Juvenile court cases can be devastating, particularly for the families of the children who are being charged with crimes. If convicted, children’s entire lives could be derailed. You may find yourself asking what the youngest age to go to juvenile court in California is if you or your child is a juvenile facing charges. When involved in this type of case, contact a Moreno Valley juvenile lawyer today.

What Is the Youngest Age to Go to Juvenile Court in California?

The youngest age to go to juvenile court in California is 12. In 2018, a piece of legislation was signed into law that effectively ended the prosecution of children under the age of 12 in juvenile court. That makes 12 years old the official minimum age for the jurisdiction of California juvenile courts. There are still five major crimes that a perpetrator under 12 can be convicted of:

  • Capital murder
  • Rape by force
  • Sodomy by force
  • Oral penetration by force
  • Sexual penetration by force

Rape and murder are crimes that can be punished regardless of the perpetrator’s age. For other crimes committed by underage offenders, the new intention is for law enforcement and the courts to pursue penalties of house arrest and community service, among other alternatives to juvenile detention centers.

Common Juvenile Offenses in California

Certain crimes in California tend to be committed largely by underage offenders, and others can only be committed by minors by definition. Thus, law enforcement may be more inclined to be a bit more lenient when it comes to arrest or further punishment. That’s not the case with more serious crimes like burglary or assault. Here are some of the more common juvenile offenses committed in California:

  • Truancy: Children are required to attend school until 12th grade. The act of skipping school is a crime that some kids commit quite frequently. When underage children start accruing a noticeable amount of missed school days, they may be charged with truancy in juvenile court.
  • Underage Drinking: The drinking age is 21 years old in every state in the country. It is illegal for minors to consume, purchase, or even serve alcohol. Depending on how high their blood alcohol content (BAC) is, the punishment could be far more severe than just a charge of underage drinking, particularly if they were also driving while intoxicated.It’s also illegal for those under 21 to drive with any amount of alcohol in their system. When a minor is caught driving with a BAC of 0.1%, they can be charged with a “no tolerance” offense, and their license can be suspended for one year. Those with a BAC of 0.5% can be charged with an underage DUI. They will face fines and a mandatory education program in addition to a one-year license suspension.
  • Gang Offenses: Some young teenagers fall in with gangs. In some neighborhoods, there is significant social pressure on teenagers to join a gang, as it may be viewed as the only option for any semblance of success. Gang-related offenses are serious, and depending on the crime at hand, the penalties could be severe.
  • Cyberbullying: Any form of online harassment is considered a crime under California state law if the situation is serious enough to warrant an investigation. When a perpetrator intentionally sends messages that put someone in fear for the safety of themselves or their family, they can be convicted of a misdemeanor.
  • Shoplifting: Depending on the situation, shoplifting could be taken very seriously, especially if the storeowner wishes to press charges.


Q: What Is the Youngest Age to Go to Juvenile Hall in California?

A: As of 2018, the youngest child to go to juvenile hall in California was 12 years old. That has become the statewide cutoff for young people who can be convicted of a crime and sent to juvenile hall unless they commit rape or murder. Law enforcement officers across the state are being encouraged not to detain any children younger than 13 and instead focus efforts on understanding, community outreach, and rehabilitation.

Q: What Is the Youngest Age to Go to Juvenile Court?

A: On a national level, there is no youngest age to go to juvenile court. The United States has not set a minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction, and neither have twenty-eight states. However, California is one of the few to have done so—the state’s minimum age is 12. This means that children under 12 will not need to go to juvenile court, excluding certain severe cases. Violent crimes like rape or murder could result in a conviction, even for a perpetrator under 12.

Q: What Is the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility in California?

A: Under California state law, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 14 years old. At that age, a juvenile can be charged as an adult if the crime is serious enough and the juvenile is deemed mature enough to realize what they have done is wrong. Every state has specific laws in place to protect minors from being tried as adults, but exceptions can be made in certain extreme situations.

Q: What Is the Youngest Age to Go to Jail?

A: On a national level, there is no youngest age to go to jail, as there is no minimum age for criminal responsibility. It is decided at the state level. For example, the age of criminal responsibility is 14 in California. Children younger than 14 years old face potential incarceration if they are proven to wholly understand the difference between right and wrong, meaning they committed the crime knowing full well the consequences of their actions. Maturity is taken into consideration almost every time.

My SoCal Lawyers Can Be There for You

The legal team at My SoCal Lawyers is experienced in juvenile law and can help you understand the details of your situation. Dealing with a juvenile court case can be immensely stressful and painful for the entire family unit, but having someone experienced and sympathetic on your side could make all the difference. We are ready to provide you with sound legal counsel and informed guidance. Contact us to schedule a consultation to discuss your or your child’s juvenile case.