Juvenile Disposition Hearings

A juvenile disposition hearing bears similarities to an adult court sentencing hearing. It takes place when a minor has violated the terms of their probation or committed a crime. During this hearing, the judge determines the appropriate disciplinary actions for the minor. The juvenile court provides a range of sentencing options, and the judge has the freedom to choose the most suitable one. The judge will select the sentencing option that promotes the minor's rehabilitation.

To achieve the most favorable results, it is highly recommended to have a skilled attorney represent your child if they are scheduled to show up for a disposition hearing. At Darwish Law, we specialize in assisting minors in preparing for and representing them during a juvenile disposition hearing. Get in touch if you need expert legal representation in Santa Ana, CA.

An Overview of California Juvenile Disposition Hearings

A court proceeding in which a magistrate makes decisions regarding a juvenile’s case is commonly referred to as a juvenile disposition hearing. This type of hearing is equivalent to a criminal court hearing for sentencing in adulthood. If the probation officer bears enough evidence to demonstrate that the juvenile has committed the alleged offense, a disposition hearing becomes necessary. Following the presentation of evidence by the officers, the judge presides over the case and determines the appropriate sanctions that the juvenile court will impose on the offending minor.

It is important to note that in the juvenile court system, there is no trial process for offenders. This means that they are denied the opportunity to refute the accusations made against them. Consequently, during the disposition hearing, neither the minor nor his or her parent(s) or guardian will have the opportunity to speak. However, you should consider working with an experienced defense lawyer. Your lawyer will make sure that the judge does not impose a harsh punishment on your minor.

The juvenile is required to attend an adjudication court hearing before the disposition hearing. This hearing is similar to trials in the criminal court system for adults. During the adjudication proceedings, the court presents the proof against the juvenile. Testimony from the alleged victims, the minor's family, and members of the public would be heard. If the juvenile is found guilty during this hearing, the magistrate will move to the disposition hearings or the sentencing phase of the procedure.

The judge may impose a light or severe sentence on the minor, depending on these factors:

  • The age of the minor.
  • The specifics of the case.
  • Severity and nature of the transgression.
  • The juvenile's prior criminal record.

If a juvenile chooses not to enter a guilty plea or confess, the judge is unable to impose punishment on them. However, the minor's behavior during the proceedings can influence the judge's decision. For example, if the juvenile gives false information, which is considered an infringement of perjury statutes, the judge may take that into account.

A seasoned criminal defense lawyer plays a crucial role during disposition hearings. Your lawyer will put forth a lot of effort to ensure that your minor is returned to their rightful place at home or school, working closely with the probation department.

When Do Disposition Hearings Take Place?

The timing of disposition hearings is not clearly defined. To ensure that you don't miss any of the stages your child goes through before the case is decided, it is crucial to actively participate in the procedures. Disposition and adjudication hearings are occasionally scheduled on different days, while at other times the hearings may occur the same day or even just a short time apart. After the adjudication hearing, if there is enough information available to determine the appropriate sentence after reviewing the evidence against the child, the juvenile court judge may proceed with a disposition hearing.

However, the minor should wait a little bit longer for the assigned probation officer to present his or her social studies. This study includes the recommended penalty based on the minor's behavior and the seriousness of the crime. The minor's parent or legal guardian may choose to withhold the submission of any evidence that might favorably portray the juvenile. If that’s the case, the judge may decide to reschedule the juvenile disposition hearing.

If there is reason to believe that the minor is mentally ill, the disposition hearing may be postponed. After reviewing the psychologist's report, the magistrate will schedule a disposition hearing and order the minor to undergo a psychological assessment.

On the other hand, keep in mind that:

  • Continuously postponing disposition hearings is not possible. The presiding judge will need to render a punishment against the child sooner rather than later.
  • The minor may testify during the disposition hearing.
  • A disposition hearing is one that the victim is entitled to attend. During this hearing, the victim has the opportunity to prepare a spoken, or written statement that could potentially affect the case.

