The Juvenile Division of the District Attorney’s Office is responsible for the prosecution of persons under the age of 18 years, known as minors or juveniles.
In California, as in all states, there is a separate court system for persons under the age of 18. The juvenile court system was established with the belief that children could be successfully rehabilitated through intensive counseling, education and guidance, rather than punishing them in the adult criminal justice system.
The juvenile courts have the ability to intervene in three different types of circumstances:
Delinquents are persons under 18 years of age who have committed an illegal act, which, if committed by an adult, would be considered a criminal offense, such as a felony or misdemeanor. (Welfare and Institutions Code section 602.)
Status offenders are minors who have committed offenses that are only illegal due to their age and wrong because they were committed by minors, and would not be considered illegal if committed by adults. Examples of status offenses include truancy or running away from home. (Welfare and Institutions Code section 601.)
Dependent children are those who have been abused, neglected or abandoned (Welfare & Instructions Code section 300.) The juvenile court must decide who will be responsible for the care of these children. Dependent children may be removed from the home and placed in temporary foster care and the parents are ordered to get counseling before their children will be returned. In other cases, the parents’ right to their children is taken away completely and the children are freed for adoption. County Counsel handles dependent children matters.
A minor who is brought into the juvenile court system as a delinquent or a status offender is assigned to a Probation Officer. The Probation Officer evaluates the minor to determine what action should be taken with regard to the particular offense for which the minor is being charged. The Officer may have several options, including dropping the matter and releasing the minor to the parent or guardian, recommending supervised probation, or holding the minor in custody. The Probation Officer makes his/her recommendations to the District Attorney’s Office, which makes a determination about whether or not to bring the juvenile into court. If the decision is made to file charges against the minor, a Deputy District Attorney will file a petition, which is similar to a criminal complaint in adult court. The Deputy District Attorney may also make a recommendation as to the disposition of the minor, such as formal or information probation, community service, restitution or detention in a juvenile facility.
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