The first step is the investigation of a crime and, if the facts warrant, an arrest. The target of the investigation should not participate in the investigation without first consulting a lawyer. Minors have the right to have a lawyer and, in some cases, a parent present before and during any questioning by law enforcement. This right MUST be exercised.
In less serious misdemeanor cases, the juvenile may have the opportunity to meet with probation and attempt to resolve the matter informally. This is a good thing and it should be taken advantage of, when offered. The minor, the parents, AND the minor's attorney should prepare for the interview and the attorney should accompany the minor to the interview and attempt to work out an informal probation agreement.
Arraignment or Detention Hearing
If the arresting authorities (police or probation) have determined that the minor should be booked into Juvenile Hall, the law requires that within 24 hours after the DA's Office files the charges in Juvenile Court (excluding weekends and holidays), the Minor must be brought before a judge in Juvenile Court for a detention hearing. The purpose of a Detention Hearing is for the judge to determine whether the minor should remain in custody or be released to his or her parents or guardian. It is also the minor's attorney's first opportunity to be heard in court. Getting the right lawyer, one with experience in Juvenile Law can make the difference between the minor being released or housed in Juvenile Hall. Unlike the adult system, youthful offenders do not receive jury trials and are not released on bail.
At the Pre-trial Hearing, the probation officer has already submitted a report with a recommendation for the court to follow. The court will consider the report, but it is really the DA and the defense lawyers who will negotiate the case. If the case can resolve, the minor may enter a plea, admitting as true the facts alleged in the Petition (like a Complaint). If the minor admits his conduct he could get any range of sentences from community service to time in Juvenile Hall to a commitment to DJJ (formerly CYA).
Trial and Disposition
For Juveniles in California, there is no right to a jury trial. Legal experts disagree on whether or not this is a good thing. For now, it is the law. Otherwise, a trial proceeds just like an adult case. The prosecutor has to present a case and prove each element of each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense has an opportunity to present its case and argue why the Minor is not guilty of the crimes charged. The judge will hear all of the testimony and argument, rule on all objections and render a decision. If the judge does not find the petition to be proven true beyond a reasonable doubt, then the minor walks out of court. If the judge does sustain the petition, then the minor will have a dispositional hearing where he will be sentenced.