When a minor commits a crime in California, the state’s juvenile justice system takes over. This system’s role is twofold. It ensures the protection and safety of the public and provides treatment, care, and guidance to the minor who has committed the offense. In some cases, the minor could be detained. In others, a juvenile court judge could place the child on probation under the supervision of a probation officer.
Probation is not as straightforward as it sounds. There are rules and conditions that the minor on probation must abide by to avoid facing additional consequences. The juvenile stands to benefit from the dismissal of their juvenile case upon completion of probation. For more information regarding juvenile probation, get in touch with us at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney.
Understanding the California Juvenile Justice System
Juvenile delinquency is a problem that is affecting every state in the United States today. Minors are committing criminal offenses, just like adults. Generally, the law is more lenient when it comes to children. Therefore, juveniles who face accusations of committing crimes are not treated the same way as adults, even when the nature of their offenses is the same. The state’s juvenile justice system is a little different from the adult criminal justice system. Punishments that minors receive after conviction are not the same as what convicted adults receive. The California juvenile justice system is more about correcting and rehabilitating juveniles than punishing them for their mistakes.
When a child (an individual under the age of 18) is suspected of committing an offense in California, the police will arrest them, just like an adult offender. However, the police are free to decide whether to send the minor to a juvenile hall. The police decide this based on the seriousness of the offense committed. For petty crimes, the police may release the juvenile with a mere warning. For more severe crimes, or if the juvenile is a habitual offender, the police may decide to send him/her to a juvenile hall.
Once in the juvenile hall, the probation department kicks in. Their first role is to investigate the matter. The probation department conducts an investigation either on their initiative or at a request of another person to file a petition against the minor. The probation department may decide to file a petition against the minor in a juvenile court or release the child from their findings. Again, the court could dismiss the child with a mere warning against committing the same or similar offenses in the future.
Suppose the probation officer conducting the investigations has enough reasons to believe that the minor committed the offense he/she is accused of. In that case, the officer may decide to file a petition against the minor. Minors do not stand trial before a jury like adult offenders. In the juvenile court, the offender will only face charges before a judge, who will pronounce the verdict after listening to the evidence presented before him/her by the police and probation department. There are two possible outcomes of this hearing: The judge sustains the petition against the minor or throws the case out of court, and the juvenile is set free.
If the minor is found guilty of committing the offense, the judge sustains the petition and announces his/her verdict. There are several ways through which a court can punish a juvenile in California. They include probation, detention, and payment of fines. Sometimes a court could sentence a minor to the three. The judge decides based on the seriousness of the offense and the minor’s social history. When a juvenile offender is placed on probation, they are released from detention and back into society, from where they are kept under a probation officer’s supervision. Probation is a more favorable sentence when compared to imprisonment.
California law on juvenile probation is under Section 725 of the state’s Welfare & Institutions Code. The law allows a juvenile court to place a minor on probation for not more than six weeks, under a probation officer’s supervision. The law further states that if the child does not adhere to all the conditions of his/her probation, the court may adjudge the minor to become a juvenile court ward. In summary, this is the authority this law gives a juvenile court judge:
- To place a minor on probation.
- To set reasonable probation terms and conditions.
- To order the minor a ward of juvenile court if he/she violates the probation conditions.
California juvenile courts place the majority of juvenile offenders on probation. Probation officers are usually very busy as they are involved in every stage of the juvenile’s matter. The California juvenile system depends so much on probation officers for assessments and referrals regarding available programs for juvenile offenders and other disposition options. The work of probation officers does not start from the time the court places the minor on probation. Here are the general roles of the probation department from the time of the minor’s arrest:
The probation department’s involvement starts after the arrest of a minor. When the police arrest a minor on suspicion of committing a serious offense, they send the child to a juvenile hall, from where a probation officer interviews him.
Suppose the minor is suspected of having committed a grave offense. In that case, the police officer will hand him/her over to a juvenile hall from where a probation officer will interview the minor. The options that the probation officer has after the interview include:
- Releasing the minor to his/her parents, and a diversion program. The decision will only be between the juvenile, the minor’s parents/guardians, and the officer. The officer will not file any petitions.
- Releasing the minor to his/her parents or a more suitable placement, but give then a court date to appear before a judge
- Detaining the minor in the juvenile hall and have a juvenile court judge determine the case. Note that the child should appear before the judge within forty-eight hours of his/her arrest, without counting the weekends.
