Delinquency Hearings

Depending on the allegations charged against a minor and the minor’s ability to deny allegations, a series of judicial hearings will be scheduled to address the minor’s case. During these hearings the court will consider the age of the minor, how serious the crime is, and whether the minor has a prior criminal record. The court’s authority over juvenile delinquency matters is found within the California Welfare and institutions Code. (WIC § 600 et seq.)

Ultimately, the court can order that:

Below is a chart of how a minor goes through the juvenile court process. Within this process, there are several hearings that require a court decision:

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Flowchart of how a minor goes through the juvenile court process

NOTE: A case/petition can be dismissed at nearly any stage.

Detention Hearing / Initial Hearing

Upon receipt of a petition alleging that the minor has committed a crime, the court will file the petition, assign the case to a delinquency courtroom, and notice the related parties. If the minor is detained within Juvenile Hall, the initial court appearance will be called a "detention hearing." At the detention hearing (unless the minor already has one) an attorney will be appointed for the minor, and the court will evaluate the District Attorney’s evidence in the case. The court will determine whether or not the detention of the minor is necessary to protect the minor, victims, and/or community. Unlike adult criminal court, there is no opportunity for a minor to request and post bail in juvenile court.

If the minor is not detained, a Notice of Hearing for an initial court hearing will have been sent to the minor and his/her parents. Read the “Notice to Appear” carefully, as it will tell you where and when the minor’s first appearance in court will be. When the minor arrives at court, they must check-in at the Juvenile Check-In window.  The clerk will take the minor’s name, and ask which parent(s) the minor has come to court with. The minor will then be told which courtroom to report to. Please note that several other hearings will be held in the same courtroom as the one the minor is assigned to, and it may take several hours of waiting time at the courthouse until your case is heard.

Pre-Trial Hearing

Sometimes called a "status conference," the purpose of a pre-trial hearing is to determine if the case can be settled without going to trial. If the case cannot be settled, then the court needs to determine if the attorneys are adequately prepared for a trial. Sometimes a pre-trial hearing is not held if the court and attorneys feel that one is not needed.

Jurisdictional Hearing

The purpose of a jurisdictional hearing is for a judge to determine whether the minor committed a crime. If the judge finds that the minor did commit a crime, this determination would give jurisdiction over the minor to the court. Similar to an adult criminal trial, the District Attorney (Petitioner) presents evidence and witnesses to show that the minor committed a crime. The minor’s attorney is also allowed to present evidence and witnesses in support of the minor’s denial of committing a crime.

There must be a jurisdiction hearing on the charges within 15 court days after the detention hearing if the minor is detained. If the minor is not detained, the hearing must occur within 30 calendar days after the arrest unless the minor agrees that the court can have more time.

The hearing could also be continued. The party that asks for the continuance has to have a very good reason. If the court grants a continuance, the new hearing will be set on the court’s calendar in the near future.

When the jurisdictional hearing starts, the judge reads the petition and explains what it says. The judge talks about what can happen at the hearing. The judge tells the parents or guardians that they may have to pay for fines or restitution if the minor is ordered to pay. The judge must decide if the minor understands the charges and what can happen. The judge then asks the minor if the allegations of the petition are true or false. The minor can admit that the allegations are true, or they can deny that the allegations are true and contest the District Attorney’s proof. Similar to a detention hearing, the District Attorney will show the court proof that supports the allegations.

The minor’s lawyer can:

  • Cross-examine the witnesses
  • Object to evidence
  • Present witnesses and evidence
  • Argue the case to the court

Just like in adult criminal court, the minor has the right to remain silent. The judge then decides if the allegations within the petition are true.

There are no juries in juvenile delinquency court. If the judge decides that the petition is true, the court sets a dispositional hearing to decide how to care for, treat and guide the minor. If the judge decides the charges are not true, the judge will dismiss the petition.

If the judge decides the charges are true, a hearing is set right after the jurisdiction hearing or a hearing can be set in 10 days if the minor is detained, or 30 days after the District Attorney filed the petition. Or, if everyone agrees, the hearing can happen on a later date.

Dispositional Hearing

At the disposition hearing, the judge decides what to do for the minor’s care, treatment and guidance, including their punishment. Before the hearing, the probation officer has to write a "social study" of the minor for the court. Everyone who is part of the case gets a copy of this report before the disposition hearing.

