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Juvenile Disposition Hearings

When your child faces arrest in Van Nuys for breaking the law, they could face certain charges. During the trial, the prosecution and your child’s defense attorney present their arguments in court, and the presiding judge makes the final verdict based on the evidence provided. Disposition hearing in a juvenile court is when the judge presents their ruling or sentencing in the case. This is similar to sentencing in adult cases.

When the judge is convinced that the minor committed the offense they are accused of, they must decide on the disciplinary action to impose. A wide range of options for sentencing exists depending on the particular violation. Some options may be more favorable than others.

You want to increase your chance of achieving the most favorable outcome for your child by engaging an attorney experienced in the juvenile court system. At Leah Legal, we understand the need to rehabilitate your child favorably. We will work with you and your child to petition the court for a favorable outcome.

Understanding Juvenile Disposition Hearing

The juvenile court refers to a minor's trials as adjudication hearings. During the hearing, the minor is represented by a lawyer, while a prosecutor represents the state. If the minor is found guilty or loses the case, the next stage is sentencing, also known as the juvenile disposition hearing.

Before the judge can sentence a minor, they make considerations that include:

  • The minor's age
  • The seriousness of and circumstances surrounding the crime
  • The minor’s prior delinquent history

If a minor refuses to take a guilty plea or to confess to committing the crime, they will not be punished for that. However, if the minor commits perjury according to PEN 118 through giving false testimony, this can be taken into account during their adjudication hearing.

For instance, Chris is found with Vicodin, a controlled substance, violating H&S Code 11350. The evidence presented in court is strong to convict Chris, and he is found guilty of the violation.

Fortunately, Chris has no past juvenile delinquency record and is an excellent student. In this case, the judge sentences Chris to probation under the supervision of a probation officer. Further, Chris is permitted to serve his sentence at home.

Additionally, the judge gives Chris more conditions to his probation that includes attending school and avoiding the company of the kids that supplied him with Vicodin. Another condition to his probation may be completing a drug program approved by the court. Chris's parents bear the drug education program's fee unless they show the court that they cannot meet the costs due to financial constraints.

In another example, Charles is 16 and a member of a street gang. Together with other gang members, they decide to shoot at an inhabited house violating PEN 246 of the California statute. In this case, Charles drove the getaway car, and the offense was committed for the good of the street gang he belongs to. Besides facing PEN 246 charges, Charles will also face other enhancement charges according to PEN 186.22.

Following the trial, Charles is detained at the Juvenile hall to wait for his disposition hearing. On the day of sentencing, the judge sentences him to a county’s probation camp to rehabilitate him. This is a favorable outcome for Charles, considering the magnitude of the crime he was involved in.

When a minor is charged with such severe offenses, a prosecutor might start a transfer hearing seeking the minor to be tried as an adult in an adult court. If the prosecutor can convince the court to transfer the case, Charles would have faced ten years of imprisonment in a regular adult prison.

Because of the understanding that children need guidance and counseling, our lawyers work hard to earn your child probation that will rehabilitate them as they continue with their education.

When does Disposition Hearing Occur?

Generally, disposition hearings are scheduled immediately after the trial. However, this is only when the judge is provided with all the necessary information to facilitate sentencing. In some cases, the probation officer can delay giving their report on the social aspects of the case that includes their preferred sentence.

Additionally, the minor's family or the minor may want to present materials relevant to the case to help in their sentencing. In both these cases, the disposition hearing can be deferred to a later date. The judge might order a psychological examination in cases where a minor has a mental or psychological health issue. This, too, will delay the disposition hearing.

The delay is never that long but depends on when the information can be presented in court. If the child is detained in a juvenile hall, the information missing must be provided fast because a disposition hearing must be scheduled ten days after the trial's conclusion.

During the sentencing hearing, the minor has a right to be present. Additionally, through their lawyer, they can issue a written impact statement and speak to help their case. This means, if the minor wants to testify during their sentence hearing, they have a right to do so.

