Frequently Asked Juvenile Justice Questions


Juvenile Justice Court: Information for Parents

Juvenile Justice court (sometimes called delinquency court) is a court that decides if a child broke the law. The juvenile justice court helps to protect, guide and rehabilitate children. And it helps keep the community safe.

This information sheet answers common questions that many parents have. It has three sections:

  1. What happens when your child is arrested
  2. Juvenile Court Hearings and Orders
  3. How to keep youth child’s juvenile court records private

This form describes the juvenile justice court process. Some children who break the law and become involved with law enforcement or probation never need to go to court.

What Happens When Your Child Is Arrested

This section is about:

  • What to expect when your child is arrested,
  • What your child’s legal rights are,
  • What the notice to appear and the petition are,
  • What it means to transfer your child to adult court, and
  • What a probation officer does.
My child was arrested. What happens next?

You child might be brought home or allowed to go home with you.

You will be given or mailed a notice to appear that tells you the date, time and place you and your child need to go to the probation department or juvenile court. Talk to a qualified juvenile defense lawyer about your child’s case. Many juvenile defenders offer free consultations.

Warning! You and your child must go to the meeting listed on the notice to appear even if no one contacts you again. Sometimes the meeting will be at probation. Sometimes the notice will order you to go to the juvenile court.

Your child must NOT be sent home immediately after the arrest.

If that happens, the officer who arrested your child may:

  • Let your child go later.
  • Take your child to juvenile hall and keep them there. This is called in-custody detention. If this happens, the arresting officer must try to contact you immediately to tell you where your child is and that your child is in custody.
What are my child’s legal rights after arrest?

Your child has the right to make at least two phone calls within 1 hour of being arrested.

  • One call must be a completed call to a parent, guardian, responsible relative, or employer.
  • The other call must be a completed call to a lawyer.
  • If your child is currently in court-ordered foster care, your child may also be allowed to call a foster parent or social worker.
Will they tell my child about the right to remain silent?

Yes. Before any officer asks your child about what happened, the officer must first tell your child about your child’s Miranda rights.

They will say:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you you say will be used against you in court. You have a right to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you or your parents cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to you.”

Note: If your child is 15 years old or younger and in custody, your child must talk to a lawyer–in person, by phone, or by videoconferencing (like Skype or FaceTime)–before answering any questions or giving up any rights. Your child cannot decide to answer questions or give up rights without first talking to a lawyer.

Does my child need a lawyer?

If a petition is filed, your child has a right to an effective and prepared court-appointed lawyer, who must have specific education and training in juvenile justice cases. Many parents hire a lawyer for their child as soon as the child is arrested.

Your child’s lawyer represents only your child, not you, event if you are paying for that lawyer.

Do I need a lawyer for myself?

The court can order you to do things for your child and can order you to pay restitution to the victim. Some parents hire lawyers for legal advice about these issues.

Note: If you think you need your own lawyer and cannot afford to hire one, you can ask the court to appoint a lawyer for you. The court will decide whether to appoint you a lawyer. If it does, you might be ordered to pay back the cost of the lawyer if the court decides you can.

If my child is requested to meet with probation, how can we get ready?

It’s a good idea to get legal advice. A defense lawyer who specializes in juvenile justice cases can help you understand your child’s rights and know what to expect. Try to find school records and other information that shows what you and your child are doing to get back on track.

At the meeting, the probation officer will talk with you and your child to figure out the best way to handle your child’s case.

Note: At the meeting, the probation officer must tell you and your child about the Miranda rights. Any information you and your share with the probation officer might be shared with the court or the prosecuting attorney (DA).

  • If the alleged offense is not serious or it is the first time your child has been accused of breaking the law, the probation officer might just tell your child what they did was wrong (reprimand them) and let your child go.
  • The probation officer might offer to let your child do a special diversion program instead of going to court. Each county has different rules and different programs. If you and your child agree to the program and your child does everything the program requires, the juvenile court does not need to get involved.
  • If the offense is more serious, the probation officer might refer your child’s case to the prosecuting attorney (DA). If the prosecutor decides to file charges, they will file a petition in juvenile court. That’s what the rest of this form is about.
What happens if my child is taken to juvenile hall after getting arrested?

The probation officer can decide to:

  • Keep your child in custody, or
  • Let your child go home with you.

If the officer lets your child go, they may still:

  • Ask the DA to file a petition, and
  • Set limits on what your child is allowed to do while at home.

