Going to Juvenile Court


When a Petition Is Filed Against Your Child

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 care 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 the first hearing, called the “detention hearing.” (7)

  • 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.

What To Expect in the Courtroom

The judge is in charge of the courtroom. He or she has the power to decide what happens to your child. You and your child should always be respectful in court. The way you speak, act and dress can have a positive or a negative impact on your child’s case.

In Court, You and Your Child Are Expected To

  • Be on time. If you have a problem such as car trouble, call your child’s lawyer as soon as possible, or call a court phone number if one is listed on your child’s court papers.
  • Always show respect when you speak to the judge and others in court. You should call the judge “Your Honor.”
  • Dress neatly. Wear a collared shirt or blouse if you have one, and cover tattoos if you can. Do not wear clothing that is too revealing. Leave hats at home and turn off cell phones.
  • Listen carefully. Do your best to show that you are paying attention and interested in what is happening.

Everything that happens in juvenile court is confidential. This means court hearings are open only to family members, court employees, crime victims, and others approved by a judge. Last names and other information about youths charged with juvenile crimes are private (5).


The Detention Hearing

Stanislaus Count Juvenile Court
2215 Blue Gum Avenue. Modesto, CA 95358

At a detention hearing, the judge decides whether your child can go home or must stay in a juvenile detention center until trial. If your child is locked up for more than 2 days, he or she will have a detention hearing within 3 court days (not including weekends or holidays).

At the detention hearing, the judge will decide if there is “probable cause” to believe the youth committed a crime. This means there is some evidence to make the judge believe the charges could be true. This is not a decision about guilt or innocence.

The judge can order a youth to be held in a juvenile detention center, which is a jail for youths. The judge can also order a youth to be placed on home confinement or electronic monitoring, or to go to a shelter or a residential treatment center.

Your presence in court shows the judge that your child has family support, and could mean that your child will be allowed to go home. If you are willing and able to supervise your child, tell your child’s lawyer how you will help your child follow court rules before trial or sentencing. If you want to speak to the judge, tell your child’s lawyer and let the lawyer ask the judge. Wait for permission from the judge before you speak.

San Joaquin County Juvenile Court
575 W Mathews Road. French Camp, CA 95231

Tell your child’s lawyer if you need help to keep your child at home. Tell your child’s lawyer what your child needs to feel safe, or what you need to keep yourself and other family members safe. You should also tell the lawyer if it is not possible to have your child at home (5).

Court Supervision

The judge can offer your child court supervision, which is a last chance to have the charges dismissed. The judge can order your child to follow rules set by the court for up to 2 years, and be supervised by a probation officer. If your child follows the rules, the charges will be dismissed and there will be no conviction on his or her record. If your child breaks the rules, the court process will continue (5).

If Your Child Is Tried As An Adult

In some cases, a child can be tried as an adult. The three strikes law states that some serious or violent crimes committed by a minor can count as a strike in the future. This can happen even if the records are sealed. Here are some crimes that fall under adult charges:

  • Murder and attempted murder
  • Setting a fire to a building while people are inside
  • Robbery with a weapon
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping and carjacking
  • Crimes with a gun
  • Drug crimes
  • 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. If your child is tried in adult court, he or she can be sent to adult prison.

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 (6).

The Pretrial Hearing

The purpose of the pretrial hearing is to see whether the charges contained in the petition can be settled prior to Jurisdictional Hearing (a.k.a trial). The prosecuting attorney may allow a minor to admit to less serious charges and/or to dismiss charges against the minor in exchange for the minor giving up his or her right to have a Jurisdictional Hearing. As in adult court, a minor is presumed to be innocent of the charges contained in the petition and has the absolute right to require the District Attorney to prove that the charges in the petition are true beyond a reasonable doubt at Jurisdictional Hearing (5).

Jurisdictional Hearing (Trial)

In juvenile court, the trial is called the “jurisdictional hearing.” If your child is “adjudicated delinquent” this means the judge has heard evidence and has decided that your child is guilty. Your child is represented by a defense lawyer at the trial. The lawyer’s job is to protect your child’s rights, to try to prove your child is not guilty, or to get the best plea agreement or sentence for your child.

