Several steps are involved in the juvenile court process. First, when a law enforcement officer arrests your child, he/she can either release them after warning them, give them a citation to appear in court later but set them free in the meantime, or take them to juvenile hall.

If the minor is taken to juvenile hall, he/she is investigated and released if the charges aren’t serious. But if the charges are serious, the child will remain in juvenile hall to undergo the juvenile court process. The court process entails the detention hearing, transfer hearing, adjudication hearing, and disposition hearing.

Many issues are involved in each of these steps that neither you nor your child may know. You will need to hire an attorney who will give legal advice and represent your child in court. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we are always available to help your child navigate the juvenile court process.

Given our expertise and interaction with the juvenile justice system, we may be able to obtain the best probable outcome for your child. Kindly reach out to us any time if your child is facing charges. In this article, you learn about a particular stage in a juvenile court process, known as disposition hearing.

Juvenile Disposition Hearing Overview

In California juvenile delinquency court, a child’s trial is referred to as an adjudication hearing. Should the juvenile lose at trial, he/she will move on to the sentencing stage of the court process, which is called the disposition hearing. A juvenile disposition hearing is the same as a sentencing hearing in adult court. Here, the judge has determined that the child has violated probation or committed a crime, and he/she decides what disciplinary action he/she will impose.

Several sentencing options are available in juvenile court. The judge formulates a sentence tailored to a specific juvenile offender to rehabilitate them. He/she considers many factors when determining what sentence to impose, but specifically, he/she will take into account:

  • The juvenile’s age,
  • Their prior delinquent history, and
  • The gravity and circumstances of the crime

The judge can’t penalize your child for not confessing or declining to enter a guilty plea. However, he/she can consider whether the child violated PC 118 perjury by giving false testimony at their adjudication hearing.

When Does a Disposition Hearing Occur?

In case the judge has all the info he/she requires to impose a sentence upon your child at the time of the adjudication hearing, the disposition hearing will occur immediately after the adjudication hearing ends. But if he/she is still awaiting the probation officer’s social study or in case you or your kid want to present relevant proof that could help reveal the child’s good side, then the disposition hearing will be delayed.

The social study includes the officer’s recommended penalty, and everyone who is part of the case is given a copy before the hearing. Apart from recommendations, the social study also contains other info to help determine what ought to happen to the juvenile, such as:

  • School and family history
  • Prior criminal history
  • A victim’s statement in case the present charges are felonies

During the hearing, the child and the prosecutor can submit to the court proof to help the judge decide. The victim could also give an oral or written statement to the court during the proceeding. The judge must think about:

  • How the victim’s injuries will be fixed
  • How to safeguard the public
  • What is best for the child

If your kid has mental health problems, the judge may order a psych evaluation. But be assured that the judge cannot continue with doing things indefinitely. In case your child is already in custody, the disposition hearing must occur within ten court days of the adjudication hearing.

Sentencing Options for Your Minor

Several sentencing/disposition options are available in a juvenile delinquency case. The court tries to impose a sentence that’ll discipline the child and, at the same time, assist them in having the necessary tools to be an industrious citizen.

Disposition options range from informal probation, charge dismissal in the interests of justice, to being committed in a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility.

Commitment to DJJ Facilities

A DJJ facility is a locked institution meant for young offenders who have committed the most severe crimes. If the judge has made your child a ward of the court and committed a crime that requires sex offender registration per PC 290.008(c) or an offense specified under VIC 707(b), the judge will order that he/she be committed to one of these facilities. These crimes include robbery, murder, rape, and other severe sex offenses.

The primary aim of sending your child to this kind of facility isn’t punishment. Rather, he/she is sent there to undergo offender treatment, training, and a victim and community restoration. If the court is thinking about committing your kid to a DJJ facility, it may direct that the minor be enrolled for a ninety-day diagnostic study. This study makes treatment suggestions to the court.

However, your child must be 11 years old or above for the judge to commit them to the DJJ facility. In case he/she has been sentenced to an adult prison, he/she will be taken there once he/she turns eighteen years unless he/she can serve the whole of his/her sentence before their 25th birthday. They will also need to be enrolled in any of the programs available to stay at the facility. Juvenile offenders are enrolled in different DJJ programs based on maturity level, treatment needs, age, individual risks, and educational needs.

While in the DJJ facility, your child must go to school full-time, just like all other offenders. If he/she finishes high school, we have college programs available and vocational training. He/she could also be assigned to a paying job, for instance, landscaping, janitorial work, and food prep.

Apart from these core courses, the child might also be placed into programs addressing individual needs, such as sexual conduct treatment, rigorous behavior treatment, conduct treatment programs, and mental health residential units.

