The Santa Barbara County Public Defender's Office represents children who appear in juvenile delinquency court, from their first court appearance until the case has been resolved and/or supervision ends. Our role is to defend the child against all allegations that have been made against them by evaluating the charges, conducting proper investigation, exploring all possible defenses and vigorously advocating on behalf of the child in all court proceedings. Our advocacy extends to insure that the needs of the child are met through education, guidance, and treatment consistent with the child's best interest.

What Is Juvenile Delinquency Court?

In most cases, a child under the age of 18 (a minor) appears in juvenile delinquency court because they have been arrested and are accused of breaking the law.  Minors who are habitually truant from school may also appear in delinquency court. 

The purpose of the juvenile delinquency court are to provide for the protection and safety of the public and each minor, give care, treatment and guidance to the minor; hold them accountable for delinquent behavior and to preserve and strengthen the minor's family ties whenever possible.  

What Happens When a Child is Arrested?

When a child is arrested for allegedly committing a crime, the arresting officer may decide whether or not to refer the child to the probation department. If the child is not referred to probation, the child may be released with just a warning. If the child is referred to probation, the officer must also decide whether to release the child with a promise to appear or whether to physically take the child to juvenile hall.

What Happens When a Child is Referred To Probation?

When the probation department receives a child's case from the police, the probation officer will decide whether or not to send the case to the District Attorney's Office. If the case is not refer to the District Attorney, the child may be released with a warning, referred to a diversion program or placed on informal probation. If the case is referred to the District Attorney, it will be up to the District Attorney to file formal charges against the child. When a child is brought to juvenile hall by the police, the probation officer must also decide whether or not to continue to hold the child in custody.

When the District Attorney decides to file formal charges against a child, those charges are contained in a document called a juvenile delinquency petition. Whenever a petition is filed against a child, the child has the absolute right to be represented by an attorney (usually an attorney with the Public Defender's Office). In some cases, the District Attorney also must decide whether to prosecute the child in adult court instead of juvenile court.

What Happens at a Detention Hearing?

If a juvenile delinquency petition is filed against a child who is in custody at juvenile hall, a detention hearing will be held soon after the petition is filed. At the detention hearing, the judge must decide whether to continue to hold the child in custody or to release them. When a child is released from custody, they may be given a straight release, placed on home supervision, or placed on electronic monitoring or GPS. A child released on home supervision or electronic monitoring will be closely supervised by probation while their case is pending; not only will the child's movements be restricted, but they will also be required to check in regularly with a probation officer.

What Happens at a Pretrial Hearing?

The purpose of the pretrial hearing is to see whether the charges contained in the petition can be settled prior to trial or not. It is very common for the prosecuting attorney to allow a child to admit to less serious charges and/or to dismiss charges against the child in exchange for the child giving up his or her right to have a trial. As in adult court, a child 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 at a trial.

What Happens at a Jurisdictional Hearing?

A trial in juvenile court is known as a jurisdictional hearing. Unlike in adult court, a jury does not decide the child's guilt or innocence. Instead, all jurisdictional hearings in juvenile cases are court trials, where the judge alone determines the outcome of the case. As in adult trials, witnesses are questioned in court, evidence is presented, and the burden is on the District Attorney to prove that the child committed the crime(s) charged in the petition beyond a reasonable doubt. If none of the charge(s) in the petition are proved to be true, the petition is dismissed and the case ends.

What Happens at a Disposition Hearing?

If the child admits charge(s) at a pretrial hearing, or the District Attorney proves at least one of the charges in the petition to be true following a jurisdictional hearing, a disposition hearing will then be held. A disposition hearing is similar to sentencing in adult court. Prior to the disposition hearing, probation will prepare a disposition report, which gives the judge more information about the child, including the child's family situation, his or her educational background, current mental/physical health, and other pertinent information. At the disposition hearing, the judge generally must decide whether to place the child on some form of probation or whether to send the child to out-of-home placement instead. In some cases, the judge has the additional option of committing the child to DJJ (formerly known as CYA).

What Happens When a Child is Placed on Probation?

When a child is placed on probation, they are generally allowed to continue residing with their families under the supervision of a probation officer. A variety of probation conditions may be imposed, including community service hours, counseling/therapy, payment of restitution, and drug testing, among many others. In some cases, periodic progress report hearings are scheduled for the judge to review and monitor the child's performance on probation. When the judge is satisfied that the child has been rehabilitated, the child's probation will be terminated. Although probation is typically terminated much sooner, a youth may legally remain on juvenile probation until age 21.

What Happens When a Child is Sent to Out-of-Home Placement?

