blog home Criminal Defense Do Juveniles Have a Right to Self-Defense?

Do Juveniles Have a Right to Self-Defense?

By San Diego Attorney on June 23, 2021

One teenager holding another against a wall

Self-defense is one of the first legal concepts the average person brings up when facing a potential assault and battery charge. While this is a useful defense, it only applies in a handful of scenarios and requires a skilled attorney to know how to use it. When a minor is arrested for inflicting physical violence on someone else, this defense may rely on a specific interpretation of the law.

How Are Minor Assault and Battery Charges Handled?

First, it is important to understand the legal definitions of assault and battery. In California, these are two separate charges that are defined as:

  • Assault: The “unlawful attempt” to injure someone else and the ability to do so, according to California Penal Code 240 PC. Assault does not mean that a person was injured, simply that the defendant attempted to harm someone else. In addition, the defendant must also have had the ability to harm someone. Simply threatening to fight someone is not considered assault until someone throws the first punch.
  • Battery: Unlike assault, battery does include the “willful” act of using force or violence upon someone else, according to Penal Code 242. In this case, if someone started a fight and did injure another person, then it would go from assault to battery.

Both adults and juveniles can be charged with assault and battery, but these cases are handled differently. Adults will be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on certain aggravating factors, such as the use of a weapon, how seriously the victim was injured, and if the victim was a protected individual. Adult cases are processed through the criminal justice system, and adults can face imprisonment in county jail or state prison.

In contrast, juvenile crimes are handled by each county’s Juvenile Court. Here in the San Diego County, your child’s case will be handled at the San Diego Juvenile Court, East Juvenile Court in El Cajon, or North County Juvenile Court in Vista.

Juvenile Court is focused on rehabilitating juvenile offenders under the age of 18 rather than punishing them. When a juvenile is accused of assault and/or battery, the court will review all facts in his case and, if the juvenile is found guilty, he will be declared “delinquent” and made a “ward of the court.” This means the court has authority over the juvenile’s punishments and rehabilitation, which allows it to order community service, probation, curfews, counseling, and other restrictions in order to correct the juvenile’s behavior. A juvenile may face more serious punishments, however, if his actions were related to a gang crime.

It is important to note that these punishments are separate from what the juvenile’s school will implement. Many schools in San Diego County have zero-tolerance policies around fighting, whether it takes place on or off the school campus. If a juvenile court does convict a juvenile of assault and/or battery, it is likely that the juvenile’s school will expel him. However, if a juvenile’s attorney successfully defends him in court, then there may be no impact on the juvenile’s school record.

Can a Child Be Tried as an Adult?

Only in rare cases will a child (anyone under 18) be tried as an adult for assault and/or battery. Courts can only try juveniles as adults when they are at least 14 years old and have committed a serious offense, such as using a deadly weapon, harming a peace officer, or violently injuring someone else. In general, a juvenile court will want to rehabilitate the offender rather than pursuing charges in an adult court.

What Option Does My Child Have?

Even in juvenile court, your child does have a right to an attorney, and you should not hesitate to contact one. Assault and battery charges can impact your child’s future, from their ability to seek a higher education to appearing on their permanent record. Your child can face expulsion, potentially be sent to a detention center, and you may have to pay for their fines and court fees. But a skilled San Diego criminal defense lawyer can represent your child in juvenile court.

With regard to self-defense, it may apply in your child’s case. Self-defense is a legal argument that a defendant used reasonable force to prevent another person from harming him or someone else. What is considered “reasonable force” varies from case to case. If someone attempted to mug your teenager and they pushed the assailant away, then self-defense would apply. However, if your child continued to attack their assailant, then the court may consider their actions unreasonable. In addition, if your child attempted to break up a fight to protect another student, then their actions would be considered legal so long as they did not use unnecessary force.

But self-defense is not the only option in a juvenile assault and battery case. At jD LAW, our legal team has experience successfully defending clients and can work through the facts of your child’s case to build a strong defense. To discuss your child’s options, call us at (760) 630-2000 to get a free case evaluation.

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