Juvenile Drug Offenses


All too often, youths in California end up in the juvenile justice system because of drugs. Whether they were caught with drugs in their school locker or backpack, or suspected of having gotten involved in drug sales or transportation, a drug offense has the potential to derail a teenager’s life for years to come.

When a juvenile encounters the juvenile justice system, that can be a source of stress not only for the juvenile, but also for the juvenile’s parents or guardians. If you’re a juvenile who has been accused of a drug-related offense, you’re likely feeling scared about what’s going to happen to you. If you’re a parent or guardian, you may end up feeling like your world is spinning out of control as you deal with your child’s arrest and your energy is drawn away from other aspects of family life.

It’s important for a child or teenager facing charges to have representation by an experienced San Diego drug lawyer. A good defense lawyer can look out for the juvenile’s best interests and work to get an outcome that will help the juvenile to get help with any issues such as substance abuse or mental health, set the juvenile back onto a stable path, and preserve the juvenile’s future.

The juvenile system is based on the idea that children and teenagers may lack the maturity to make good decisions. When they make a mistake, the system is intended to rehabilitate the juvenile and try to help the young person learn to make better decisions as he or she grows into adulthood. That intention can offer some hope to parents or guardians, and the juveniles themselves.

California Juvenile Process

The court process for juveniles is somewhat different than for adults. Juveniles arrested for offenses that would be crimes if committed by adults are not charged with the crime itself, such as drug trafficking, but rather with “delinquency.”

The juvenile justice process starts when the juvenile is arrested. If the offense is sufficiently minor, the police may decide to let the juvenile go with a warning. However, the police also may opt to take the juvenile into custody. If this happens, the juvenile typically is detained at juvenile hall, and a delinquency petition may be filed in a juvenile court. Another possibility is that the juvenile may enter a diversion program at that point and be placed on probation.

There may be a series of hearings in the juvenile’s delinquency case, and the juvenile has rights through each step of the process, including the right to an attorney. The parents also have the right to be present at the juvenile’s court hearings. If the juvenile is found delinquent, then the case proceeds to disposition, which is similar to sentencing in an adult court.

The potential outcomes when a juvenile is found delinquent may include:

  • Probation, which may include requirements to attend school, maintain a curfew, perform community service, or complete substance abuse treatment
  • Deferred entry of judgment, in which the juvenile admits to the charge but the charge is dismissed upon completion of the program
  • Placement in a foster home, group home or probation camp
  • Commitment to a juvenile detention facility for certain kinds of offenses, including some offenses regarding drug manufacturing and sales

Common Juvenile Drug Offenses

Many juvenile delinquency cases that start with drug offenses are the result of a juvenile being found in possession of drugs. However, it’s not uncommon for juveniles to be involved in drug trafficking and to end up in the system for that reason.

Drug Possession

California has legalized marijuana use for persons over 21 years of age. However, it continues to be a crime to possess any quantity of controlled substances such as:

  • Meth
  • Heroin
  • Crack cocaine
  • Ecstasy
  • LSD
  • PCP

A juvenile suspected of drug possession may be charged with delinquency and face delinquency proceedings in a California juvenile court.

Drug Trafficking

It’s a disturbing fact that drug cartels often will recruit teenagers to transport drugs for them as couriers or mules. The juveniles are lured in with promises that they’ll earn a lot of cash — and that they won’t face consequences if they’re caught because they’re underage. The reality is that juveniles who become involved with drug trafficking operations in California can face very serious consequences if they’re arrested.

Drug trafficking can involve transporting, selling, administering, or giving a controlled substance to another person. A juvenile can face drug trafficking charges for even offering to transport, sell, administer, or give a drug to someone.

Drug trafficking charges aren’t limited to street drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, PCP, or ecstasy. Drug trafficking also can involve prescription drugs such as Vicodin, Xanax, Oxycontin, or Valium when they’re not being sold or administered pursuant to a valid prescription.

When California Juveniles Are Tried As Adults

Most juvenile drug offenses are adjudicated in California juvenile courts. However, there are some circumstances in which a juvenile may be charged and tried as an adult. If convicted as an adult, the juvenile may face penalties that may include serving a sentence of incarceration in an adult jail or prison alongside adult offenders.

Before a juvenile’s case is transferred to an adult criminal court, the juvenile judge will have what is known as a “fitness hearing” to determine whether the case should stay in the juvenile court or be transferred. This hearing presents an opportunity for a skilled juvenile drug defense lawyer to argue to keep the case — and any resulting penalties — in the juvenile justice system.

The factors that a juvenile judge will consider at a fitness hearing include:

  • The juvenile’s degree of criminal sophistication
  • The possibility that the juvenile can be rehabilitated before the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over the juvenile expires
  • Whether the juvenile has any previous history of delinquency
  • Whether previous efforts to rehabilitate the juvenile were successful
  • The circumstances and gravity of the offense of which the juvenile has been accused

Compassionate Representation for San Diego Juvenile Drug Offenses

California’s juvenile justice system can seem complex and overwhelming to a teenager or his or her parent or guardian. A minor charged with delinquency may feel alone and that no one is listening to his or her side of the story. A good San Diego drug defense lawyer can approach your child’s case with sensitivity and compassion, and help to ensure that the outcome is in your child’s best interests. In some instances, it may be possible to get the case dismissed without your child having to go through delinquency proceedings at all.

When handled with care, juvenile delinquency proceedings can help a teenager get the help they need to manage volatile emotions or substance abuse issues that might have led to their arrest. A skilled juvenile drug defense attorney can work to see that as part of the outcome, your child gets any treatment that might be appropriate, such as drug or alcohol abuse counseling. An attorney also can petition to seal your juvenile’s record so that a youthful mistake doesn’t follow your child into adulthood.

If the charge is one of the more serious varieties, an San Diego drug lawyer can work to keep your child’s case in the juvenile system instead of adult court. By keeping the case in a San Diego juvenile court, your juvenile may have greater opportunities to enter diversion or alternative programs that are designed for rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Call the experienced San Diego drug defense attorneys at McElfresh Law at (858) 756-7107 for a consultation about your child’s drug arrest today.