Juvenile Arrest and Detention

A police officer may arrest/detain a juvenile for either a felony or misdemeanor offense. Unlike the case with adults, the police do not have to personally witness a misdemeanor to take the juvenile into custody. He needs only probable cause to believe it was committed. He can even arrest upon reasonable cause to believe the minor a truant. The officer then has several options. He can release him with a mere warning or release him and refer him to appear before a community agency for counseling. He can release him and issue a citation to appear before a Probation Officer for further action, or he can directly have him kept in custody by Juvenile Detention Authorities. The minor cannot be put in with adult offenders.

The Officer is required to immediatelynotify the minor’s parent or guardian of the arrest. The minor is allowed two completed phone calls, to a parent and also to an attorney. If the officer decides on detention, he must take the minor before a Probation Officer within 24 hours of his arrest. The Probation Officer has the power to release the minor, order informal counseling, informal probation, or order a petition filed against him, upon release or while kept in custody.

The Probation Officer must also advise the juvenile of his rights against self incrimination, as any statements the minor makes may be used at trial to help the prosecutor’s case. The Prosecutor has a limited time to file the petition or the minor must be discharged and released (21 days in California), but any minor taken into custody and held, must be granted a Detention Hearing before a judge within two court days of his arrest. The Judge will then decide whether to release him pending disposition of the case in court. Thus, the minor passes through threepoints where he can be released: the police officer, the Probation Officer, and the Judge.

If the minor or the parents demand a lawyer, one will be appointed if they cannot afford their own juvenile law attorney, and the attorney’s first job will be to try and put together a convincing presentation to the Court as to why the juvenile should be released while the case is sorted out. At all stages in Juvenile Court, the minor has the right to have both his attorney and his parents present. Unlike adult court, no other defendants and no other attorneys may be present in court when the minor’s case is called and discussed.

However, in many respects, the juvenile has fewer rights than an adult offender. It is a very controversial system. Many decry the ultra leniency of the juvenile system, while others protest the lack of procedural protections given the minor. From the minor’s standpoint, it may be cold comfort that the Court has “his best interests” at heart when he is ordered held in custody (juvenile jail), without bail, without a preliminary hearing, without an officer even having seen the alleged misdemeanor committed, and without the promise of a jury trial.