Type Of Sentences Issued By The Juvenile Court

Probation officers, who handle cases in juvenile justice courts for juveniles found guilty of crimes, have a range of options for sentencing or disposition. The severity of the offense, the victim's status, the minor's prior criminal history, and the extent of harm caused all play a role in determining the severity of the sentence.

During the court hearing, your minor may receive one of the following possible dispositions:

Dismissal, under California WIC 782

The case against a loved one could be completely dismissed by a juvenile court judge, or the judge may choose to overrule the court's decision and withdraw the petition. This can happen if the juvenile court determines that it is in the interest of justice and the well-being of the subject of the petition. Additionally, if the judge resolves that the minor does not require treatment or rehabilitation, they may also reject the petition.

Juvenile justice courts have complete jurisdiction when it comes to reversing court decisions made in a specific case or dismissing a petition. The court's verdict isn’t influenced by the individual who is the subject of the case at hand or whether the juvenile is considered a court ward.

Diversion Disposition

As part of the diversion disposition program, a juvenile's charges are redirected for a specific period. However, only juveniles who enter a guilty plea to the accusations against them are eligible for this disposition. Additionally, they must consent to the terms of the diversion set forth by the judge.

According to Section 654 of the California Welfare and Institutions Act, it is possible for all parties involved to agree on the diversion disposition before filing a case against your loved one. In such a scenario, the designated probation officer in your child's case will develop a plan that involves the participation of the parent or guardian in the minor's treatment or education for a maximum duration of 6 months.

Legal guardians or parents may also have to attend a separate meeting within the community, depending on the nature of the minor's behavior. A minor found guilty under this regulation will spend not more than ninety days in a community-based facility. The juvenile court will discharge or dismiss the case against the minor upon successful completion of the diversion program. Furthermore, first-time and low-level offenders are eligible for diversion.

The program would primarily focus on behavior modification, education, counseling, and treatment. The minor has to consent to attending school or receiving vocational training, as well as participating in group or individual counseling and therapy sessions. Additionally, he or she could be mandated to settle court fines, perform community service, and provide compensation to the alleged victim.

If a juvenile under the diversion disposition fails to fulfill his or her obligations, there will be consequences. The probation unit has the option to file a case against the child in a juvenile justice system within 6 months or 90 days after the conclusion of the 6-month diversion term. This petition will be filed by the probation officer handling the case.

Informal Probation

Sections 554/725 of the California Welfare and Institutions Act provide for informal probation for young offenders. This type of probation involves a maximum six-month period of supervision by a probation officer. During this time, the minor has the option to enroll in a drug or alcohol treatment program. Additionally, the program requires the active participation of the minor's parents or guardians.

If your loved one is put on informal probation, they will face the following consequences:

  • For a maximum of six months during the probationary period.
  • Be required to attend an educational program.
  • Individuals are subject to a curfew from 2200 hours to 0600 hours unless they are accompanied by their parents or legal guardian.
  • The minor's education and counseling program requires the involvement of the parent or guardian.

The minor may also be required to submit to an alcohol or drug test and may be compelled to reconcile with their victim. If the minor is unemployed and unable to fulfill the required payments, the offender's parents or guardians may be obligated to make amends.

Primarily, first-time juveniles who do not use violence are placed on informal probation. The court will dismiss the minor's petition at the end of the probationary period, as long as all probation requirements have been fulfilled and no new offenses have been committed.

Deferred Entry of Judgment

Within the juvenile justice system, one type of disposition is deferred entry of judgment. Juvenile offenders facing drug-related allegations are granted this disposition. In this scenario, offenders request the court to suspend their cases for a minimum of 12 to 36 months, or until they satisfy the court-approved alcohol or drug rehabilitation program.

To persuade the court to postpone the ruling on the juvenile's petition, the minor must acknowledge guilt or enter a plea of guilty to the allegations in this case. If the minor completes the court-mandated programs, there is a possibility that the court may choose to withdraw the juvenile's petition.

First-time and low-level offenders are eligible for DEJ disposition. However, individuals accused of gang-related crimes, violent felonies, gun-related crimes, sexual assault crimes, and other violations specified under California WIC 707b are not eligible.

