How Long Can a Juvenile in California be Held in Custody?

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There are several outcomes to when a juvenile under the age of 18 is held in custody for a crime. The first outcome is whether the juvenile committed a serious crime, such as murder, rape, or forcible sexual acts on a victim under the age of 14. If the juvenile is at least 14 years old at the time of a felony crime, he/she may be tried as an adult. It is essential to hire a juvenile defense attorney at once, preferably before the detention hearing is held.

Detention Hearing

Any juvenile in custody must be brought before the court within 48 hours after being detained. The parents or guardian should already have an attorney with them to help understand what the charges are, as presented by the judge. The attorney’s role is to plead for the juvenile to be released as California does not give the possibility for bail injuvenile courts. Here is what to expect before you go to a detention hearing.

This is also the time where the judge gets input from the prosecutor, the juvenile defense attorney, the parents, and a probation officer, if one is already in place from an earlier crime conviction. This process is covered under the California Welfare & Institutions Code § 635. This process is for the judge to determine if there is a chance for rehabilitation of the juvenile.

The court decides, based on the crime, whether the juvenile is eligible to be released to the parents or guardian, or whether the juvenile, under a serious criminal charge, must stay in jail until a “trial” begins, also known as the jurisdiction hearing. This hearing must take place within 15 days and is where the judge passes the sentence.

Juvenile history review

During the preliminary detention hearing, the judge decides on the status of the juvenile, based on earlier history of convicted crimes, such as if the juvenile was already 14 at that time the earlier crimes were committed.

If these crimes were not felonies, the juvenile may receive a probation sentence which could include community service and paying restitution to the victim in a way the judge sees fit. Typically, the parents handle financial restitutions as well as a portion of daily fees for detention.

Sentencing for Serious Crimes

            Serious crime sentences are imposed where the juvenile in custody is put into a probation camp, a group home, juvenile hall, or juvenile prison under the California Division of Juvenile Justice (CDJJ). The juvenile becomes a ward of the state under such sentences.

Terms of Custody

            Sentencing in serious crimes usually carries variable terms of custody. If a juvenile commits a serious crime before age 16, then he/she can be held as a ward of the state until the age of 21. If the juvenile was 16 years old or more when the crime was committed, he/she may be held in custody under the previously-mentioned judicial choice of custody until the age of 25.

Call us at once if you need help with a jailed juvenile custody case. (619) 234-2300

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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