Juvenile Delinquency

If your child is involved in a juvenile delinquency case that means he or she is accused of breaking the law.

The court will consider how old your child is, how serious the crime is, and the child’s criminal record if any. The court can order that:

  • Your child live with you under court supervision.
  • Your child be put on probation. He or she may have to live with a relative, in a foster home or group home, or in an institution.
  • Your child be put on probation and sent to a probation camp or ranch.
  • Your child can be sent to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice (also called “DJJ”). If your child is tried in adult court, he or she will be sent to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Adult Operations (also called “CDCR”).

If your child is sent to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), he or she will go to a “reception center” for the first 30 to 90 days. The center will find out what education and treatment your child needs. Then your child will go a correctional facility or youth camp.

Find the DJJ’s reception centers.

When a Minor Is Arrested

If your child is arrested, the police can:

  1. Make a record of the arrest and let your child go home.
  2. Send your child to an agency that will shelter, care for, or counsel your child.
  3. Make your child come back to the police station. This is called being “cited back.”
  4. Give you and your child a Notice to Appear. Read the notice and do what it says.
  5. Put your child in juvenile hall (this is called “detention”). Your child can make at least 2 phone calls within 1 hour of being arrested. One call must be to a parent, guardian, relative, or boss. The other call must be to a lawyer.

If the police want to talk to your child about what happened, the police must tell your child about his or her legal rights (called “Miranda rights”), which are:

  • Your child has the right to remain silent.
  • Anything your child says will be used against him or her in court.
  • Your child has the right to a lawyer. If you or your child cannot pay for one, the court will appoint one.

Children who are 15 year old or younger must be allowed to talk to a lawyer before they talk to the police or give up their Miranda rights.

Your child has the right to a lawyer who is effective and prepared. If you cannot pay for a lawyer, the court will get a lawyer for your child. If your child does not have a lawyer, talk to the public defender or another lawyer for advice.

You have rights, too. The police must also tell you as soon as your child is locked up. They have to tell you where your child is and what rights he or she has. But you probably will not need your own lawyer.

Getting a Notice to Appear
Read the Notice to Appear carefully. It will probably tell you to go to the probation department to meet with a probation officer. Click here to find the local probation department.

Four things can happen at the meeting. The probation officer may:

  1. Lecture your child and let him or her go home.
  2. Let your child do a voluntary program instead of going to court. The program could be special classes, counseling, community service, or other activities. If your child finishes the program, he or she will not have to go to court. You may have to sign a contract that says what the child has to do. The contract can last 6 months.
  3. Send your child home and send the case to the district attorney. The district attorney will decide to file a petition (papers that mean that your child will have to go to court) or not.
  4. Keep your child locked up and send the case to the district attorney. The district attorney will then file a petition, usually within 2 days after the arrest. Your child will have a detention hearing on the next day the court is open. The court is closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

If a petition is filed in court, your child’s case will be filed in the juvenile delinquency court.

Trying minors in adult court
Keep in mind that, in some cases, minors can be tried as adults. The three-strikes law says that some serious or violent crimes committed by minors can count as strikes in the future. This can happen even if the records are sealed.

A child who is 14 years old can be tried in adult court for some serious crimes.

Here are some examples:

  • Murder and attempted murder,
  • Setting fire to a building with people in it,
  • Robbery with a weapon,
  • Rape,
  • Kidnapping or carjacking,
  • Crimes with guns,
  • Drug crimes, and
  • Escaping from a juvenile detention facility.

There are big differences between juvenile court and adult court. If the state wants to try your child as an adult, talk to a lawyer about what can happen. Click for help finding a lawyer.

If your child is tried in adult court, he or she child can be sent to adult prison (CDCR). If your child is tried in adult court, talk to a lawyer.

Even if your child is sentenced to adult prison, he or she will stay at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)  until he or she is at least 18.

If your child is at least 18, the judge can send him or her directly to adult prison. Or if your child’s sentence ends before he or she turns 21, the judge can let him or her stay at the DJJ the whole time. If the sentence is longer, your child will go to the CDCR on his or her 18th birthday.

Parental responsibilities when your child is arrested
As a parent (or guardian) you have legal responsibilities. You may also have financial responsibilities for any damage caused by your child. You may have to pay the victim if the court orders “restitution.” Restitution is money to compensate for losses or damage caused by your child. For example, you may have to pay for what your child stole, or for the victim’s medical bills or lost wages.

You can also ask the probation officer where to get help. You can also get help from your local school district, hospitals, or the mental health department. And it is always a good idea to talk to a lawyer for help. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Rights and Role of Victims in the Juvenile Court Process

As a victim of crime, you have rights. You have a right to information and a right to participate in the court process. To learn about these rights, read Your Rights and Role in the Juvenile Court Process: Information for Victims.

For more information, read Victims Rights and Services, as well as different resources, information, and forms provided by the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services - Juvenile Services Unit.

You also may be able to recover for some of your losses. You can ask the court to order someone to pay “restitution.” Read Restitution Basics for Victims of Offenses by Juveniles to find out more. And the State Restitution Fund is also be available for crime victims.

Contact the Victim Witness Assistance Center in your county for help.

There are court forms and instructions that can help if you decide to file for an order for restitution:

Click for more information and resources for victims of crimes.

Centro de ayuda


Juvenile Delinquency Orientation Video
This video is designed to help youth, their parents, and victims of juvenile crime understand delinquency court.
13 Minutes

California Self-Help and Family Law Facilitator Locations

Interactive Google map listing of Self Help Centers and Family Law Facilitators
Click for interactive Google map listing of Self Help Centers and Family Law Facilitator locations, or click for a printer-friendly directory.