In California, as in all states, the juvenile court system was established with the belief that children could be successfully rehabilitated through intensive counseling, education and guidance, rather than punishing them in the adult criminal justice system. The District Attorney's Office is involved in two different types of circumstances:
Delinquents are persons under 18 years of age who have committed an illegal act, which, if committed by an adult, would be considered a criminal offense, such as a felony or misdemeanor. (Welfare & Institutions Code sect. 602)
Status offenders are minors who have committed offenses, which are only illegal due to their age and wrong because they were committed by minors. Examples of status offenses include truancy or running away from home.
A minor who is brought into the juvenile justice system as a delinquent or status offender is assigned to a probation officer. The probation officer evaluates the minor to determine what action should be taken with regard to the particular offense for which the minor is being charged. Depending on the seriousness of the offense or the minor's background, the case may not be referred to the District Attorney's Office for further action; the Probation Officer may counsel the minor informally.
However, many cases, because of the seriousness of the offense or the minor's background, are referred to the District Attorney's Office. If a decision is made to file charges against the minor, a Deputy District Attorney will file a petition, which is similar to a criminal complaint. If the petition is sustained, the Deputy District Attorney may also make a recommendation as to the disposition of the minor, such as formal or informal probation, community service, restitution, detention in a juvenile facility.
Often, to the layperson, juvenile court proceedings can be frustrating because of rules involving confidentiality. However, there are procedures in place to order restitution on behalf of victims. In fact, the custodial parent can even be ordered to pay restitution in certain cases. In certain serious cases the process is more open to the victim and the public.