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Theft and Juvenile Offenders: What Parents Need to Know


As a parent, it’s your worst nightmare to get that phone call – your child has been arrested for theft. It’s a situation you never expected to find yourself in, and it can leave you feeling confused, scared, and overwhelmed. You may not know what happens next or how this could affect your child’s future.

Fortunately, understanding the juvenile justice system in California can help you navigate these murky waters. You need to know who is considered a juvenile under California law, how the juvenile justice system works, and what potential charges and penalties your child could face.

Who is Treated as a Juvenile in California?

In California, anyone under the age of 18 is considered a juvenile in the eyes of the law. This means if your child gets involved in any criminal activity, such as theft, they’ll be treated differently from adults.

The juvenile justice system in California focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Its goal is to help juvenile offenders learn from their mistakes and become responsible citizens.

In most cases, the court exercises leniency on first-time offenders with an aim to educate them about laws and consequences instead of initiating harsh punishment right away. However, repeated offenses can lead to more severe repercussions.

Juvenile Vs. Adult Justice System

The juvenile court tends to focus more on rehabilitation rather than punishment. These courts understand that children are still in their formative years. This approach recognizes that youthful indiscretions should not necessarily determine one’s entire life trajectory.

The primary aim here is to intervene and redirect misdirected energies towards positive development, hence reducing chances of recidivism or continual engagement in crime like theft which can mar a youth’s future. This isn’t to say there aren’t punitive measures within the juvenile delinquency system. They’re just less severe and designed with improvement and growth in mind.

In the juvenile justice system, jury trials are not conducted. Instead, if a case goes to trial, it is referred to as a “bench” trial, where the judge is responsible for making the decision rather than a jury.

Possible Penalties for Juvenile Theft in California

If your child is accused of theft, they will be required to attend court for their offense, and at least one parent or guardian must accompany them. When it comes to penalties, juvenile courts tend to be more flexible, and they may be offered dispositions that include alternatives to incarceration.

However, other potential penalties can be imposed, like probation. Juveniles may receive formal probation with a probation officer overseeing their progress, or informal probation, where they must independently meet probation requirements.

In most cases, incarceration is uncommon unless the juvenile is a repeat offender or has committed a serious crime beyond petty theft, such as stealing a vehicle or committing a robbery. If your child does end up being incarcerated, they will likely be placed in a juvenile facility unless tried as an adult.

Can Juvenile Offenders Be Tried as Adults for Theft Charges?

Minors under 18 years old cannot be tried as adults for petty theft in California. The juvenile justice system takes care of all cases involving juvenile petty theft. However, this may not be the case for more serious offenses that are listed in WIC 707(b), like robbery charges. Robbery involves the use or threat of force, while petty theft does not. If your child commits a robbery, there is an increased likelihood of them being subject to a transfer hearing and tried as an adult if they are at least age 14.

What to Do if Your Child is Facing a Juvenile Theft Charge

Discovering your child is facing a juvenile theft charge can be overwhelming. It’s a situation no parent ever wants to face. The shock, disbelief, disappointment, and fear of what might happen is overwhelming. But you have options.

Here are four things you can do if your child is facing a juvenile theft charge:

  1. Get legal advice: Contact a juvenile crimes lawyer to understand the legal process and options available. They can guide you through the legal proceedings and help protect your child’s rights.
  2. Understand the charges: Familiarize yourself with the specific charges your child is facing. This will help you understand the potential consequences and develop a plan to address them.
  3. Attend court hearings: Make sure to attend all court hearings with your child. This shows support and demonstrates that you take the situation seriously.
  4. Explore diversion programs: In some cases, your child may be eligible for diversion programs that aim to divert them away from the criminal justice system. These programs may involve counseling, community service, or restitution.

Remember that while this process may be daunting, you’re not alone – there are resources available for families dealing with situations like yours.

Contact The Nieves Law Firm for Juvenile Theft Defense

If your child is facing a juvenile theft charge, reach out to The Nieves Law Firm for assistance with their legal defense. Our criminal defense attorneys have a proven track record of defending theft and juvenile offenders successfully, ensuring their future isn’t compromised by youthful mistakes.

Our team understands the laws surrounding juvenile cases and can guide you through this daunting process, providing all the information you need to know about these types of charges.

Get the support you need — contact us today for a consultation.

Author Bio

Jo-Anna Nieves is the Founder and Managing Attorney of The Nieves Law Firm, an Oakland criminal defense law firm she created in 2012. With more than 11 years of experience in criminal defense, she has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, domestic violence, expungement, federal crimes, juvenile law, motions to vacate, sex crimes, violent crimes, and other criminal charges.

Jo-Anna received her Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named a Super Lawyer Rising Star the past 8 years, the #12 Fastest Growing Law Firm in the U.S. by Law Firm 500 in 2019, and one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc 5000 in 2023.

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