A new amendment that became law on 1st January 2018, SB 190, stops juveniles’ solitary confinements. A minor is not to be put in solitary confinement for over four hours except in emergency cases. In addition to that, people working with juvenile offenders cannot use restrictive measures unless necessary for other minors’ safety in the same confinement or staff. Juvenile courts should not apply private confinements if there is reason to believe that confining a child could compromise their physical and mental well-being.
Probation officers are also involved in the adjudication of a juvenile offender. Probation officers can recommend the course of action a prosecutor can take on a juvenile offender after his/her arrest. From this recommendation, the prosecutor can file a case in court against the minor for determination or refer the minor’s case to an adult case. Sometimes the offense a child is accused of committing may not fit in a juvenile court. It may be because the crime is a serious felony, which can only be determined in an adult criminal court. All juvenile cases that could be sent to an adult court are listed under Section 707b of California Welfare & Institutions Code.
If the offense does not fall under the above list, the officer will take note of the following factors in determining what would happen with the juvenile offender:
- If the alleged offense involves violence or threat of violence against a person/persons
- If the minor is undergoing severe issues in their family, at school, or in their community
- The attitude of the minor and his/her family
- The age of the minor, his/her maturity, and capabilities
- If the behavior of the minor is questionable, and in the event, it is proven in a juvenile court, the kind of disposition the court would give
During the Disposition Process
When a court finds the minor guilty of the charges they are facing, it will sustain the offender’s petition. The kinds of sentences the court could give the juvenile vary greatly and may include probation. When a court sends a child on probation, the court will assign a probation officer to him/her. It is not necessarily the officer that previously handled the minor’s case.
If the court places the minor on formal probation, it expects that he/she will meet with a probation officer weekly or after every two weeks. The officer determines the time. If, on the other hand, the court places the minor on informal probation, the officer will only be required to call and check on the juvenile and his/her family regularly or meet occasionally.
The role of the probation officer, in this case, will be to monitor the minor and help them attend all the programs that have been ordered of them by the court. The officer will also see to it that the child abides by all the conditions of their probation. Note that the minor’s parents are also involved in the probation. They should report any probation violation immediately if it happens to the officer.
In Drug Testing
The juvenile probation officer's role does not end when the court places a juvenile offender on probation. If the juvenile is in suspicion of dealing with dangerous substances, the probation department will be responsible for conducting regular drug tests on him/her. A probation officer will ask the minor to provide a urine sample to run tests for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, angel dust, LSD, and ecstasy. The officer will have to determine the minor’s preferred substance to identify the drugs for testing.
Sometimes, the probation department might call in a drug expert to help identify the category under which the minor’s drug may have ingested falls. Some of the signs the expert might look out for include:
- Changes in the minor’s eyes, such as constriction, response to light, and dilation
- Needle marks and other injection sites in his/her body
- How well or otherwise he minor is performing on coordination test
- Specific body movements that may indicate muscle firmness
If one or more signs of these are evident, the expert will recommend testing for a particular category of illegal drugs.
Types of California Juvenile Probation
Juvenile offenders in California can be sent to several types of juvenile probation as provided under the state’s Welfare & Institutions Code. They are:
Informal Diversion- Section 626b of California Welfare & Institutions Code
After arrest, the arresting officer might refer the juvenile offender to informal probation instead of a juvenile hall. Here, the minor will not face charges for anything; therefore, the court will not intervene. The agency that runs the diversion program in which the juvenile is placed will handle the matter and ensure that the minor reconciles with their victim after some time. An informal diversion applies when the issue at hand is not severe and could be resolved out of court. It could also help if the minor is a first-time offender.
Non-Wardship Informal Probation- Section 654 of California WIC
California juvenile probation departments run diversion programs too, in which there is no court intervention. It is voluntary probation where a minor could be placed without reporting the matter in a juvenile court. When a child is sent to the juvenile hall, the probation department takes over the issue. The department has to decide whether to file an official petition against the minor in court or take charge of the matter. If it doesn’t file a petition with a court, then it could order the child to remain at home, on informal probation for a maximum of six months, and sometimes one year.
Again, the probation department’s decision is guided by the seriousness of the offense and the minor’s previous social conduct. Note that the minor might have committed a serious felony but still qualify for informal probation if he/she has never been placed on probation before.
Informal Probation- Section 654.2 of California WIC
Informal probation here is the same as one discussed above, only that this one is under the court’s jurisdiction. A juvenile offender is placed under informal probation by the court after a prosecutor files a petition against them and the court finds them guilty of the charges they are facing. Instead of sentencing the minor, the court may decide to keep the petition waiting for six months, as it sends the juvenile on probation. The court may determine the case before or after the minor completes their probation.
