Thank you to the State Bar of California hich produced the “Kids and the Law” of which this is an extract. For the entire booklet go to: Children’s law
Criminal law and crimes represent those acts, behaviors or attitudes that society believes are wrong and wishes to discourage. When a minor or adult violates a criminal law, it is the state, on behalf of society, that files a lawsuit. County prosecutors are the state’s designated representatives and have the discretion to choose which violations of criminal law are most important to prosecute or punish. When the state prosecutes someone for breaking a criminal law, the wrongdoer could face a fine, be locked up in a county jail or sent to state prison. In a civil case, you may have to pay a fine if you lose, but you will not be sent to jail.
In California, most of the laws defining criminal conduct can be found in the California Penal Code, but criminal acts are defined in other areas of the law as well. City and county ordinances also are considered part of criminal law and include, for example, curfew laws, laws against smoking and laws requiring smoke detectors or fire escapes.
Criminal offenses are divided into three categories: felonies, misdemeanors and infractions. (PC § 16) A felony is the most serious type of crime and is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment in a state prison, ora death sentence. A misdemeanor is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment in a county jail for no more than one year in most cases. Infractions usually do not involve any jail time, but the defendant must appear in court and/or pay a fine. If charged with an infraction, you are not entitled to a jury trial or an attorney at state expense. Most traffic violations are infractions. Finally, some crimes are punishable either as misdemeanors or felonies. These crimes are called wobblers and are considered felonies until the judgment is imposed.
MYTH : Some parents believe that children who are under a certain age cannot be convicted of a criminal act. But while a child’s age and experience do impact a court’s determination as to whether the child understands that his or her actions were wrong, there is no magic age at which a child cannot be found guilty of a crime. (PC § 26) If the state seeks to prosecute a child under the age of 14 in California, however, attorneys must establish clear proof that the child knew that his or her act was wrong at the time. For more information about how criminal laws relate to kids, see Juvenile Court.
This information is provided for educational purposes only. For more information about divorce and family law in Los Angeles please visit www.la-familylaw.com