San Diego Criminal Defense

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San Diego Criminal Lawyer

San Diego Juvenile Court Overview

Explained by an Award Winning San Diego Criminal Lawyer

Everything a Parent Needs to Know About Juvenile Court. 


How a Child Arrives in Juvenile Court

There are two ways that your child can be brought into juvenile court.


  • Either the probation department files a petition or

  • The District Attorney's Office files the petition. 


If the probation department files this petition, they are saying that your child:

  • ran away,

  • skipped school,

  • broke curfew, or

  • disobeyed police or their parents — essentially, things that are only against the law because they are done by children.


A judge will evaluate the facts of the case, and will decide if the petition is true. There is no trial by jury. A judge, and only a judge will determine the outcome of a juvenile's criminal case. If a judge finds the petition as true, your child could potentially become a ward of the state. 


If the District Attorney’s Office files a petition, it is a much more serious case. The DA's office only files petitions when a child did something that would still be a crime if he or she was 18 or older. This covers the entire spectrum of the criminal justice system including felonies such as: car theft, drug sales, rape, or murder. The petition may also be filed for misdemeanor crimes such as assault, theft and drunk driving. If the judge concludes the petition is true, the child becomes a “ward” of the court as a “delinquent.” The punishment depends on what the child did.


As parents, you have the right to a copy of whatever petition is filed. 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 in custody (jail/juvenile hall), you will get the notice at least 5 days before the hearing.

  • If your child is not in custody (jail/juvenile hall), you will get the petition and a notice at least 10 days before the hearing.




Types of Hearings in San Diego Juvenile Court

There are 7 types of hearings your child may have in juvenile court:


  • Detention hearing:
    • If your child is help by police or the state for more than 2 days, he or she will have a detention hearing within 3 court days (not including weekends). The judge will decide if your child can go home before the next hearing. An experienced criminal defense attorney can connect you with a bailbonds agency at a discounted rate to get your child home immediately. 

  • Pre-Trial/Settlement Conference
    • The court wll often try to settle the matter without trial and prevent your child's conduct from becoming a part of their record. This is an opportunity for the district attorney or probation department offers in lieu of a trial. 

  • Motion Hearings
    • A motion is a request of the court. There are countless motions that may be filed with a court to tilt the scales of justice in your child's favor, including: limiting evidence or witness testimony, excluding evidence, and protective orders relating to contact. 

  • Fitness or waiver hearing
    • This is the most serious hearing in Juvenile Court. This is a hearing to determine whether your child is "fit" to be tried in juvenile court, or if they will be tried as an adult. 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.


What Can Happen at a Juvenile Disposition Hearing?


Potential Consequences:

  • Order to stay at home for up to 6 months. (Informal probation)

  • Order for formal supervision from a probation officer. 

  • Order to live with a relative, in a foster home, group home, or in an institution.

  • Probation camp or ranch.

  • Order to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice. If tried as an adult, he or she can be sent to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 

  • Order 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


Your child will be interviewed by a probation officer. The probation officer will write a report to tell the judge about your child. The judge will get this report at the disposition hearing.


The report:

  • 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.