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Juvenile Justice hearings

This page tells you about:

  1. How does a minor go through Juvenile Justice Court?
  2. How does a Juvenile Justice case start?
  3. Intake and investigation
  4. Why does the minor have to stay at the Juvenile Center?
  5. What is a petition?
  6. What is a Detention Hearing?
  7. What is a Jurisdiction Hearing?
  8. What is a Disposition Hearing?
  9. What happens After the Disposition Hearing?
  10. Can a minor have both a Juvenile Justice case and a Dependency case at the same time ("dual status")?
  11. How is Juvenile Justice Court different from adult criminal court?
  12. When are minors treated as adults?
  13. What is a Fitness Hearing?
  14. Can you stop an order from a fitness hearing?
  1. How does a minor go through Juvenile Justice Court?

    Here’s a chart of how a minor goes through the Juvenile Justice system. There are some places where there are choices to make.

  2. How does a Juvenile Justice case start?

    When a police officer catches a minor committing a crime, the officer has a few choices. What the police officer does depends on what’s best for the minor and the community:
    • Release the minor with a warning. They can release the minor right there, at the police station or at the Juvenile Center Intake Unit.  
    • Write a citation. And make the minor or the parents sign a promise to see a probation officer at the Juvenile Center.  
    • Take the minor to the Juvenile Center Intake Unit.
  3. Intake and investigation

    If a minor goes to the Juvenile Center, the probation officer has to investigate. The officer has to know the facts. If the crime is very serious, the officer HAS TO ask that charges be filed. If the charges are not serious, the officer can decide what to do. The probation officer can:

    • Release with a warning. The probation officer can give the minor a warning and let him or her go. This means the officer thought about what happened and decided to tell the minor where to get help instead of filing charges.
    • Informal supervision. The probation officer can put the minor on informal probation. The officer and the parents put conditions on what the minor can do. This can be:
      • Going to school,
      • Taking part in community programs,
      • Having a better attitude,
      • Behaving better,
      • Having better relationships,
      • NOT doing certain social things, or
      • Going to counseling.

      Informal probation usually lasts 6 months. After 6 months, if the minor did everything right, the probation ends. If not, the probation officer can file a petition on the original charge.

    • File charges. The probation officer can suggest to the DA’s office to file charges. This is called filing a "petition" with the Court.
  4. Why does the minor have to stay at the Juvenile Center?

    When the probation officer decides what to do, they also decide to let the minor go or keep the minor at the Juvenile Center. The probation officer has to let the minor go immediately with their parents, a guardian or a responsible relative, except if:

    • The minor doesn’t have a parent, guardian or responsible adult who can or will take care or control of them.
    • The minor doesn’t have anywhere to live.
    • The minor can’t support himself.
    • The minor’s house isn’t fit to live in, or if the minor is abused or neglected.
    • The minor has to be in custody to be protected. Or to protect another person or property from the minor.
    • The minor will run away.
    • The minor broke a court order.
    • The minor is dangerous to the public.

    Even if the probation officer sends the case to the DA, they can let the minor go. If they let the minor go under home supervision, the minor and the parents, guardian or responsible adult have to sign a promise to go to Court and follow any conditions for release. This is like informal supervision.

    But, there can be more conditions including letting the probation officer visit, search the minor’s home and bedroom and take things as evidence in the case.

    If the probation officer decides not to let the minor go, the minor can’t stay locked up more than 48 hours. Weekends and holidays do not count towards this 48 hour limit. But, a minor can stay locked up for longer if the DA files a petition or files charges in adult criminal court.

  5. What is a petition?

    If the probation officer suggests to the DA to file charges, the DA’s Office will file a petition. A petition is a paper that says:
    • The name, age and address of the minor,
    • What parts of the code sections the minor broke,
    • If the charges are misdemeanors or felonies,
    • The names and address of the parents or guardians,
    • A short statement that says what happened, and
    • If the minor is in custody or has been released.

    If the minor is locked up for a felony, the DA has to file the petition in 48 hours. If the minor is locked up for a misdemeanor, the DA has 72 hours to file the petition. There are no deadlines to file if the minor isn’t locked up.

  6. What is a Detention Hearing?

    After the DA files a petition, there has to be a detention hearing to decide if the minor should be taken out of their house. If the minor is already locked up, the Court will decide if the minor should stay locked up.