When a child is sent to out-of-home placement, the child is removed from home and ordered to complete a program before being allowed to return to his or her family. Programs vary in size, location, and objectives. Out-of-home placements include juvenile camps, group homes, and residential treatment facilities, among others. Although programs vary in length, the average placement will take between 6 and 18 months to complete.

The facility that the court chooses for a particular youth must address any rehabilitative goals and the particular issues with which the child is dealing.

The Public Defender's Office appears at all court dates for children who are sent to placement. If there are any concerns about a particular child, the child's placement, treatment in placement, or the length of time that the child will be in placement, the attorney will address these concerns with the court.

What Happens When A Child Is Committed To The Department Of Juvenile Justice?

In certain cases, the judge also has the authority to commit the minor to the Department of Juvenile Justice (formerly known as the California Youth Authority). A DJJ commitment is similar to a state prison commitment for adults. The length of commitment to DJJ will vary depending upon the specific offense(s) that the child has committed and how well the child performs while at DJJ. Except in very rare cases, a youth may only be confined at DJJ until age 25.

What Happens When A Child Returns From The Department Of Juvenile Justice?

When a youth is discharged from DJJ, he is brought before the juvenile court for reentry to the community. The juvenile court typically modifies previous orders and places the youth on standard probation. An attorney with the Public Defender's Office is assigned to handle all such cases. The attorney appears at each progress report hearing to assist the youth with school, obtaining employment and to insure that they successfully complete their reentry plan.

Can a Child Be Directly Charged as an Adult?

Yes. As a result of changes in the law, the District Attorney can now bypass the juvenile system entirely and directly file charges in adult court if the child is 14 years or older and other certain criteria are met.

What is Truancy Court?

Secondary school children who habitually miss school are initially handled by the school district, including being brought before several school attendance review boards. If those efforts fail, after repeated warnings, the child is then referred to the District Attorney's mediation program for further counseling, referrals, and the threat of possible prosecution for truancy. When mediation fails, a petition is filed alleging that the child is truant. The child has a right to a court trial on whether they have been a truant. A child can be deemed a truant by having three or more unexcused absences/tardys in a school year or failure to comply with various attendance demands of the school.

If a youth is placed on truancy probation, conditions of that probation might include: community service, a fine, a driving license privilege suspension, participation in counseling and other assistance programs and more. 

Are Juvenile Findings the Same as Adult Convictions?

No. A juvenile finding is not a conviction. Therefore, the youth generally does not have to disclose a juvenile finding if asked if he or she has ever been convicted of a crime.

Do Juvenile Findings Count as "Strikes"?

Although juvenile adjudications generally are not considered criminal convictions, under current law, certain juvenile adjudications may nevertheless constitute a "strike" under California's Three Strikes Law. A juvenile adjudication may be considered a "strike" in adult court only if the youth was 16 years of age or older at the time he/she committed the alleged offense and certain other criteria apply.  However, not all charges that constitute "strikes" in adult court are considered to be potential "strikes" when charged in juvenile court.  

Are Juvenile Proceedings Confidential?

Generally, juvenile proceedings are confidential. In most cases, court proceedings are closed to the general public and only people with a sufficient interest in the case may be present in court (such as the child and the child's family, for example). In addition, records of juvenile court proceedings are also confidential. Although the child, the child's parents, the child's attorneys, and representatives from certain agencies have the right to inspect juvenile case files, most other people must file a motion with the juvenile court in order to inspect and/or disclose such records. Juvenile case files remain strictly confidential, unless the court finds a good reason for the file (or parts of the file) to be disclosed to certain individuals for a certain specific reason.

Can Juvenile Records Be Sealed?

The Public Defender's Office strongly urges all eligible youths to pursue getting their juvenile records sealed. This may not happen automatically. Instead, you must file a petition with the juvenile court, if the charge was filed before 1/1/15.

Once you have reached the age of 18, and successfully completed your probation, the probation department will send you a "Record Sealing Packet," which will include the instructions needed for getting your records sealed.  The Public Defender office can do this for you if necessary.

You can apply to have your records sealed if:

1.     You have reached your 18th birthday;

2.     As an adult you have not been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor involving "moral turpitude." You are not currently on probation;

3.     You have no juvenile findings against you for felony offenses listed in Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b) after you reached age 14; and

4.     All of your fines and restitution fees from your juvenile matter have been paid or a CR-110 was issued.

If you are unsure about your eligibility, please contact the Public Defender's Office.

Once the court has ordered a person's record sealed, the proceedings in the case shall be deemed to have never occurred and the youth may legally declare that they have never been arrested and no finding has ever been made against them. However, please note that law enforcement agencies and branches of the military continue to have access to criminal history records, including arrests, even after a record has been ordered sealed.