United States Supreme Court jurisprudence, firmly rooted in science, has made clear in case after case that kids are different. The U.S. Supreme Court has cited to a body of scientific evidence that demonstrates minors have a lack of maturity and sense of responsibility compared to adults; that they are statistically over-represented in nearly every category of reckless behavior; and that youth are more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. Youth have little control over their own environment and lack the freedom that adults have to remove themselves from settings in which they may get in trouble. Today, adolescent brain development science continues to shape laws and policies pertaining to children and informs us that all interventions must be developmentally appropriate. Children are not “little adults” and cannot be treated as such by anyone working in the juvenile justice field.
The role of the juvenile justice court is outlined in Welfare and Institutions Code §202:
“Minors under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court who are in need of protective services shall receive care, treatment, and guidance consistent with their best interest and the best interest of the public. Minors under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court as a consequence of delinquent conduct shall, in conformity with the interests of public safety and protection, receive care, treatment, and guidance that is consistent with their best interest, that holds them accountable for their behavior, and that is appropriate for their circumstances. This guidance may include punishment that is consistent with the rehabilitative objectives of this chapter.” The court consider “the safety and protection of the public, the importance of redressing injuries to victims, and the best interests of the minor in all deliberations.”
Learn about rules and orders that set the standards for Juvenile Justice Court in Santa Clara County.
While juveniles are clearly different compared to adults, juveniles of different ages may be handled differently in the juvenile justice system.
Recent reform efforts have also changed the face of juvenile justice in Santa Clara County.
The Santa Clara County Public Defender Office’s Juvenile Division consists of dedicated juvenile attorneys who work closely with social workers, investigators, paralegals, and law clerks to provide outstanding legal representation for youth in the juvenile justice system. The Public Defender’s Office represents all youth regardless of family income level.
Juvenile law is an extremely complex and specialized area of the law. In fact, before an attorney can be appointed to represent a child or youth in juvenile court, the attorney must have received specialized legal training. (Welfare and Institutions Code § 634.3; California Rule of Court 5.664).
Our attorneys attend regular trainings held by the juvenile justice court, participate in other Bay Area and state trainings offered by other public defender offices, and practice in juvenile court every day.
Additionally, the Public Defender Juvenile Division has access to in-house immigration attorneys, a community outreach attorney, and social workers to craft individualized case plans and address individual needs for each youth. The Juvenile Division zealously advocates for the legal rights of our young clients at every stage of the court process, from the original detention hearing or arraignment through dismissal of probation and record sealing. We always seek to ensure that youth and their families are treated with the utmost dignity and respect and remain informed throughout the process.