    If the minor is locked up, they’ll have the hearing the day after the DA files the petition. The Court usually starts the hearing by telling the minor why they’re locked up, what can happen in Juvenile Justice Court and that they have the right to have a lawyer.

    If the minor doesn’t have a lawyer, the Court will give them one whether they can pay or not. If the Court decides later that the parents can pay for a lawyer, the parents have to pay the county back.

    The minor can fight (or “contest”) the reasons they’re locked up. The minor can question the person who prepared the evidence and the people who gave information in the detention hearing. The minor can also have witnesses to support their side of the story. And, the minor can present evidence of their own.

    But, for this hearing only, the Court must believe that the petition is true. The Court has to think about where the best place for the child is. This can mean that the minor is put on home supervision or in the Juvenile Center. The Court takes a minor out of their house because:
    • The minor didn’t obey a court order.
    • The minor ran away from a detention center.
    • The minor would run away if the Court let them go.
    • The minor needs protection because:
      • Their home isn’t safe,
      • The minor is or may become addicted to drugs,
      • The minor has mental or physical problems, or
      • What the minor did, called the offense, is something you get locked up for.
    • The Court needs to protect another person or property.  

    A minor or the minor’s lawyer can ask for a new hearing — called a rehearing. You can have a rehearing if you ask to show the Court new evidence about why you should not be locked up.  

  7. What is a Jurisdiction Hearing?

    There must be a Jurisdiction Hearing on the charges within 15 court days after the detention hearing if the minor is locked up. If the minor isn’t locked up, the hearing must happen within 30 calendar days after the arrest unless you agree the Court can have more time.

    Or, the hearing can be continued. The party that asks for the continuance has to have a good reason. In general, the Court doesn’t like you to ask for more time. If the Court gives you a continuance, the new hearing will be soon.

    When the jurisdictional hearing starts, the judge reads the petition and explains what it says. The judge talks about what can happen at the hearing. The judge tells the parents or guardians that they may have to pay for fines or restitution if the minor is ordered to pay. Then the judge asks the minor if the charges are true or false. The minor can decide to not fight the charges. If they don’t, they have to enter a plea to the charges. This means that they admit the charges are true.

    The judge must decide if the minor understands the charges and what can happen. If the minor says the charges aren’t true, they can fight the DA’s proof. Like the Detention Hearing, the DA shows the Court proof that supports their case.

    The minor’s lawyer can:

    • Cross-examine the witnesses,
    • Object to evidence,
    • Present witnesses and evidence, and
    • Argue the case to the Court.

    Just like in adult criminal court, the minor has the right to remain silent. The judge then decides if what the petition says, called the allegations, is true.

    There are no juries in Juvenile Justice Court. If the judge decides that the petition is true, the Court sets a hearing to decide how to care for, treat and guide the minor. If the judge decides the charges aren’t true, the judge will dismiss the petition.

  8. What is a Disposition Hearing?

    If the judge decides the charges are true, a hearing is set right after the Jurisdiction Hearing or a hearing can be set in 10 days if the minor is locked up, or 30 days after the DA filed the petition. Or, if everyone agrees, then the hearing can happen later.

    At the Disposition Hearing, the judge decides what to do for the minor’s care, treatment and guidance, including their punishment. Before the hearing, the probation officer has to write a “social study” of the minor for the Court. Everyone who is part of the case gets a copy of this before the Disposition Hearing.

    This study has all the important information to help decide what should happen to the minor, like:

    • Family and school history,
    • Past criminal history,
    • A statement from the victim if the current charges are felonies, and
    • Recommendations.

    At the hearing, The DA and the minor can show the Court evidence to help the judge decide. The victim can also give the Court a written or oral statement at the hearing.

    The judge has to think about:

    • How to protect the community and keep it safe,
    • How to fix the victim’s injury, and
    • What’s best for the minor.

    When everyone is done showing their evidence and information, the Court can:

    • Set aside what the Court decided (the “findings”) in the Jurisdiction Hearing and dismiss the case. The judge does this if it’s necessary for the interest of justice and the good of the minor. Or if the minor doesn’t need treatment or rehabilitation.
    • Put the minor on informal probation with the probation department for 6 months.
    • Make the minor a ward of the Court. This lets the Court make decisions instead of the parents. The Court makes decisions about the care, treatment and guidance for the minor. The judge can take control of the minor or limit how much control the parent or guardian has over the minor.

