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New California Law Modifies California’s Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

In September 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed California Senate Bill 439 into law.  The act amends Sections 601 and adds Section 602.1 to California’s Welfare and Institutions Code as these sections relate to juveniles.  Under the former law, juvenile courts had jurisdiction over cases involving a “minor” (persons under 18 years of age) and the former law did not set a “minimum age” in which the juvenile court would not hear a juvenile court case.  The new law also blocks California juvenile courts from automatically assuming jurisdiction over cases involving children who are accused of a crime and are under the age of 12.

The New Juvenile Law Under California 439

California’s Senate Bill 439 signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown states that the juvenile court system in California has jurisdiction in juvenile cases under the following circumstances:

  1. The child is between 12 and 17 years of age; and,
  2. The child has violated California Penal Code, Federal Law, or any municipal ordinance.

Senate Bill 439 also clarifies that the California juvenile court system will continue to have jurisdiction over cases involving children who are under the age of 12 and who are accused of the following criminal acts:

  • Oral copulation,
  • Rape
  • Sexual penetration,
  • Sodomy, and
  • Murder

Under the new law, the California juvenile court system only has jurisdiction over sex offenses when the minor commits the sex crime using violence, force, and threats of physical harm.

The new law went into effect on January 1, 2019.  California is one of over 20 other states that have passed similar juvenile laws aimed at preventing future recidivism when the children grow up into young adults. Recidivism is defined as the act of repeating an undesirable behavior following punishment of a crime.

Opponents of the bill, prior to the bill becoming law in 2019, stated that most juvenile delinquency cases were either dismissed or the cases were resolved by the attorneys who represent juveniles charged with a crime.

Those people who backed, supported and help to push the Senate bill into law say that there are three key benefits to the new law.

  1. When children under the age of 12 are exposed to the justice system, the child suffers from the lack of educational opportunities and healthy mental development.
  2. Studies have proven that the younger the child is exposed to the justice system, the higher likelihood the child will become a chronic offender later in life.
  3. Scientific evidence shows children need more time to develop and mature than what was previously believed.

In essence, the new California law deems children under the age of 12 as too young to face the juvenile court system. One California Senator, who helped sponsor Senate Bill 439, stated that the bill is important because most children who commit an offense “exhibit behaviors” that should necessitate the criminal justice system.

Studies have concluded that young children who face the judicial system and have been punished with incarceration have suffered even more mental health issues leading to repeat offenses and a lack of an education.

According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, California’s young adult and youth arrest rates have fallen by over 66% since 1978 and the rate continues to fall each year.  For example, the felony arrest rates for young adults and children under the age of 18 dropped by 42% from 2010 to 2015.  The arrest rates for children under the age of 12 dropped by 95% from 1978 to 2015.

Attorney Wesley J. Schroeder is particularly sensitive to the legal needs and rights of our youth and young adults. If your child or young adult has been accused of a crime and you need to retain an attorney, contact Attorney Schroeder. Attorney Schroeder is a strong advocate for children facing the juvenile court system.  If Attorney Schroeder is able to represent your child, he will fight hard for you and your child’s best interest.

Contact Our Juvenile Court Defense Attorney

A conviction of any criminal offense can have lifelong repercussions for your child.  A criminal record may prevent your child from receiving student loan and grants and may affect their ability to pass employment screenings when applying for jobs.  If you or your child has been charged with a criminal offense in San Jose or Santa Clara, it is crucial that you speak to our experienced San Jose Juvenile Court Attorney.  Please call 408.277.0377 today to schedule your initial consultation with Attorney Wesley J. Schroeder.


Wesley Schroeder, Attorney at Law
181 Devine Street
San Jose, CA 95110
Phone: 408-277-0377
Monday – Friday 9am-5pm or by appointment