If your loved one is 14 years old, is a first-time offender facing prosecution for drug-related crimes such as drug possession or sale, or has a history of skipping school, they may be eligible for DEJ (Deferred Entry of Judgment). However, the juvenile should not have recently been designated as a ward of the court due to a criminal conviction, and should not have had their probation revoked before. If the minor complies with all the requirements set forth by the juvenile court within a period of 12 to 36 months into the program, the court will drop the charges against them.

During the duration of a DEJ program, the juvenile is expected to adhere to random drug and alcohol testing, as well as spontaneous police searches of their property or person, even without a warrant. Additionally, they will be required to attend school daily and adhere to curfew rules. Furthermore, the minor will need to reimburse the victim for any lost wages, as ordered by the court.

Formal Probation

When a juvenile offender is designated as a court ward, he or she becomes eligible for formal probation. The minor can be placed on probation in a group home, camp, or with a relative. If the juvenile court determines that the minor requires more structure, he or she will be placed in a group home or camp. During the probationary period, the court would impose conditions that the minor has to adhere to.

In California, some typical conditions of formal probation include the following:

  • The minor must follow curfew restrictions, and breaking the rules is only permitted when the minor is accompanied by his or her parents or legal guardian.
  • When a minor is on probation, they are required to attend school.
  • He or she needs to serve the community.
  • The court could order the child to stay away from specific individuals.
  • The minor needs to receive treatment and counseling for alcohol and drugs.
  • The individual is required to compensate the victim.

If the juvenile court sends your child to a camp and orders them to follow probation, California offers a variety of camp options. These include military-style camps or wilderness camps, where individuals can learn firefighting and forestry techniques. However, the primary focus of these camps will be on therapy and counseling.

Commitment to the State's Juvenile Justice Division

DJJ, or the Division of Juvenile Justice, is a form of disposition for juveniles who perpetrate serious felonies or any other kind of offenses specified under California WIC 707b. Additionally, if a minor has committed a sexual offense that requires enrollment as a sexual offender, the court can also choose to commit them to DJJ.

California DJJ program is specifically designed to provide trauma-informed care and education to young individuals who require intensive treatment and have a criminal history. These programs allow minors to remain enrolled until the age of twenty-five. Typically, minors are placed in county facilities near their community or home to ensure they can stay near their loved ones and access any necessary social services during their rehabilitation process.

Your minor will receive medical attention, therapy, as well as vocational and academic education while enrolled in DJJ. The treatment approach will be determined based on the underlying issue the minor is facing, which could include drug and substance abuse, violence, mental health concerns, or sexual offender behavior. The child's living arrangement will be determined by factors such as age, gender, and the need for specialized care.

Before the minor is transferred to the DJJ correctional establishment, they must fulfill the following requirements:

  • The judge had to declare them wards of the court.
  • For the recent offense they committed, they have to be documented under California WIC 707b.
  • California PC 290. 008c mandates the disclosure of the details of their most recent crime.

The court should determine the maximum length of the minor's incarceration before sending him or her to DJJ. The time spent in confinement cannot exceed the maximum duration an adult could spend in prison for the same crime. However, the magistrate has complete discretion to impose a confinement period that is shorter than the maximum adult prison sentence.

In general, DJJ facilities demand strict and long-term commitments. All minors residing in these establishments are mandated to enroll in school full-time. After completing high school, your child can choose to enroll in vocational or college training programs. Moreover, juveniles housed in DJJ facilities are given the chance to work and earn a wage. They may be assigned tasks such as meal preparation, building maintenance, or landscaping. Access to these facilities is limited to individuals who don’t pose a risk to minors.

Find a Santa Ana Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Knowing the juvenile court system can greatly assist you in understanding what to anticipate during the legal process if your loved one has been arrested on suspicion of a crime. If you are seeking advice, guidance, and protection during a juvenile disposition hearing, it is crucial to consult with an expert criminal defense lawyer. If you require legal assistance in Santa Ana, our team at Darwish Law is available to help you. Our criminal defense lawyers are ready to walk you through the procedure and make sure that your loved one's rights are upheld. Call us today at 714-887-4810.