Possible Sentences a Minor can Receive at the Disposition Hearing

After the conclusion of the trial, a date for a disposition hearing is set. This is when the judge will issue a sentence based on the evidence and findings from the case. Every parent and the accused minor are anxious to know the type of sentence they will receive. At their disposal, the judge has several sentencing options to impose on the minor found guilty of the offense they are accused of.

Normally, under the guidance of the law, the judge imposes a sentence to discipline the youth and equip the minor with essential tools to a more productive citizen.

The sentencing options vary from dismissing the case altogether to probation options and commitment to CYA. These options include:

  • Dismissing of the case according to W&I Sec 782
  • Sentencing the minor to informal probation according to W&I Code 725
  • Deferring entry of judgment as found under W&I Sec. 790
  • Being put to stay with a relative as a formal probation
  • Being sentenced to a group home as a formal probation
  • Being sentenced to attend a probation camp managed by the county
  • Being committed to the California Youth Authority (CYA)

Below, we discuss some of these sentencing options in greater detail.

Informal Probation

If the offense a minor is alleged to have committed is not a serious one, they may be sentenced to diversion and informal probation according to W&I Sec 725 or W&I code 654. For instance, if your child is charged with a nonviolent offense such as vandalism according to PEN 594, and it is their first time, the judge can sentence them to informal probation.

According to W&I code 654, such a minor, nonviolent offense is diverted, and the minor is ordered to probation prior to filing the petition. A lot of the cases brought in juvenile courts involve petty offenses such as shoplifting under PEN 484. Because of the trivial nature of the crime, the defense lawyer for your child will argue to have the child sentenced to diversion or informal probation. Under this, your child will avoid filing the case against them, or the charges of shoplifting are dismissed once probation is completed accordingly.

The probation program is designed by the probation officer who aims at bringing the child within the court's jurisdiction. Generally, the program offers counseling and education to the minor. Sometimes the minor can fail to perform according to the set guidelines of the probation. In this case, the probation officer has an option to start formal proceedings in court.

Informal probation, according to W&I Sec 725, is slightly different from that under section 654. Here, the petition against the minor is usually raised, but the judge puts it on hold to award the minor with another chance. In this case, the youth does not take a guilty plea, and if they comply with the terms and conditions of their probation, the petition against them is dismissed.

The minor is also given probation conditions under the informal probation program. The minor is ordered to attend school without fail, go for counseling, and is given a curfew. The parents of the minor are also ordered to counseling by the judge. If the offense involved drugs, the minor would be expected to submit to drug testing periodically, and if the damage were caused, the parents would pay restitution. Informal probation, in this case, does not go beyond six months.

Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ)

This is another sentencing option the judge can give during juvenile disposition hearings. According to W&I code 790, for a minor to receive this kind of sentencing, they must admit they violated the law according to the allegations against them. If the minor completes their DEJ program, the charges against them are dismissed.

First-time offenders in felony matters not found under section 706(b) are the ones eligible for DEJ programs. DEJ programs typically last from 12 to 36 months.

For instance, Allan is 16 and is found hiding pot in his car's gas tank. The marijuana volume is such that it was for sale, and he was taking it to his customer. In this case, Allan will face charges for violating H&S code 11359 possession to sell and H&S code 11360 transporting controlled substances. Fortunately, this is Allan's first offense.

Although he has had a troubled past, Allan has lately been trying to change, and he is performing well in school. Additionally, his home environment is stable and peaceful. The probation officer assigned Allan's case believes that Allan can be productive through education, rehabilitation, and treatment.

Even when Allan's offense displays sophistication, the court still wants to deter others from committing such offenses and sending a message that such crimes are unacceptable. In this case, Allan will qualify for DEJ. Upon completing his program, Allan can withdraw his guilty admission, and the charges are dismissed.

