Each state in the U.S. maintains its own special legal system intended to deal with criminal cases where the accused party is not yet an adult, as well as process certain other legal issues specific to minors. Just what issues can be brought before the Juvenile Court system in the State of California?

Knowing the answer to this question and understanding just how far the juvenile court’s authority extends is crucial for concerned parents, minors accused of crimes, and the state employees who work within these systems.

Understanding California’s Juvenile Court System: Policy and Purpose

To better understand what sorts of issues the juvenile court system actually takes on, we first need to understand its purpose. To make things simpler, the juvenile court can be thought of as one of three parallel legal systems that exist in California and other states. These systems are:

  1. Criminal Court – This is the legal framework that state law enforcement authorities use to deal with adults who have been accused of committing crimes. This robust criminal justice system empowers the state to prosecute individuals (18 and older), often with an emphasis on deterring future infractions through harsh sentences and steep fines.In certain extreme circumstances (e.g., violent crimes perpetrated by teens nearing the age of majority), minors may be tried as adults in criminal court. In the interests of public safety and accountability, criminal court proceedings and their outcomes are public record.
  2. Civil Court – Civil court addresses disputes between individuals or organizations regarding various liabilities, disagreements, duties, or contractual obligations. The civil court aims to resolve issues through a variety of legal remedies, but most high-profile cases will involve a financial settlement.Civil matters may be settled quietly out of court through negotiation or may need to be litigated before a judge or jury, depending on the unique circumstances of each case.These cases can theoretically involve individuals of any age, although the extent of a minor’s civil liability is limited in certain ways. In scenarios where injuries or other legally compensable damages were caused by a minor committing a crime, there may be parallel cases in civil court and juvenile court, but these are separate processes with separate consequences.
  3. Juvenile Court – California’s juvenile court system deals with a range of matters involving individuals under 18 years of age, such as minors who have been accused of breaking the law. In some ways, this works similarly to the criminal court system, but the focus is on rehabilitation and connecting at-risk youth with quality resources rather than merely punishing violators.Another important distinction from a regular criminal case is that the records of juvenile court proceedings are usually confidential, which is in alignment with the emphasis on helping the minors involved work past their issues to become productive, law-abiding Californians.

Note that the above is meant to delineate these three major types of California legal proceedings but is not necessarily intended as an exhaustive list. Other official bodies, such as military courts-martial, workers’ compensation boards, or administrative bodies at public school systems, can also sometimes have varying levels of jurisdiction over legally consequential proceedings involving minors.

Types of Cases Heard in California Juvenile Courts

Now that you understand what California’s juvenile court is for, you probably have some understanding of the vast range of different cases that might be heard in such a court. Essentially, this niche arm of the judicial system is designed to fairly and productively deal with any criminal activity conducted by someone under 18, and its influence can further extend to family law issues involving a minor’s home life.

Some of the different types of cases that commonly find their way into juvenile courtrooms include:

  • Theft and Property Crimes – From routine shoplifting busts to serious burglary or robbery charges, the juvenile courts deal with their fair share of theft-related crimes. Sentences for young, first-time offenders will usually aim to help address the underlying social, emotional, economic, or mental health issues that fueled the urge to steal.
  • Drugs and Alcohol – When operating at this delicate intersection of criminal justice, public health, and mental well-being, California’s juvenile courts strive to correct criminal and self-destructive behaviors in a proactive and self-sustaining way. This is accomplished by connecting troubled minors to quality resources like education, therapy, and community support.
  • Offenses at School – While most day-to-day aspects of student discipline are handled internally by schools, serious infractions like fighting, vandalism, or selling drugs on school property can warrant intervention from the state’s juvenile court authorities.
  • Traffic Violations – Whether licensed or unlicensed, young drivers can be at a higher risk for traffic crashes and moving violations due to their inexperience. Charges along the lines of reckless driving, driving without proper documentation, and driving under the influence often find their way into juvenile court.
  • Violent Crimes – When young people get caught up in a pattern of serious violent crimes like assault, domestic violence, or armed robbery, society has a responsibility to use public resources to help aggressively break this cycle before it worsens. Time is of the essence when correcting violent criminal behavior, as older offenders and repeat offenders are at risk of being tried as an adult. This process can lead to serious prison time, insurmountable fines, and a lifetime of stigma as a convicted felon.

Regardless of the type of case, it is important to know the juvenile defendant still has the right to a San Bernardino juvenile lawyer.


Q: What Offenses Would Cause a Youth to be Brought Before a Juvenile Court?

A: Any criminal offense can cause a youth to be brought before a juvenile court. The juvenile courts are intended to deal with crimes committed by individuals who are not yet adults. Juvenile courts can also have influence over certain family law proceedings, such as determining whether an at-risk teen should be sent back to a potentially dangerous household or remanded into state custody.

Q: What Is the Major Reason for Juvenile Courts?

A: The major reason for juvenile courts is to resolve criminal cases and other legal situations involving children and teens. Individuals below the age of 18 do not yet have fully developed brains and may struggle with impulse control and making good decisions. For this reason, it is considered unethical and unfair to judge and punish children using the same standards applied to adult criminals.

Q: What Are the Four Types of Cases That Are Typically Handled in a Juvenile Court?

A: The four types of cases typically handled in a juvenile court are traffic violations involving minors, drug and alcohol cases involving minors, violent crimes involving minors, and thefts or property crimes involving minors. This is not an exhaustive list, however. The juvenile courts can also be involved in other issues, such as certain family law scenarios and cases involving problems at school.

Q: Who Decides Whether a Juvenile Case Will Be Heard in Court?

A: State officials decide whether a juvenile case will be heard in court, typically after receiving a petition about the situation in question. In juvenile law, this petition process (which can be initiated by a qualifying party such as a law enforcement official, state agency, or probation officer) takes the place of the criminal charges or lawsuits that would be filed in an adult criminal case or civil case, respectively. If the petition is found to have substance, the case will be escalated accordingly through the juvenile court system.

My SoCal Lawyers – Powerful Legal Assistance in California Juvenile Court

If you are a minor (or the parent of a minor) who has been entered into the California juvenile justice system, please know that you have the right to an attorney just like any other citizen accused of a crime in the United States. Contact our team of reputable and successful juvenile lawyers today to learn more about how My SoCal Lawyers can help guide your case to a positive outcome.