The adjudication hearing in the juvenile arena is the trial in the adult court. The parents and legal guardians of a minor have a right to notice and to be present at this hearing. This proceeding must be heard by a judge—a referee or a commissioner cannot hear the case unless both the prosecution and the defense stipulate to them acting as a judge. The place for such a hearing occurs in: (1) the county in which the minor resides; (2) the county in which the minor is found; (3) the county in which the crime occurred. If a minor is detained, the hearing shall be set 15 court days from the time of detention. For non-detained minors, it is 30 court days.

What are the rights of the minor? Generally, the same afforded of the adults. A minor has a right to be represented by counsel of his choice or if unable to afford an attorney, one will be provided. A minor may also waive this right with the caveat that the court finds proper cause. The same rights of confrontation, cross-examination and the privilege against self-incrimination also exist. However, a minor does not have a right to a jury trial.

What if a minor confesses to the crime? Prior to Proposition 8, California required that the prosecution prove that the confession was made voluntarily, intelligently and under no duress or coercion beyond a reasonable doubt. Today, it is a lower burden of proof of by preponderance of evidence.

The admissibility of a minor’s confession depends on the totality of the circumstances. The factors court weighs, include but not limited to, age intelligence, education, experience, and the ability to comprehend the meaning and effect of the confession. Courts are aware that threats, promises, confinement and lack of food or sleep may have a more coercive effect on a child than an adult.

In re Michael B., (1983) 149 Cal.App.3d 1073, the mother of the 9 year old, was assured by the police that the child would receive counseling and treatment and that it would be better for the minor to tell the truth. Based on this, she advised him to cooperate and to make a statement that was ultimately used against him. The court ruled that the actions of the police, combined with his mother, overcame his free will and held his statements to be involuntary.

In contrast, In re John S., the minor was in custody and his mother had warned him not to speak with the police. During the interview at the station, the minor became aware that both his parents were present and were not allowed to see him during the interrogation despite their request to do so. The court ruled the minor’s statements to be admissible and reasoned that “other courts have declined to impose a requirement that police advise minors of a right to speak with parents or to have a parent present during questioning.” Clearly, case laws exist for both prosecution and defense which would appear to buttress their position.
Statements made by a minor to school personnel such as the counselor, psychotherapist, principal or teachers without Miranda warnings are not improper. Courts have recognized these individuals, even though they are conduit to the investigation and not acting as agents to the police or the probation department.

Do minor’s have the capacity to commit a crime? The California Supreme Court addresses this inquiry and ruled that children under 14 years of ages are presumed incapable of committing a crime in the absence of clear and convincing evidence that, at the moment of commission, they knew its wrongfulness. Prosecutors prove this by having a parent/guardian testify that the minor has been instructed that the conduct-at-issue is wrong. A minor’s conduct such as running away, lying, hiding the evidence are some factors that could be indicative that the minor knew of his wrongdoing.


Disposition (sentencing) hearings may be held immediately after the adjudication or it can be continued up to 10 court days if the minor is detained and 30 days for a non-detained minor. Factors the court considers are the minor’s age, the circumstances and gravity of the offense committed, and the minor’s previous delinquent history. Witnesses on behalf of the minor and the prosecution may also be called.

In considering all this, the court must also follow the directives of WIC 202(b) which states that: “Minors under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court as a consequence of delinquent conduct shall, in conformity with the interests of public safety and protection, receive care, treatment and guidance which is consistent with their best interest, which holds them accountable for their behavior, and which is appropriate for their circumstances.”

Disposition Alternatives

1. WIC 654.2 (Court ordered informal probation): Although this is not technically a disposition, an effective criminal defense attorney should vigorously request this especially if the minor is a first time offender and the charged offense is not violent or serious offense. In fact, the minor will not have pled guilty to the charge. Simply, he is being tested for 6 months and upon successful completion, case is dismissed.

2. WIC 725 (a), 725 (b): The minor must enter a plea of guilt before being placed on 725. However, the court may wait to deem the minor a ward of the court, place the minor on probation, under the supervision of the probation officer, for a period not to exceed six months. If the minor fails to comply with the conditions of probation, the court may then order and adjudge the minor a ward of the court.

3. WIC 730 (Home on Probation with Conditions): The court sends the minor home to his parents/guardian and set conditions of probation. The minor is found to be within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and sets court dates for progress report. If the minor is held to be in violation, the court may revoke home on probation and the judge may impose stricter sanctions such as suitable placement outside of the home or the California Youth Authority (CYA)

4. WIC 726, 727 (Suitable Placement): This is placement outside of a home. The court must only find one of the facts exist: (1) the parent/guardian is incapable of providing or has failed or neglected to provide proper maintenance, training and education for the minor; (2) minor has failed to reform; (3) continuous custody of parent/guardian would be detrimental to the minor’s welfare.

5. CYA Commitment: The court may send a minor at any age over 11 for any offense. In practice, courts are mindful that they should consider less restrictive dispositions prior to sending a minor to CYA. It is after all, “prison for kids.” Some courts will order a CYA commitment stayed and will not impose this unless best efforts have been made and this is the final recourse. The court must also state that it is probable that a CYA commitment would be rehabilitative and beneficial to the minor.

The defense may file a WIC 777 motion for an evidentiary hearing in order to question the validity of any probation violation. The prosecution must bring in documentary evidence and witnesses to prove that the violation is valid.

Why the concern for our kids? It has been reported that Filipino children are the largest number of juveniles in Los Angeles County among all Asian groups. This is not because they have increased their gang participation or fast becoming school dropouts or truants. In fact, Filipino juveniles are not the “stereotypical” juveniles. They are doing well in school and do not dress in “typical” gang clothing, but they are committing crimes, albeit not serious or violent crimes like assaults or robbery, but more theft-type crimes.

While some have proposed the reason to be lack of parental supervision or that our community is fast becoming “mainstream” and thus adopting some of the same issues.

I have come to personally understand, especially when I was a prosecutor in Los Angeles assigned to South Los Angeles Kenyon Juvenile Center, that blame is generally broader. A compassionate criminal defense attorney must be cognizant that first and foremost, rehabilitation and curbing the problem is of utmost importance. “Teaching the minor a lesson” is a goal but even when I was on the other side of the table, as a prosecutor, I was mindful that a bright future for these kids should still be the ultimate goal.

CategoryCriminal Law