How Is Juvenile Court Different from Adult Criminal Court?

Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

While there are many procedural differences between Los Angeles County adult and juvenile court, these are perhaps the ones that people most frequently need to know about when dealing with a Los Angeles County Juvenile case.

Different Terminology

In adult court the child is not called a “defendant” he or she is called a “minor.” The document listing the charges against a child is called a “petition” rather than a “complaint.” There are no “trials”; instead there are “jurisdictional hearings” or “adjudications.” What is known as a “sentencing hearing” in adult court is a “disposition hearing” in juvenile court.

Procedural Differences

Many of the procedures are the same but some key differences.

There are no jury trials in juvenile court. While in adult court criminal defendants have an absolute right to a trial by jury, no such right exists in juvenile court. If you decide to take your case to trial (which is called an “adjudication” in juvenile court), your case will be heard by a judge or a bench officer who performs duties similar to a judge.

There is no right to bail in juvenile court. If your child is detained in juvenile hall, you cannot post bail to get him or her out. The court will decide whether or not your child should be released at a detention hearing.

Parents and guardians are questioned by the court during hearings. It is standard practice in juvenile courts for the judge or bench officer to ask parents or guardians questions about their child’s behavior. The response of the parents or guardians may determine what role the judge plays when the court decides how to handle a certain case.

Juvenile court hearings are closed to the public. With the exception of court proceedings in serious and violent offenses (“strike” offenses), juvenile court hearings are closed to the public. This means that the general public is not allowed inside a juvenile court. Of course, family members are permitted in court during your or your child’s case.

Probationary Sentences

The amount of sentencing options available to juvenile court judges is limited. To learn more, read about probation conditions in juvenile court dispositions.

If your child has been charged with a criminal offense, Los Angeles juvenile defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg can help. For a free and confidential consultation, contact Mr. Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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