    If the minor is a ward of the Court, the judge can order different things. The list below starts with the less serious orders:

    • Send the minor home on probation with supervision
    • Send the minor to live with a relative
    • Put the minor in foster care, a group home or institution
    • Send the minor to a local detention facility, ranch or county boot camp
    • Send the minor to the Division of Juvenile Justice

    If the minor is taken out of their home and put in a relative’s home, in foster care or a group home a case plan for the future is put together. They’ll review the placement regularly.

    If the minor is locked up in a secured facility, the judge has to decide the maximum amount of time the minor can be locked up. If the minor goes to the Division of Juvenile Justice, it means the judge decided that it would be good for the minor to learn from the discipline or programs at the Division of Juvenile Justice.

    The judge can set terms and conditions for a minor on probation. They can be strict. The minor may have to give up some rights. But, the conditions should be reasonable and best for the minor. The judge can order the minor to:

    • Go to school without missing a day
    • Go to counseling with the parents or guardians
    • Stick to a curfew
    • Follow every law
    • Be tested for drugs and alcohol
    • Do community service
    • Go to a work program without pay
    • Not see certain people
    • Not drive. Or, limit when and where they can drive
    • Pay restitution to the victim. Or pay a fine
    • Be searched without a warrant

    When a minor has to pay restitution or a fine, the parents or the person who has custody of the minor has to pay the restitution and fine.

  9. What happens after the Disposition Hearing?

    There are other things that can happen after the case is over:

    • Appeal:
      If the minor isn’t happy with how the process ended up, or if they think their rights were disregarded, their lawyer can appeal. If the minor wants to appeal, the lawyer has to file a Notice of Appeal. They only have 60 days to do this after the disposition hearing or after the judge made the order. Sometimes, the DA can appeal too.

    • Ask to set aside the court order:
      The minor can ask the Court to change or cancel a court order. They can do this because the minor’s situation changed or because there’s new proof.

    • More restrictive disposition
      If the minor isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do, they may have to go back to Court to get a stricter sentence.

    • Ask to seal the minor’s records:
      If, after 5 years, the minor doesn’t have any other problems that are filed in Juvenile Justice Court, he or she can ask for their records to be sealed if their only contact was with a probation officer. If the original hearing was in front of a judge, they can ask for their records to be sealed any time after they turn 18. Sometimes the minor or a probation officer can ask the Court to seal:

      • Arrest records,
      • The court file,
      • Probation records and
      • Records of any other agency that may have records concerning a case.

      The minor has to fill out an application to ask to have the records sealed and pay a fee. The probation department decides on the request. A probation officer:

      • Decides if the person can petition the Court,
      • Fills out and files the petition,
      • Makes a report for the Court,
      • Gets a court date, and
      • Tells the DA’s Office.

      The judge reads the petition and the report and makes a decision. The judge will think about:

      • What the minor did,
      • If the minor finished their sentence and is rehabilitated, and
      • If there are any lawsuits still in the courts about the incident.
  10. Can a minor have both a Juvenile Justice case and a Dependency case at the same time ("dual status")?

    Sometimes children have court cases that fall under both Juvenile Dependency and Juvenile Justice (Welfare and Institutions Code 300 and Code 602). When that happens, together the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) and the Juvenile Probation Department make a recommendation to Juvenile Court, saying which type of case, or status, would be best for the minor and for the protection of society.

    If the Court picks just one type of case, that case will then be heard in either Juvenile Justice or Dependency Court, depending on the Court’s decision. The other case will be dismissed.

    Sometimes a minor will have both types of cases at the same time. This is called “dual status.” For dual status cases, the Juvenile Justice case takes place first, and the Dependency case is put on hold (suspended).

    When the Juvenile Justice case is completely finished – including any confinement time (time in Juvenile Hall, etc.) or probation time – then the Dependency case will be heard.

    For more information see the Dual Status Protocol.

