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10 Things You Need to Know About Juvenile Delinquency

Information on Juvenile Delinquency

What does it mean for a juvenile to be delinquent?

Essentially, it means that a person younger than the age of 18 has entered the criminal justice system and has been deemed a “juvenile delinquent.” These individuals tend to be between the ages of 10 and 18, who have violated the law in some way.

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Read on to learn 10 things you should know about juvenile delinquency.

#1 - Juvenile offenses are not called “crimes.”

When a minor violates the law, the offense isn’t referred to as a “crime.” Instead, offenses committed by juveniles are called “delinquent acts.” The distinction is important because of the procedures in place to help shield matters in juvenile court from disclosure after the minor’s 18th birthday.

#2 - Juveniles don’t go to trial, they go to a “contest.”

When a minor commits a delinquent act, they must go to a “contest,” which is the equivalent of a trial, except with just a judge and not a jury. Additionally, minors aren’t sentenced. Instead, they are provided with a “disposition,” which is the juvenile equivalent of an adult sentence.

#3 - There are two main categories of delinquent acts.

The first kind of delinquent act is one that would be deemed a crime if an adult had done it. Certain serious crimes may even warrant that the child is tried as an adult.

The second kind of delinquent act is one that wouldn’t typically be a crime if an adult had done it. These are often called “status” offenses because they are only deemed an offense due to the individual’s age. Some examples of status offenses include:

  • Being out past curfew
  • Possession or consumption of alcohol
  • Truancy

#4 - The arresting law enforcement officer and the juvenile probation office have the discretion to release the adolescent to his or her parents or take them to juvenile hall.

When a juvenile is apprehended, the arresting law enforcement officer and the juvenile probation office have the power to either release the child to his or her parents or take them to juvenile hall. If the child is taken to juvenile hall, then the county probation department has the right to accept and “book” the child, or not. If not, the child’s placement is under the discretion of the police.

#5 - 55% of juveniles who are arrested for a delinquent offense will be arrested again in a 12-month period.

The recidivism rate for arrested juveniles is relatively high—55%. Similarly, 33% of adjudicated minors will be re-adjudicated within a year, and 24% of minors who have been incarcerated will be reincarcerated within a 12-month period.

#6 - There are at least two possible outcomes for your child.

Adolescent offenders face two possible consequences, including:

  • Juvenile corrections facilities placement
  • Probation

#7 - Children under 14 are treated differently.

California Penal Code §26 states, “All persons are capable of committing crimes except those belonging to the following classes: Children under the age of 14, in the absence of clear proof that at the time of committing the act charged against them, they knew its wrongfulness.”

Essentially, this means that a child may not be held legally responsible for an offense they did not know was wrong when the act was committed.

#8 - There are two main differences between juvenile and adult courts.

  1. Children under 18 years of age who are arrested for an offense may not be “released” on bail.
  2. Juvenile court hearings are conducted by a judge or commissioner since children do not have the right to a trial by jury.
    1. Except in limited circumstances when the child is tried as an adult.

#9 - Certain offenses warrant the child to be tried as an adult.

The following offenses may warrant the child to be tried as an adult:

  • Violent offenses
  • Crimes at school
  • Sexual assault
  • Gang activity
  • Use of weapons

Keep in mind the law states that only minors over 16 years of age may be tried as adults and sentenced with adult penalties. However, 14 and 15-year-olds may also be tried as adults if they are not apprehended until after turning 18.

#10 - There are deep disparities by gender, race, and ethnicity in both pre-adjudication detention and post-adjudication residential placement.


The female juvenile incarceration rate is rapidly increasing to the point that girls are now the fastest-growing population in the juvenile justice system. Even with this uptick in female incarceration rates, the data continues to indicate that girls are less likely to be detained and committed than boys.

Race and Ethnicity

Not only are minority youth overrepresented in the juvenile justice system compared to their white peers, but they are also treated differently. Minority adolescents have a higher probability of being detained and committed than non-Hispanic whites.

African-American adolescents have the highest incarceration rates compared to all other racial populations. The following statistics about African-American youth may surprise you:

  • They make up 16% of all youth in the general population
  • They make up 30% of all juvenile court referrals
  • They make up 38% of the youth in residential placement
  • They make up 58% of the youth admitted to state adult prison

If your child has been accused of a delinquent act but has not yet been charged, you need IMMEDIATE representation for your child. Don’t hesitate to reach out—we may be able to help.

If you need effective defense for your child, contact our skilled attorneys at The Law Offices of Johnson & Johnson by calling (925) 900-5330 or by filling out our online contact form.