This study has all the important information to help decide what should happen to the minor, like:

  • Family and school history
  • Past criminal history
  • A statement from the victim(s) if the current charges are felonies
  • Recommendations from the Probation Department or other parties

At the hearing, the District Attorney and the minor can show the court evidence to help the judge decide. The victim can also give the court a written or oral statement at the hearing.

The judge has to consider many issues including:

  • How to protect the community and keep it safe
  • How to remedy the victim’s injury or loss
  • The best course of action for the minor’s well-being and future

When the parties are finished showing their evidence and information, the court can:

  • Set aside what the court decided (the "findings") in the jurisdiction hearing and dismiss the case. The judge does this if it is necessary for the interest of justice and the good of the minor, or if the minor does not need treatment or rehabilitation
  • Put the minor on informal probation with the probation department for 6 months
  • Make the minor a ward of the court. This lets the court make decisions over the minor instead of the parents. The court may make decisions about the care, treatment and guidance of the minor. The judge can take full control over the minor, or limit how much control the parent or guardian has over the minor
  • Refer the minor to a suitability hearing for entry into the Deferred Entry of Judgment Program

NOTE: Deferred Entry of Judgment, or DEJ, is an alternative to the juvenile delinquency process that was passed by California voters in March 2000 as part of Proposition 21. The DEJ program allows a minor charged with at least one felony to become eligible for a specialized probation program. If the minor admits to the charges and then successfully completes DEJ probation, the juvenile court dismisses the case and seals the minor’s arrest and court records. The minor’s arrest would then be deemed never to have occurred.

If the court takes jurisdiction over the minor, the minor will be considered a ward of the court and the judge can order different things. The list below starts with the less serious orders:

  • Send the minor home on probation with supervision
  • Send the minor to live with a relative
  • Put the minor in foster care, a group home or institution
  • Send the minor to a local detention facility, ranch or county boot camp
  • Send the minor to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)

If the minor is taken out of their home and put in a relative’s home, in foster care, or in a group home, a case plan for the future of the minor is created. The court will review the placement regularly at hearings in the future.

If the minor is detained in a secured facility, the judge has to decide the maximum amount of time the minor can be detained. If the minor goes to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), it means the judge decided that it would be good for the minor to learn from the discipline or programs at the DJJ.

The judge can set terms and conditions for a minor on probation. These terms and conditions can be strict but reasonable, and the minor may have to give up some personal rights. If placed on probation, the judge can order the minor to:

  • Go to school without missing a day
  • Go to counseling with the parents or guardians
  • Comply to a curfew
  • Follow every law
  • Be tested for drugs and alcohol
  • Do community service
  • Go to a work program without pay
  • Not see or speak with certain people
  • Not drive, or limit when and where they can drive
  • Be searched without a warrant
  • Pay restitution to the victim or a fine
  • Impose additional terms of probation to benefit the minor’s accountability and monitor rehabilitative progress


If the minor is sentenced to adult prison, he or she will stay at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) until he or she is at least 16. If the minor is at least 16, the judge can send him or her directly to adult prison. Or if the minor’s sentence ends before he or she turns 21, the judge can let him or her stay at the DJJ the whole time. If the sentence is longer, the minor will go to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on his or her 18th birthday.

Payment of Fines or Restitution:

When a minor has to pay restitution or a fine, the parents or the person who has custody of the minor has the responsibility to pay the restitution and fine.  It is the intent of the legislature that a victim of conduct, for which a minor is found to be a person described in Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, who incurs any economic loss as a result of the minor’s conduct shall receive restitution directly from that minor.  (W.I.C. Code § 730.6(a)(1)).  The court SHALL order full restitution.

Each parent will be asked to complete an information form. This information will be sent to Revenue Recovery. They will mail the parents a notice to contact them within 20 days to schedule a financial interview when fines or restitution are ordered.  If the parents fail to schedule or appear at this interview, further legal action will be taken.

At the Financial Interview, the Revenue Recovery staff will review the parent's financial information and will make a determination if the parents have the ability to make monthly payments for fines or restitution.   The parents can request that Revenue Recovery set a Financial Review Hearing with the court. The parents must appear in court and the Judge will decide the amount to be reimbursed and the monthly payments. If the parent's fail to pay the fine or restitution amount, further legal action will be taken.