Juvenile Dependency and Delinquency
The Superior Court of California, in and for the county of Contra Costa, handles all juvenile delinquency cases and juvenile truancy cases under the Welfare and Institutions Code (W&I) sections 602 and 601. The court also handles all juvenile dependency cases under W&I sections 300 et. seq. The judges that handle these cases are Judge Hardie (Dept. 5), Judge Haight (Dept. 10), Judge Fenstermacher (Dept. 15), Judge Maddock (Dept. 16) and Judge Laettner (Dept. 25).
Delinquency cases involve criminal conduct by children under the age of 18 when charges are brought by the district attorney as either felonies or misdemeanors. When such charges are brought, the court must determine whether the charges are true by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The child can either enter a plea admitting the charges or have a contest (trial). Unlike adult cases, the court here makes findings of either true or not true, and if true, sets the matter for disposition. The purpose of delinquency court is to find the best plan to rehabilitate the minor so that no future crimes are committed.
The court can leave the child with his or her parents, remove the child from the parents and place the child in Juvenile Hall, the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility, a group home or other placement; or in serious cases when public safety demands, send the child to the Department of Corrections and rehabilitation in the Juvenile Justice Division. All of these choices are accompanied with provisions for education, counseling and other services necessary for the treatment and rehabilitation of the child.
One of the leading causes of delinquency is the failure to attend and participate in school. In trying to solve that problem, our court has put in place two programs that deal with truancy. One program holds the children responsible for attending school and uses a GPS monitor to know where the child is after it has been shown that the child has not been attending school. The other program holds the parent responsible to make sure they get the child to school and makes the child stay in school.
In each of these practice areas, there are some new procedures and law changes.
With the passage of Proposition 47 in November 2014, a large number of juvenile cases became eligible for reduction from felonies to misdemeanors and from burglary and grand theft to shoplifting and petty theft. Attorneys that practice in this area should be aware that there is a provision in this new law which allows a juvenile, who has had a past petition found true for one of these charges, to ask the court to reduce the charges, even if the case is now closed.1
Effective January 1, 2016, pursuant to W&I section 786, minors can have their records sealed upon the successful completion of formal probation for a non-707(b) offense, 725 non-wardship probation or informal probation. The juvenile no longer has to wait to file a petition under W&I section 781 to have the records sealed. When successfully completing one of these types of dispositions, the minor’s record is now automatically sealed.
A new law will focus the dependency court’s efforts on placing the child in a foster home instead of a group home.2 These bills signed by the governor have extensive provisions giving guidance to the court and counsel. The Judicial Council will also develop new rules of court to assist.
In Contra Costa County, we have an outstanding program called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). The CASA program has just hired a new Executive Director, Ann Wrixon, who will help take CASA to the next level. We are always on the lookout for new volunteers to help work with our dependent children to have a chance at a better life.