November 10, 2014 By Wallin & Klarich

Given the proliferation in use of high-tech portable electronic devices as well as wider access to the Internet, it probably does not surprise many that a number of teens and even children experiment with sexuality at a much younger age. Of course, some of these acts may be considered perfectly normal or natural. It is important to remember, however, that juveniles in Orange County may be charged with serious crimes for acts they commit without even knowing or understanding that they are breaking the law. For example, a juvenile may be charged with distributing child pornography for sending out sexually suggestive images with a text or a “sext.”

The Juvenile Justice System

Anyone who is 17 years old or younger is considered a “juvenile” in the eyes of the law. California’s juvenile justice system is substantially different from the state’s adult justice system. This is because society recognizes the importance of treating our youth differently than adults. The emphasis in the juvenile justice system is on treatment and rehabilitation. The adult justice system focuses on punishing offenders.

In the juvenile justice system, we also find the involvement of non-law-enforcement agencies such as schools, community-based organizations, counselors and social workers who provide a variety of services to juveniles who have committed crimes and youth who are at risk of committing crimes. Terms used in juvenile court are also different. Juveniles are not “tried” but “adjudicated.” Juveniles are not “convicted.” Rather, their petition is “sustained.”

Juvenile Sex Crimes

A juvenile who has been accused of committing a sex crime in Orange County can be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the nature of the offense, the circumstances of the case and his or her prior criminal record. Violent crimes such as rape and sexual assault could be charged as felonies while other sex crimes such as distribution of pornography may be charged as a misdemeanor. Juveniles may be treated as adults depending on their age and nature of the crime as well. If this happens, the case will move to adult court where defendants are under greater media scrutiny and of course, face more severe punishments if convicted.

Categories of Juvenile Offenders

Informal probationers: These are juveniles who have committed minor offenses. They are placed on what is known as an “informal 654” probation. These juveniles are usually diverted into substance abuse, mental health, crisis shelters or other services.

Status offenders: Juveniles who have committed offenses that are unique to a juvenile such as violation of curfew or truancy can be placed on formal probation, but cannot be detained or incarcerated with criminal offenders.

Criminal offenders: Offenders under the age of 18 who commit a misdemeanor or a felony such as a sex crime will be placed on formal probation, sent to juvenile hall or incarcerated in a county ranch, camp or the Youth Authority.

Tried as adults: Any juvenile aged 16 or 17 who commits one of over 30 serious felonies or a juvenile aged 14 or older who commits murder will be tried in superior court as an adult. If convicted, the juvenile could even be sentenced to state prison, if he or she is 16 or older.

Contacting an Experienced Defense Lawyer

If your child has been arrested on suspicion of committing a sex offense in Orange County, it would be in your best interest to contact an experienced juvenile crimes defense attorney who will protect his or her rights and ensure that the case remains in juvenile court. You need the services of a defense lawyer who has trial experience and a successful track record. Your child’s future and whether he or she gets that valuable second chance in life could depend on your choice of defense attorney.

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