This section provides only basic information about the juvenile court process. Make sure you talk to a lawyer if your child has been arrested. Click for help finding a lawyer. If you want more information about the case against your child and the case is in juvenile court, your child’s juvenile court case file is confidential. Certain parties directly connected to the case may have access to a juvenile court file, as do the lawyers involved. In certain circumstances, the court may order access to a juvenile court file. If the case is in family court, the file is not confidential and can be obtained through the court clerk’s office.
Filing of the Petition
A petition asks the court to get involved. It says what the state thinks your child did. It is the judge’s job to decide if the petition is true.
There are 2 kinds of petitions:
- 601 Petition. The probation department files this petition.
It says that a child ran away, skipped school, broke curfew, or disobeyed his or her parents — things that are only against the law because they are done by children. If the judge decides the petition is true, the child can become a “ward” of the court and be called a “status offender.”
- 602 Petition. The District Attorney’s Office files this petition.
It says that a child did something that would still be a crime if he or she was 18 or older. This can be a felony, like car theft, drug sales, rape, or murder. Or a misdemeanor, like assault or drunk driving. If the judge decides the petition is true, the child becomes a “ward” of the court as a “delinquent.” The punishment depends on what the child did.
You have the right to get a copy of the petition. It says what your child is accused of. It does not mean your child is guilty. Make sure you read the petition carefully so you know what your child is being charged with.
Once you receive the petition, you will also receive a notice that tells you about first hearing, called a “detention hearing.”
- If your child is 8 years old or older, he or she will also get a notice.
- If your child is locked up, you will get the notice at least 5 days before the hearing.
- If your child is not locked up, you will get the petition and a notice at least 10 days before the hearing.
- If the hearing is less than 5 days after the petition is filed, you will get the notice at least 24 hours before the hearing.
Hearings in Juvenile Court
There are 7 types of hearings your child may have in juvenile court:
- Detention hearing
If your child is locked up for more than 2 days, he or she will have a detention hearing within 3 court days. (A court day is a day the court is open.) The judge will decide if your child can go home before the next hearing.
- The pretrial or settlement conference
In many counties, there is a court date to try to solve the problem without a trial.
- Hearings on motions
These are court dates to work out different things. Motion hearings can come up at any time during the case.
- Fitness or waiver hearing
This is a hearing to decide if your child will be tried as an adult. If the judge decides that your child is “unfit” for juvenile court, he or she will be tried in adult court. This will not happen if your child is under 14 when he or she committed the crime.
- Jurisdiction hearing
This is when the judge decides if your child committed the crime.
- Disposition hearing
If the judge decides your child committed the crime, there will be a disposition hearing to decide how to punish your child. This can be on the same day as the jurisdiction hearing. If the judge says your child did not commit the crime, there will be no disposition hearing.
- Review hearings
Sometimes there are hearings to see how your child is doing in his placement.
For these hearings:
- You must go to the hearings.
- The judge will decide what is best for your child. If you can prove to the court that your child listens to you and follows your rules, the judge may let your child go home with you.
- The judge may ask you questions or you may be a witness in the case.
- You can ask to talk to the judge. But the lawyer will speak for your child and the district attorney will speak for the state.
- Your child has the right to have an interpreter. You may be able to have one, too. If you need an interpreter, ask the court for one before the hearing date.
See Going to Court to read more information about how to prepare for a court hearing.
Often a child will admit to doing some of what he or she is accused of. The lawyer will talk to your child about what he or she should say in court.
If there is a trial (disposition hearing), the district attorney will make a case against your child. Then your child’s lawyer will present the defense. The judge will then decide if your child did what he or she is accused of.
If there is enough evidence to find that your child did what he or she is accused of, the judge will make a “true finding.” Then the judge will set a time for a disposition hearing to decide on your child’s punishment. (The disposition hearing can be scheduled for later on the same day as the jurisdiction hearing.)
If there is not enough evidence to say your child committed the crime, the case will be dismissed. If this happens, your child will be set free and released from lockup.
The judge can order 1 of 6 things:
- Your child may be ordered to stay at home with probation supervision for up to 6 months.
- Your child may be ordered to go home with formal supervision from a probation officer. The judge will set up the formal supervision.
- Your child may be put on probation and have to live with a relative, in a foster home or group home, or in an institution.
- Your child may be put on probation and sent to a probation camp or ranch.
- Your child may be sent to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice. If your child is tried in adult court, he or she can be sent to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Click to find out when your child may be tried as an adult.
- You may be ordered to do things, like go to counseling or parent training.
The victim can go to the disposition hearing and speak to the court. The victim (and the parents if the victim is a child) will get a notice about the hearing.
The Probation Officer’s Report and Responsibilities
The probation officer will write a report to tell the judge about your child. The judge will get this report at the disposition hearing.
- Says what the probation officer thinks should happen if your child is guilty;
- Has a copy of your child’s arrest record;
- Talks about what your child did;
- Has statements from your child, your family, and other people who know your child well;
- Has a school report; and
- Has a statement from the victim.
If your child is put on probation, the probation officer will enforce the court’s orders. The officer will keep an eye on your child to make sure he or she obeys the law and follows the terms of probation. The officer will try to get your child involved in school and community programs, and in job training or counseling. The officer may meet with your child once a month or up to twice a week.
If the judge decides your child should not go home, the probation officer must find a place for your child to live. This can be with a relative, in a foster home or group home, or in an institution.
If your child is put in a group home or probation camp, or is sent to the California Department of the Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice:
- Stay in touch with your child (ask the probation officer about when you can see your child).
- Be supportive of the good things your child is doing.
- Understand what is going on in your child’s life so you can support and protect your child when he or she returns home.
- Learn how to make your child responsible for his or her behavior.