motor vehicle violations.

Finally, wobblers are crimes that can be charged either as misdemeanors or as infractions, depending on the discretion of the probation officer.

Should I Seek Legal Counsel if My Child Is Charged with a Crime?

Though children accused of crimes aren’t treated the same as adults, they still face an often daunting criminal justice system. Don’t hesitate to contact a lawyer like Gregg Cohen, who has handled many serious juvenile cases as both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer.

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