California Juvenile Wardship and Landmark Cases

Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, subdivision (a) provides that a minor may be adjudged a ward of the juvenile court "when he or she violates any law of this state ... defining crime." Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, subdivision (a) states: "Except as provided in subdivision (b) (concerning certain aggravated crimes), any person who is under 18 years of age when he or she violates any law of this state or of the United States or any ordinance of any city or county of this state defining crime other than an ordinance establishing a curfew based solely on age, is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, which may adjudge such person to be a ward of the court." Thus, pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, laws that define criminal behavior for adults are used to define the criminal behavior that can cause a minor to be declared a ward of the juvenile court. However, the juvenile wardship system and the adult criminal system are two distinct systems, the two systems use different terminology, and their underlying purposes have a different focus. (See In re Eric J. (1979) 25 Cal.3d 522, 530-532 159 Cal.Rptr. 317, 601 P.2d 549; In re A.G. (2011) 193 Cal.App.4th 791, 804-805 122 Cal. Rptr. 3d 291; In re Myresheia W. (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 734, 740-741 72 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65 overall purpose of juvenile wardship focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment.) For example, juvenile offenders are not defendants; their cases are handled by juvenile courts, not criminal courts; they do not plead guilty but admit the allegations of a petition; they incur adjudications of criminal acts, not criminal convictions; their cases are resolved by dispositions, not sentences; and they are confined or committed rather than imprisoned. (In re Eric J., supra, 25 Cal.3d at pp. 530-531; In re Myresheia W., supra, 61 Cal.App.4th at pp. 736-737; People v. West (1984) 154 Cal.App.3d 100, 107-108 201 Cal. Rptr. 63; Welf. & Inst. Code, 203 an "order adjudging a minor to be a ward of the juvenile court shall not be deemed a conviction of a crime for any purpose ... ."; see In re Jovan B. (1993) 6 Cal.4th 801, 812 25 Cal.Rptr.2d 428, 863 P.2d 673 (Jovan B.).) Also, juvenile courts have broader dispositional discretion over minors than is available for adult criminal offenders under the adult determinate sentencing scheme. (Jovan B., supra, 6 Cal.4th at p. 809; In re A.G., supra, 193 Cal.App.4th at pp. 803-806.) Notwithstanding the differences between the two systems, the essential constitutional due process protections afforded adult offenders have been extended to juvenile offenders, based on the recognition that a juvenile "alleged to have violated the criminal law ... like an adult accused, faces both the stigma of adjudged criminality and the significant loss of liberty by confinement in a correctional institution if the allegations prove true." (People v. Nguyen (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1007, 1022 95 Cal. Rptr. 3d 615, 209 P.3d 946 although juvenile has no jury trial right, virtually all other procedural protections apply; see id. at p. 1019.) Further, to ensure fair treatment as between a minor and an adult offender, a minor's maximum period of physical confinement may not exceed the maximum term that could be imposed on an adult offender for the same offense. (Welf. & Inst. Code, 726, subd. (d)(1); see In re Eric J., supra, 25 Cal.3d at p. 532; In re Bryant R. (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 1230, 1237 5 Cal. Rptr. 3d 734.)