If the officer does not let your child go, a petition must be filed within 48 hours of the arrest. A detention hearing must be held the next day the court is in session. The courts are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. You and your child must be given a copy of the petition. Exception: If your child is under 8, your child does not have a right to get a copy of the petition.

How long can they keep my child in juvenile hall?

The judge will decide at the detention hearing. The judge may release your child or keep your child in juvenile hall until the next hearing or until the whole case is over.

Can I visit my child in juvenile hall?

Usually, but before you go, contact the juvenile hall or the probation officer to find out when you can see your child.

What if the probation officer says a petition will be filed?

The petition states the things your child is accused of or charged with. It means your child’s case will be sent to juvenile court. You have the right to receive a copy of the petition. If you have not received a copy of the petition, ask the probation officer or the court clerk for one.

The petition says your child did something against the law and asks the juvenile court to decide that what it says is true, but it does not prove anything.

Read the Petition Carefully! It is important to know what your child is accused of.

Are all petition the same?

No. Each petition is tailored to the child and the alleged offense. There are two kinds of petitions:

A 601 Petition is filed when a child has:

  • Run away,
  • Skipped school a lot,
  • Violated a curfew, or
  • Regularly disobeyed a parent or guardian.

These petitions are filed by the probation department at the juvenile court. If the court decides the charges are true, your child can become a “ward” of the court. That means the court will supervise your child, and your child must obey the court’s orders.

A 602 Petition is for a charge that would be a misdemeanor (like shoplifting or simple assault) or felony (like stealing a car, selling drugs, rape, or murder) if an adult had done it.

These petitions are filed by the prosecuting attorney (DA). If the court decides the charges are true, the judge can:

  • Order your child put on probation,
  • Make your child a “ward” of the court, and
  • Order your child placed out of your home or committed (locked up).

Note: If your family is involved with the child welfare system, talk with your lawyer about what your child’s arrest means for that case. Depending on everything that has happened, the court might decide that it’s best for your child to stay in the child welfare system, to be supervised in the juvenile justice system, or to be supervised and served in both system.

Can my child’s case be moved to adult court?

In certain situations, the prosecuting attorney (DA) can ask the juvenile court to transfer your child’s case to adult criminal court. If that happens, talk to your child’s lawyer right away. Adult criminal cases are handled very differently and there may be very serious consequences for your child.

A case can only be transferred to adult court if your child is:

  • 14 years old or older,
  • Charged with a very serious or violent offense such as:
    • Murder and attempted murder;
    • Setting a building on fire when there is someone inside (arson);
    • Robbery with a dangerous or deadly weapon;
    • Some rape, kidnapping, and carjacking cases;
    • Some firearms and drug offenses; and
    • Some violent escapes from juvenile detention facility.
What does the probation officer do?

Probation officer investigates children’s situations and background and writes reports for the court. They also supervise children to see if they are doing what the court has ordered them to do.

Why does the probation officer write a report?

The probation officer writes reports to give the court information about your child. The reports give the judge a description of your child’s situation, including life at home and school, the current charge(s), and any previous arrests or petitions. It can also include:

  • Statements from your child, you and your family, and other people who know your child well;
  • A school report;
  • A statement by the victim; and
  • Recommendations about what the court should do if the judge finds that your child did what the petition says.
When does the judge see the reports?

The probation officer presents a report at the detention hearing, disposition hearing, and each review hearing. The judge uses the reports to help decide how to handle your child’s case.

Your Child’s Court Hearings and Orders

If a petition is filed in your child’s case, you and your child will have to go to juvenile court. Each time you go to court is called a “hearing.” You may have to go to several court hearings. This section is about:

  • What happens at the different court hearings,
  • What happens after the hearings,
  • What if your child becomes a ward of the court, and
  • What your duties and responsibilities as a parent are.

Get Ready for Court

How will I find out about court hearings?

If your child is in custody, both you and your child will get notice at least 5 days before the hearing. Someone will deliver it personally or by certified mail.

If your child is not in custody, both you and your child will get notice of each court hearing at least 10 days before the date of the hearing. Someone will deliver it personally, by first-class mail, or, if you agree electronically.

Can I go to my child’s court hearings?

Yes. In fact, the law says you must go. The judge decides what is best for your child. Depending on the charges, if you can show that your child will listen to you and follow your rules, and that you will hold your child accountable and be supportive at home, the judge may let your child go home with you.

How many time will we have to go to court?

You and your child will probably need to go to court several times. There will be different kinds of hearings where the court make different decisions.

Do we have the right to an interpreter?

Your child has a right to an interpreter. You might have a right to one, too. Ask for one if you do not speak English well or do not understand everything being said in court.

