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Entering the system
Police, sheriff’s, school police, a security guard or other law enforcement agents are usually the ones who get you into the juvenile justice system.
You can be stopped and questioned if law enforcement has a "reasonable suspicion" that you did something wrong. They can take you to the police station for a while too. It’s called temporary detention. So don’t give them an attitude. It will only make them come down hard on you.

If the officer finds that you didn’t commit a crime, you’ll be released.

Getting arrested
If you’re not released then you could be arrested if they have "probable cause." Evidence that shows you did something wrong is "probable cause." Arrest records become part of your official file.

Counsel and release

If your crime was minor, your arrest may just mean you’ll be counseled and released to the custody of your parents, who are supposed to keep an eye on you.

Charges are filed
If your crime was serious, law enforcement may "seek a petition," which means they file charges. Your case will be assigned to a probation officer. Some youth are stopped or arrested and then released by police five times or more before their case is sent to the Probation Department. Charges become part of your official file. You are entitled to know what you’re being charged with.

Probation Recommendations
Your probation officer may recommend that you be locked up or not, depending on whether you are assessed as a danger to yourself or the community. If you are "detained," you will be in Juvenile Hall, which will be your first taste of jail life. You have to ask permission for everything, even to go to the bathroom.

Informal probation
One of three options that the Probation Department could recommend. Even though charges have been filed, the Probation Department may release you to the custody of your parents, if you are not a danger to yourself or the community. You may be required to see a probation officer, go to school, get tutoring or go to counseling. You may be required to go through a drug rehab program. Your parents might have to take parenting classes to teach them how to control you, or your family may be referred to other services. Your case will not be sent to the district attorney.

If your parents are neglecting or abusing you, you may be put in a group home or with a foster family.

Not locked up

If you are not a danger to yourself or the community, you may be released while your case is sent to the district attorney’s office.

Locked up
If you are judged dangerous, you will be kept locked up in Juvenile Hall while awaiting trial or "adjudication." There’s no bail for juveniles.

The D.A.
The district attorney’s office (D.A.) files charges against people who break the law. There are special ones who deal with minors (people who are under 18). A case could be dismissed at this point, if the D.A. does not believe there is enough evidence to go forward.

Tried as a juvenile
The district attorney may decide to take your case to Juvenile Court. You can hire your own lawyer, or the court will assign a lawyer from the public defender’s office.

Tried as an adult
If your crime was extremely serious, you can be tried as an adult. Even 14-year-olds can be tried as adults. Examples of crimes that would lead a youth to be tried as an adult are murder, arson, robbery with a deadly weapon, rape, carjacking and other serious offenses.

Adult court

You may just be given probation without a trial. Your probation officer is supposed to supervise you.

Not locked up
If you are not dangerous, you may be released while you are waiting for your trial to come up.

Locked up
If you are judged dangerous, you will be kept locked up in Juvenile Hall while awaiting trial or "adjudication." There’s no bail for juveniles.


Juvenile court
In juvenile court, a judge will hear your case. At your "arraignment," you have to admit the charge or deny it. If you admit the charges, the judge will follow the recommendation of your probation officer. If you deny the charges, the district attorney or prosecutor has to prove that you did it. There’s no jury in Juvenile Court.

Not guilty
If you are found not guilty, you will be released. The arrest and charges still go on your record, though.

Clearing your record
Once you turn 18, you may be able to get your record cleared, though not always. Ask your lawyer for help to see if you can have your record "expunged."

If you are found guilty by the judge, you will be sentenced. Your "disposition," or sentence, may include any of the following: You may be sent home on probation, placed in a group facility (not your home), sent to drug rehabilitation or sent to juvenile camp for three months to a year. More serious offenders are placed in the California Youth Authority, which accepts youth up to 25 years old. The decision goes on your record. Even teens can get life sentences and the death penalty.

To appeal a decision, your lawyer must convince the judge that the decision was wrong. "Most appeals don’t succeed," cautioned district attorney Rebecca Noblin.

Case dismissed
If the district attorney feels there is not enough proof that you committed the crime, which is called "insufficient evidence," the case may be dismissed.