  11. How Is Juvenile Justice Court different from Adult Criminal Court?

    This table shows you how Juvenile Justice Court is different from adult criminal court.
      Criminal Court  Juvenile Justice Court
    What the proceedings are for To decide if someone is guilty or innocent. To punish guilty people and protect society. To decide if the charges in the petition are true. If there is an order that says the minor is a ward of the Court, this does not mean the minor is convicted of a crime. To keep and improve the minor’s well being. To punish and hold the minor responsible and try to rehabilitate the minor.
    Person who is the subject of the proceedings Defendant Minor
    Paper that starts the case initiating the proceeding Complaint Petition
    First hearing Arraignment (for defendants who are in or out of custody) Detention hearing minor in custody (locked up) First jurisdiction hearing for minors not in custody.
    Bail Defendant might have to pay bail No bail
    Plea Bargaining Often done Not done very often
    Fact-finding Trial Jurisdiction hearing
    Right to jury trial Yes in many instances No
    Right to appointed counsel Yes, for defendants who can't pay (called indigent defendants) Yes, for minor’s who can’t pay or whose parents won’t or can’t pay
    Judgment Guilty or not guilty verdict The judge “ sustains”, the petition, which means it’s true, or “doesn’t sustain” the petition.
    Outcome Sentence Disposition
    Incarceration There aren’t many resources to rehabilitate the people in jail There are many resources to rehabilitate the minors in detention
    Credit for time served in non-secure or home detention Yes No

  12. When are minors treated as adults?

    In general, a minor goes through the Juvenile Justice Court like we described in #1. But, there are 2 exceptions. In these cases, the minor goes to adult criminal court:

    • Direct Filing In 2000, California changed the way it deals with some minors. After intake and screening, the probation officer investigates what happened and sends the case to be filed. Then the DA can choose to file charges in adult criminal court directly.

      The DA has to think about if the minor:

      • Is already a ward of the Court for a different felony crime
      • Was 14 or older when the crime happened
      • Has a record. Was at least 16, but under 18, when the new crime happened
      • Is charged with:
        • 1st degree murder
        • Attempted, premeditated murder
        • Aggravated kidnapping if the penalty is life in prison
        • Serious felonies when the minor fired a weapon
        • Some sex crimes using force

      If the DA files the case in adult criminal court, the minor is treated like an adult. The minor has to deal with the same laws and procedures, and has the same rights as an adult. This means that the minor can have the same sentence as an adult if they’re convicted of the same crime.

      But, at the end of the case, the judge can decide that the minor should get a juvenile disposition.

  13. What is a Fitness Hearing?

    After the Detention Hearing and before the Jurisdiction Hearing, the DA can ask for a hearing to decide if the minor should be in Juvenile Justice Court. The DA does this because the charge is very serious and the minor is old enough to be tried as an adult.

    The probation officer has to investigate and give the Court a report about how the minor acts and his or her social history. The judge looks at this to decide if the minor would do well with the care, treatment and programs in the Juvenile Justice system. The probation officer also has to tell the Court if they think the minor should be tried as an adult.

    Everyone in the case will get a copy of this report. At the hearing, the judge looks at the probation report and any other evidence or information from the DA and the minor’s lawyer. Then the Court makes a decision.

    The Court looks at:

    • How sophisticated the crime was
    • If the minor can be rehabilitated (learn to improve)
    • The minor’s criminal history
    • What happened before when the minor tried to improve (rehabilitation)
    • What happened this time and how serious the charges are

    If the judge decides that the minor should stay in Juvenile Justice Court, they’ll have a Jurisdictional Hearing. If the judge decides that the minor shouldn’t stay in Juvenile Justice Court, the Court dismisses the petition and sends the minor to adult criminal court.

    The District Attorney files a complaint to start the case in adult criminal court. Then the minor has to deal with all the laws and procedures as an adult. They have the same rights as an adult. And can get the same sentence as an adult. In some cases, the minor can serve a sentence in the Division of Juvenile Justice rather than adult prison.

  14. Can you stop an order from a fitness hearing?

    You can’t appeal an order from a fitness hearing. If you want the Court of Appeals to look at the judge’s decision, you have to ask for a writ to stop the process. To get a writ, the minor has to file an application for a writ to the Court of Appeal.

    You only have 20 days to do this after the minor's first court date in adult criminal court. The DA can also ask for a writ if the judge decides the minor can stay in Juvenile Justice Court.
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