Non-Wardship Deferred Entry of Judgment- Section 725a of California WIC
A juvenile offender is placed under this probation if they are guilty of a misdemeanor, but they are still under the informal probation explained above. If the court places the minor on probation before his/her case is determined, it could extend or change the probation terms if the court resolves the issue while the child is still on probation. The minor will only be a juvenile court ward if he/she doesn’t adhere to the probation conditions or complete his/her probation.
Wardship Probation- Section 725b and 727 of California WIC
It is the type of probation a minor could be placed on once they are declared a juvenile court ward. Once the minor becomes a court ward, the court will exercise jurisdiction over the minor, not the juvenile probation department. It means that the court will administer supervision over the minor, too, while he/she is on probation. The probation can only go for a maximum of six months, and the child will be required to adhere to certain conditions enforced by the same court.
Conditions for Juvenile Probation
When a juvenile offender is placed on probation, the probation officer under whom the minor is placed, or the juvenile court, is free to impose certain conditions and terms of probation by which the minor must abide. These conditions are set in accordance with the severity of the offense committed and the minor’s record of social behavior within their family and community. Some of the most common conditions the minor is given are:
- That the minor attends school without any unexcused absenteeism or truancy
- That the minor participates in an alcohol or drug program, anger management program, and any other program that could have been selected by the court or probation department. Note that programs are chosen following the nature of the offense committed.
- That the minor must submit to random alcohol and drug testing that will be conducted throughout the probation period
- That the minor must abide by a curfew
- That the minor or his/her parents/guardian must make restitution to a victim (if any) or county in case there was property damage in the commission of the offense.
- That the minor removes graffiti
- The offender could also be banned from wearing like fellow gang members or associating with known gang members or particular people.
- The minor could also be ordered to stay away from their victim or a particular part of town/county.
- The court could restrict the minor’s movements or order him/her to wear electronic monitoring equipment that shows the court/probation department his/her whereabouts at all times.
A juvenile court places a minor on probation, hoping that the minor will complete the probation and not violate any given conditions. However, sometimes the inevitable happens, and the child cannot complete their probation or adhere to probation’s rules and conditions. Just like in the criminal justice system, violation of probation is not a simple matter. It comes with its consequences, some of which will be explained here.
Probation Violation Consequence on Existing Case
The minor’s underlying case is bound to be affected once they violate their probation. To determine what could happen to the minor, the juvenile court will convene a probation violation hearing. During the hearing, the judge will decide whether the minor violated their probation and the exact condition violated. If the violated condition is minor, the court might ignore it and not make any changes to the minor’s probation. However, if the violation is severe, the following consequences may apply:
- The judge could revoke the probation and proceed with the petition. it means that the minor will be subject to other, more severe consequences of the underlying offense
- The judge could revoke the probation and order the minor a ward of the juvenile court.
If the minor was previously a juvenile court ward and was on home-based probation, the judge may still decide to revoke the probation. The judge will then rely on a probation department report to decide on the next course of action. From the information, the judge may release the minor with a mere warning or order the following:
- The minor to attend the remaining programs. The judge may impose additional programs.
- The minor to take part in community service
- To wear a bracelet on their ankle as an electronic monitoring device.
- Attend a drug or alcohol program
- To be confined to a juvenile hall.
- To be sent to a juvenile camp, group home, or juvenile ranch program.
Ward of the Court
When a minor is declared a ward of the juvenile court, the court will take authority and jurisdiction over the child as if it were the child’s parents. If the minor is placed on probation after this declaration, it will be wardship probation under Section 725 of California WIC. When the child is under wardship probation, these situations could be possible:
- The minor’s parents/guardians will be allowed to retain custody over their child but with supervised or unsupervised probation.
- The court might limit the amount of control the parents/guardian has over the minor.
- The court might remove the minor from his/her parents’/guardian’s custody.
Note that if a child is under Section 725 probation before the court declares he/she a ward of the juvenile court, the probation, in this case, will be referred to as non-wardship probation.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If your child is having problems with the law, you need guidance on what juvenile probation is all about and whether or not it might help the minor straighten his/her behavior. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we have attorneys who are experienced in the juvenile justice system to help with your situation. Call us at 310-564-2605. Let us simplify the California juvenile court process for you.