Your child’s maximum confinement term at the DJJ facility can’t go beyond the period a grownup would face for the same criminal misconduct. The court can also set a confinement period that’s lower than the grownup maximum. There isn’t a minimum confinement term a judge must impose.

If your child is guilty of a non-WIC 707(b) crime, he/she must be released after two years or when they turn 21 years old, whichever occurs last. And if he/she is guilty of a WIC 707(b) crime (with one exception) should be released after 24 months or after turning 23 years, whichever comes later. The exception is if that minor committed criminal misconduct, that would be punished by seven years for a grown-up. It doesn’t have to be a WIC 707(b) crime. If this is the case, the kid must be set free after two years or after turning 25 years, whichever comes last. Your kid might not face the aDJJ facility sentënce if he/she is sentenced to ninety days or less.

If your child is sent to a DJJ facility, the commitment could be modified/changed. The juvenile court has the power to modify/change given wardship conditions. If, for instance, your minor’s welfare isn’t being met at their respective facility, their lawyer could bring a motion seeking the commitment to be modified. If the court rules that your kid isn’t benefiting by being at the facility, it can change his/her previous orders.

Dismissal Per W&I Code 782

The judge of the juvenile court in which a petition was brought might dismiss the petition or set aside the findings then dismiss the petition, should he/she find it in the interest of justice. He/she could also dismiss the petition if the minor’s welfare warrants the dismissal or if he/she finds that the minor doesn’t need rehabilitation or treatment. The court can throw out the petition or set aside the findings and dismiss notwithstanding whether the child is, at the time of the order, a dependent child or ward of the court.

Informal Probation and Diversion Per W&I Code 654

Per W&I Code 654, the judge diverts your child’s case to probation before petition filing happens. Your child’s lawyer would try to obtain this kind of sentencing option for the minor if they committed a less severe case like shoplifting or any other petty theft. This means that the juvenile will either avoid petition filing in the first place or have his/her charges dropped once he/she completes probation.

To adjust the situation that brings the kid within the court’s jurisdiction or create the likelihood that the child will soon be within that jurisdiction, the probation officer devises a plan that cannot go beyond six months. Generally, the program includes counseling and education. In case your child performs poorly, the probation officer could still kick off formal petition proceedings with the juvenile court.

DAs are now required to prioritize rehabilitation over punishments. They are required to seek the minimum sentence appropriate and allowable in each specific case.

Should your child fail to follow the terms and conditions of the diversion or commit a violation, their case is referred to the DA, who is likely to file a petition in juvenile court.

Informal Probation Per W&I Code 725

The judge may decide to place your child on informal probation under W&I Code 725. The difference between W&I Code 654 and W&I Code 725 is that under Code 725, a petition is filed. However, it’s delayed, so the kid has another chance. Here, your child won’t plead guilty, and provided they adhere to the conditions of probation, the court will dismiss the petition.

Probation conditions may generally include counseling for you and your child, curfew, and school attendance. Other possible ones are restitution and undergoing drug testing. This probation goes for six months.

Formal Probation at Home

If the judge directs that your child be a ward of the court, he/she could sentence them to probation term. Sometimes the child can serve their probation period at home (despite being a ward of the court).

Alternatively, the judge may assign your kid to the most appropriate placement in a relative’s or group home, including level 14 homes for emotionally troubled children. Terms of probation may include anything reasonable for the kid’s rehabilitation, such as restitution, graffiti removal, community service, not mingling with various people, alcohol or drug abuse counseling, curfew restrictions, or mandatory schooling.

If your child requires a higher level of structure, the court may send them to a probation camp for up to a year.

And if the minor violates the mentioned probation terms, the probation officer assigned to them would inform the DA and the court of the supposed probation violation. The DA would then bring a petition per W&I 777 to revoke and cancel probation. The juvenile has a right to a formal hearing to contest the alleged probation violation. The probation officer compiles a report and makes recommendations concerning whether the child should be taken away from home.

Deferred Entry of Judgment Per W&I Code 790

Another disposition option is Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ) per W&C 790. Under DEJ, your child is required to admit that he/she is guilty to the petition’s claims but leads to charge dismissal upon completing the DEJ program.

This sentencing option is mostly for first-time felony offenders whose crimes aren’t listed under W&I Code 707(b). It lasts between twelve and thirty-six months.

If your child is supposed to have violated his/her DEJ sentence, he/she may be declared a ward of the court and put on probation. Any juvenile on DEJ doesn’t have a right to a formal probation hearing. However, they have a right to a hearing depending on the probation officer’s report recommending the DEJ program revocation. The child has a right to a formal contested disposition hearing should the court want to take away the kid from you.