Can I speak at the court hearing?

Yes. You may speak when:

  • The judge asks you questions,
  • You are called as a witness, or
  • The judge gives you permission.
Who else speaks at the court hearings?

Your child’s lawyer will speak for your child. The prosecuting attorney (DA) will speak for the government. The probation officer may speak for the Probation Department.

Can the victim go to the hearings?

Yes. A crime victim has a right to go to and speak at any court hearing. the victim and the victim’s parents (if the victim is under 18) will get notice of the hearing. Do not talk to the victim unless your lawyer tells you to.

When is the first court hearing?

If your child is in custody, the first hearing called the detention hearing, must take place on the court day immediately after the petition is filed. The probation officer or prosecuting attorney (DA) must tell you when and where the hearing will be. You will also get a copy of the petition. At this hearing, the court decides only whether your child can go home or needs to stay in custody until the next hearing.

If your child is not in custody, the first hearing called the initial hearing, must take place no more than 30 days after the petition is filed. In addition to the notice described earlier, you and your child will get a copy of the petition at least 10 days before the date of this hearing.

What is a jurisdiction hearing?

The jurisdiction hearing is when the judge decides if your child actually did what it says in the petition.

Here’s what to expect:

  • The judge will ask your child to admit or deny the charges listed in the petition.
  • Your child’s lawyer will consider the evidence and the possible outcomes, and then advise your child what to do.
  • If your child admits the charges, they give up the right to a trial. The judge will decide that the petition is true.
  • If your child denies the charges, there will be a trial (called a contested hearing). The court may hold the trial on another day to give your child’s lawyer time to get ready.
What happens at the “trial”?

At the trial, the prosecuting attorney (DA) will show evidence to prove the charges. Then your child’s lawyer will show evidence in your child’s defense. The judge will consider all the evidence and decide if the charges are true “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

If there is not enough proof to decide the charges are true, the judge will dismiss the case. If your child is in custody, she or he will be let go.

If the judge decides the charges are true, there will be a disposition hearing. That’s when the judge will say what your child will need to do and where your child will live. Sometimes this hearing is right after the jurisdiction hearing, but it can also be later on the same day or on another day.

If your child is in custody, the judge can order your child to stay in custody or be released until the disposition hearing.

If you live in a different county, the court can transfer the case to your county court for the disposition hearing. Ask your child’s lawyer if that is a good idea for your child’s case.

What happens at the disposition hearing?

The judge will decide what orders to make in order to protect and rehabilitate your child and to protect the community.

The judge might order your child to:

  • Live at home and obey informal probation rules for up to six months.
  • Live at home, be supervised by a probation officer, and obey rules set by the judge.
  • Live at a relative’s home, a foster family home, a private group home, or a residential treatment program; be supervised by a probation officer; and obey rules set by the judge.
  • Spend time in a county camp, home, ranch, or hall (in custody) and on probation.
  • Spend time in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (in custody).

The judge may also order you, the parent, to get counseling or parent training or do other activities.

What if the judge puts my child on probation?

If your child is put on probation, the probation officer will supervise and work with your child to make sure that your child follows:

  • The law,
  • The court’s orders, and
  • All the rules of probation.

The probation officer will also encourage your child to do well i school and participate in job training, counseling, and community programs.

How often will the probation officer see my child?

Each case is different. The probation officer may meet with your child twice a week or only once a month.

What if the judge makes my child a ward of the court?

The juvenile law uses special language. Children who have committed offenses become wards of the court, but are not convicted. If your child becomes a ward of the court, that means the court is in charge of some of your child’s care and conduct. The court does this to protect your child and the community.

What if the judge orders my child placed in foster care?

If the judge orders suitable out-of-home or foster placement, the probation officer may place your child in:

  • An adult relative’s home,
  • An approved foster family home,
  • A licensed private group home, or
  • A residential treatment program.
What if the court sends my child to a secure county facility?

Most wards of the court who need secure confinement are sent to county facilities, like a ranch, camp, or juvenile hall, where they can be close to their families and local rehabilitative services. Ask the probation department about your child’s program and how you can visit and stay in touch.

What if the court sends my child to DJJ?

Only wards who have committed the most serious violent actions or need intensive treatment are sent to DJJ. If the court sends your child to DJJ, visit to get more information about where your child might go and how you can visit and stay in touch.

If my child’s case was moved to adult court, can my child be sent to adult prison?

