In California, the law has created a separate set of courts for juveniles under the age of 18. The law generally handles juvenile crimes as “civil” rather than criminal offenses. That means, juveniles charged with crimes are not entitled to a jury trial and do not go to jail. Instead, juvenile cases are handled by a single judge and juveniles may be placed home on probation, sent to a suitable placement facitlity, juvenile camp and/or the California Youth Authority. Generally, although punishment is an option, the juvenile law does emphasize rehabilitateion through intensive counseling, education, and guidance.
Today, however, juveniles who are age 14 or older and have committed a serious and/or violent crime may be subject to the adult penalties . The court, upon the request of the prosecutor, can transfer a child from the juvenile justice system to the adult justice system. When this occurs, a "fitness hearing" under Welfare & Institution code section 707 is held to determine whether the minor is suited for the juvenile justice process or would be more appropriately treated if transferred to the adult court system.
Trials and juvenile court proceedings are called adjudications. If a child is found to have committed a crime at an jurisdictional hearing, the judge decides how to deal with the juvenile at a dispositional hearing.
In most cases, a juvenile is entitled to have the juvenile records sealed and/or expunged. Usually, records can be sealed after five years from the termination of the juvenile court's jurisdiction or as soon as the juvenile becomes 18. Once sealed, the minor's records may not be opened for inspection unless ordered by the court.