While growing up, children often mix with the wrong crowds and make mistakes that can affect their future. However, the California juvenile court system understands the need to rehabilitate and not punish minors that violate the law. With an experienced attorney in children's matters, your child can have excellent representation in a juvenile court that could earn them a favorable outcome.

Formal Probation

This is the opposite of informal probation. When during the disposition hearings, the judge sentences your child to formal probation, which means the minor is a court's ward. Although the juvenile is termed a court's ward, sometimes they can be permitted to complete their formal probation term at home.

When the court makes a juvenile their ward, they can sometimes place them at a relative's home for formal probation or in a group home. If the minor is emotionally disturbed, they can be placed in a level 14 group home.

Formal probation for minors also has various conditions or terms that the court finds necessary to aid in the minor's rehabilitation. These terms that must be followed strictly include:

  • A must attendance of school
  • The minor is subjected to a curfew.
  • The child must attend counseling for substance abuse, where applicable.
  • The minor will be prohibited from associating with particular persons.
  • The child can be ordered to community service.
  • The minor can be ordered to remove graffiti.
  • The minor can be ordered to pay restitution for damage caused by their violation.

If the judge finds the minor needs a higher standard of structure in serving their probation sentence, the minor can be sentenced to camp. Probation camp programs in California last between three and twelve months.

California has about seventy probation camps spread across the counties. A majority of the camps have dormitories, offering a more structured schedule to be followed daily. These schedules incorporate education, treatment, and counseling programs.

Other camps though not many exist for minors in California that include fire or wilderness camps. In these camps, the emphasis is on firefighting training and forestry, military-like boot camps, and home-like camps that attend to small groups but offer intense training and treatment.

CYA Commitment

Besides probation, a minor can be committed to CYA. This is the most severe punishment imposed on a minor besides serving time in an adult prison. This type of punishment is reserved for minors that commit serious offenses as found under 707(b) or those that have committed crimes that require them to register as sex offenders.

Repercussions of a Juvenile Adjudication

When a minor is found guilty of committing an offense at a juvenile court, they will be sentenced, as discussed earlier. Similarly, a record of their wrongdoing remains with the court, and despite having made a mistake as a youth, the adjudication can affect their future.

If a juvenile is convicted or their petition is sustained, it can count as a strike according to California's three-strikes law. This means, if the minor commits another offense in the future, their sentence is more enhanced compared to a first time offender. Further, the Rules of the Court in California permit adult courts to investigate the minor's criminal history before making their sentencing decisions.

Juvenile adjudication can also result in the minor registering as a sex offender and being civilly confined as a sexually violent predator (SVP). But, if the offense was less serious, with the help of a lawyer, the record of your child can be sealed and remain so. This is only possible if the child completes their sentence and does not commit other crimes for a period.

How Can a Lawyer Help Your Child Receive a Favorable Outcome?

Like in adult courts, a minor who has committed a crime and is charged in a juvenile court has a right to a hearing and representation by an attorney. Hiring an attorney is critical for your child's case presentation because they understand the law, the juvenile court lingo, and the system, as well as how to find loopholes in a prosecutor's case.

Further, your child's attorney is always on your child's side and wants their best interests met. As such, the lawyer investigates the alleged crime's circumstances to formulate strategic defenses in your child's favor. Additionally, your child's lawyer can fight for them by presenting contrary evidence that can see your child exonerated from the crime they are alleged to have committed. Additionally, the lawyer is committed to rehabilitating your child and providing them with the best chance to correct their mistakes.

Find a Juvenile Delinquency Lawyer Near Me

Being arrested and charged with a crime is scary and confusing for an adult, let alone a minor. If your child is arrested and faces criminal charges, your biggest concern would be their safety and steering them back to a good path. California's juvenile court system understands this and works with your child's defense lawyer to achieve this noble course. At Leah Legal, we are passionate about helping facing charges in Van Nuys fight against cases against them. Call us at 818-484-1100 to discuss your child's case in detail.