Yes, but there are limits:

  • Between the ages of 14 and 18, your child must stay at a juvenile facility (DJJ) even if sentenced to adult prison.
  • If your child’s sentence will end before your child turns 25, your child can stay at a juvenile facility (DJJ) for the entire sentence.
  • If your child’s sentence will last past the age of 25, your child can stay at DJJ until age 18, then be moved to an adult prison on the child’s 18th birthday.

Important! If your child’s case gets moved to adult court, talk to your child’s lawyer right away.

Do I have to pay for what my child did?

The court may order you to pay fines or penalties.

If the court decides that the victim is entitled to restitution, you and your child are equally responsible for paying the victim back. Restitution is money that pays the victim to make up for the damage or harm your child caused. Restitution can pay the victim back for:

  • Stolen and damaged property,
  • Medical expenses, and
  • Lost wages.

If restitution is not completely paid when your child’s case is closed, it will become a civil judgment, which can affect your credit score.

Do I have to pay fees for services my child receives from the court or county?

No. You do not have to pay fees or pay back the cost of services, support, or an attorney given to your child by the county or court as part of this case.

But if you can afford it, you might have to pay back the cost of services, including an attorney, given to you or other family members by the county or the court.

What are my responsibilities as a parent?

Your parental duties do not end when the court gets involved. Your child may need you now more than ever.

If the judge decides the charges in the petition are true, you may be ordered to do things to:

  • Help make up for harm your child caused, and
  • Keep your child out of trouble in the future.

The court may order you to:

  • Take classes,
  • Go to counseling, or
  • Do other activities that will help you and your child.
What if my child is in foster care or in custody?

Wherever your child goes, stay in touch as much as you can, however you can. Visit your child as often as you can. Support your child’s programs and activities. Encourage your child to obey the court’s orders and not to leave the placement with permission.

Find out what is happening in your child’s life so that you can get ready for your child to return home. Learn how to make a protective and supportive environment for your child’s return to school or work. Develop plans to hold your child accountable for their actions.

Where can I find parenting resources?

Contact your child’s probation officer. Ask for referrals to community organizations, such as parents’ groups or counseling services, that can help you. Your school district and local hospital or mental health department may also have useful programs.

If you have any questions that have not been answered, you may want to contact a lawyer for help.

How to Keep Your Child’s Juvenile Court Record Private

Will anyone be able to look at my child’s juvenile records?

Maybe. Although most juvenile court records are confidential, the law sometimes allows government officials to look at them.

However, in many cases the court will “seal” your child’s juvenile records. Once the records are sealed, the law treats the arrest and court case as if they never happened. That means your child can truthfully say that your child does not have a criminal or juvenile record.

Exception: If your child wants to join the military or get a federal security clearance, your child may need to disclose information about the juvenile record.

How can we seal my child’s juvenile records?

It depends on your child’s situation.

Sealing at dismissal. If the juvenile court dismisses your child’s case without making your child a ward of the court, the court must seal your child’s records.

If the court does make your child a ward and later dismisses the case because your child has satisfactorily completed probation, the court will also seal your child’s records and send your child copies of the sealing order and form JV 596-INFO, Sealing of Records for Satisfactory Completion of probation.

If your child completes a probation diversion program, the probation department will seal those records and give notice to your child.

Sealing on request. If your child does not satisfactorily complete probation or the probation diversion program, the court will not dismiss the case and your child’s records will not be automatically sealed. Your child can either:

  • Ask the court to review the probation department’s decision and order the records sealed, or
  • Ask the court later to seal the records. (See form JV-595-INFO, How to Ask the Court to Seal Your Records, for more information).

If your child is made a ward for an offense listed in Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b), other than sex offenses requiring the child to register as a sex offender, your child can ask the court to seal the records:

  • At age 21, if your child sent to DJJ; or
  • At age 18, if your child was not sent to DJJ.

Even sealed records can be viewed by the prosecuting attorney in some cases.

Sealing not allowed. If the court found that your child committed a sex offense listed in Welfare & Institutions Code section 707(b) when your child was 14 or older for which your child needs to register as a sex offender, then the court cannot seal your child’s records.

Can my child’s juvenile court record be used against him or her as an adult?

Under the three-strikes law, some serious or violent felonies committed by a child at age 16 or 17 can be counted as strikes and used against the child in the future.

Court Hearings in Juvenile Justice Court

You and your child may have go to court several times. Each time you go is called a “hearing.” Depending on your case, there may be different kinds of hearings to make different decisions. Here are some of them. Each time you have to go to court, you and your child (if 8 or older) will get a notice. The notice will tell you the date, time and place to go (10).