Before or during the trial, your child can make a plea through his or her lawyer. This means that your child tells the judge that he or she is guilty or not guilty. If your child pleads guilty, this means your child says that the charges are true. There will not be a trial, and your child will be sentenced. If your child pleads not guilty, this means your child says the charges are not true, and there will be a trial.

If you or your child want to speak to the judge, you should tell your child’s lawyer. The lawyer will ask the judge for permission. Wait for the judge to give permission before you speak. The judge may ask if you have any questions or ask you for information. If you don’t understand something in court, you can quietly ask your child’s lawyer to explain.

Do not allow your child to be pressured to plead guilty or to agree to probation in order to leave court faster. Probation can last for up to 5 years or until age 21, and it is hard for many youths to follow all probation rules for a very long time. If a youth breaks a probation rule, he or she could be incarcerated.

Your child has a right to ask for a trial. This is your child’s choice. You and your child should discuss this and take time to decide. At trial, the state’s attorney must prove that the youth is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”. This is a very high standard of proof. It means that the judge must find a youth not guilty if the judge thinks there is a reasonable chance that the youth did not commit the crime.

At the trial, your child’s lawyer can call witnesses to help your child, question witnesses against your child, and offer evidence to try to show that your child did not commit a crime. The state’s attorney will try to prove that your child did commit a crime.

The judge listens to information from your child’s probation officer, lawyers, witnesses, and your child. Based on this evidence, the judge decides if your child is guilty or not guilty and sets the sentence (5).

Disposition Hearing (Sentencing)

When a youth is found guilty, the next step is a “disposition hearing”. In juvenile court, sentencing is called “disposition”.

Before sentencing, the judge will review a disposition report, which is prepared by the probation office. This report gives information about the youth’s police or court record, family background and relationships, personal strengths, history of emotional or medical illnesses, school performance and behavior. You and your child should cooperate and provide information for the disposition report.

Parents should be a part of court planning for their child. You or your child’s lawyer should tell the judge if your child has emotional issues, mental illness, or drug or alcohol problems, because there is often a link between these problems and delinquent behavior. This also can help the judge to decide whether to send your child to counseling or a treatment program, and away from the juvenile justice system. If you believe that your child would benefit from placement at an alternative school or a residential treatment center, tell your child’s attorney.

If the judge places your child on probation, your child must follow written rules, called probation conditions, for a period of time set by the judge. Your child can be incarcerated if he or she breaks any probation rule.

Ask your child’s probation officer to explain the probation rules so that you and your child understand exactly what is required. Tell the probation officer if your child cannot follow some conditions.

For example, if your child is ordered to receive counseling but has no transportation to get to a counseling center, tell the probation officer, and ask for help. Keep your child’s probation officer’s name and phone number with your court records, so that you can contact him or her if you have questions later.

Help your child to follow all probation rules. For example, if your child is ordered to stay home after 4 p.m., do not ask your child to go to the grocery store at 5 p.m., even if the store is very close to your home. If your child is told to stay in your city, do not take him or her to visit relatives in another city without getting permission from the probation officer.

If the judge orders your child to get counseling or treatment of any kind, your child must do this. A judge also can require a parent or guardian to do something intended to help the child, such as participate in family therapy.

Your child must follow ALL court orders. If your child does not follow court orders, it is likely that he or she will be incarcerated (5).


Your Child Has the Right To Appeal

Youths who are found guilty have a right to appeal within 30 days of sentencing. You or your child can ask your child’s lawyer to file a motion to appeal the judge’s decision. An appeal means that you ask another court to decide if the judge’s decision is a good decision or a bad decision. Filing an appeal cannot hurt your child and may help him or her.

If you think your child would like to appeal, ask your child’s lawyer about the necessary steps right away. The proper appeal forms must be submitted within 30 days after sentencing. If your child’s lawyer does not do appeals, ask to be connected with a lawyer who can file your child’s appeal. If you cannot pay for an appeal lawyer, the court will provide a lawyer for free (5).

The Juvenile Justice Court Orientation for California