Note that a minor can have a court case that falls under Juvenile Justice (Welfare & Institutions Code 602 and Code 300) and Juvenile Delinquency. When this is the case, the Juvenile Probation Department and (DFCS) Department of Family and Children’s Services write a recommendation together to the juvenile court, stating what kind of status or case would be ideal for the juvenile and society’s protection.

If the court chooses just one kind of case, that case is heard in either Dependency Court or Juvenile Justice, based on which is selected. The other one is then dismissed. At times, a juvenile will have the two cases simultaneously. This is known as dual status. If this is the case, the Juvenile Justice case will first occur; then the Dependency one is suspended. After the Juvenile Justice case ends, including any probation or confinement time (the period in Juvenile detention), the Dependency case is now heard.

After the Juvenile Disposition Hearing

We have several things that could happen once the case has ended. They include:

  • Appealing the sentence
  • More restrictive sentence
  • Request to vacate the court order
  • Request to seal juvenile’s records

Appealing the Sentence

If your child is not content with the ending of the court process, or if he/she thinks his/her rights were overlooked or disregarded, his/her attorney could file an appeal. And if he/she is appealing, his/her attorney must file a Notice of Appeal with the court. The child only has sixty days after the court order or sentencing hearing to appeal. At times, the prosecution can appeal if the court’s ruling wasn’t in their favor.

Request to Vacate the Court Order

Your kid could ask the judge to cancel or change an order by the court. He/she could do so because his/her situation changed or due to a lack of new evidence.

More Restrictive Sentence

If the child is not doing what they are supposed to, they might have to return to court, where the judge will impose a harsher sentence.

Request to Seal the Juvenile’s Records

In case, after five years, your child does not have other cases in juvenile court, they can request to have their criminal records sealed if their only contact was with a probation officer. In case the initial hearing was before a judge, they could request that their records be sealed any time after they turn 18. At times, a probation officer or the juvenile himself/herself can seek for the judge to seal:

  • The court file
  • Arrest records
  • Probation records
  • Exhibits
  • Records of other agencies that might have information regarding the minor’s case
  • Judicial findings

Your child must complete an application requesting the records to be sealed then pay an application fee. The department of probation decides on the minor’s request. The probation officer does the following:

  • Decides whether the juvenile may file a petition requesting the records to be sealed
  • Completes and brings the petition to the court
  • Compiles a report to give to the court
  • Obtains a court date
  • Informs the prosecution

The judge will read the report and petition then make a decision. He/she will have to consider what crime the juvenile committed, if they served their whole sentence and are rehabilitated, whether any lawsuits are still pending about the minor’s offense.

When the judge grants the request to seal the records, it means the minor’s file will be closed, and all the records within are deemed not to exist anymore and aren’t in the public domain either. This intends to protect grownups from prior crimes on their juvenile criminal record and enables them to answer no whenever they’re asked if:

  • They’ve ever been arrested,
  • Have any criminal record,
  • They have a sealed record.

California juvenile court proceedings aren’t considered criminal, and your child isn’t convicted. Instead, they’re declared a ward of the court. By this, it means that the minors who don’t have their criminal records sealed could still be lawfully capable of stating that they’ve never been found guilty of an offense. But professional licensing boards or prospective employers might still be capable of finding the conviction. That is why most persons with old juvenile criminal records choose to have their records sealed per W&I Code 781.

After the record is sealed, it is only opened in two limited situations. In case the individual whose record is sealed is a party to a case involving defamation claims, their juvenile criminal record could be reopened during the civil proceedings then be re-sealed after the proceeding ends. Additionally, the California DMV may permit insurance providers to view an individual’s driving history, which might include facts regarding their sealed juvenile criminal record, when establishing risk factors and insurance eligibility.

The court only retains sealed juvenile records in extraordinary situations. It directs that the records be destroyed five years after the child was named a ward of the court for being involved in truancy or being disobedient. Or they are destroyed after the individual turns thirty-eight if they were declared a ward of the court for engaging in criminal conduct.

Find a Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

It’s certainly critical for your child to have a criminal attorney during the disposition hearing and other steps in the juvenile court process. With help from a skilled juvenile criminal defense attorney, you can understand what process the child will undergo and help them prepare adequately.

At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we pride ourselves in providing expert legal help for our San Jose clients. We will fight for your child’s rights, help you bring him/her home, devise a plan of action to rectify any conduct issues, and have a fulfilling and productive future. If your child is facing criminal charges, call us now at 408-622-0204, and we will look into your case right away.