A disposition hearing in juvenile delinquency cases is the same as the sentencing phase in the adult criminal litigation system. The main difference is that the judge does not impose the standard sentence for a crime when dealing with juveniles. Instead, the court considers innovative, alternative, or individualized sentencing options designed to address the juvenile’s delinquent behavior while serving the state's interests. At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we in-depth understand juvenile delinquency proceedings in Anaheim. If your little one is in legal trouble, you can count on us to provide reliable legal guidance and representation.

Juveniles, just like adults, have a right to seek legal counsel. While the outcome of the disposition hearing is often more rehabilitative than punitive, enlisting a competent lawyer can make a massive difference in the result of a case. Note that the judge could impose placement or probation, order a case to be transferred to adult court or dismiss a minor’s charges. We can help protect your child’s future by ensuring the best possible outcome of the disposition hearing.

Disposition Hearing; The Basics 

The sentencing phase in juvenile court is referred to as the disposition hearing. It happens right after the adjudication hearing, equivalent to a trial in adult court. If a minor does not manage to have their charges dropped during the adjudication hearing, the case proceeds to the disposition phase.

The main objective of the disposition hearing in juvenile court is to resolve a legal matter. Juveniles do not have a right to a jury, and the judge makes all the decisions. Judges have the mandate to make all rounded considerations and ensure the best possible resolution to a legal issue.

For instance, if it is discovered during the adjudication hearing that the delinquent behavior of a minor is hinged on an abusive environment, a judge can decide to have the young offender removed from their home. It is also common for judges to consider the social worker’s report, a child’s mental and physical health, and school progress.

Other aspects the court must consider are as follows:

  • Child rehabilitation
  • Alternative care
  • Abuse treatment (drug, sexual, trauma, etc.)
  • Parental involvement in the minor’s treatment or rehabilitation
  • Parents/guardians' financial responsibility (paying restitution to the victims)

During the disposition hearing, the court allows relevant stakeholders like the parents of a child to give their views. This allows a judge to make a well-reviewed decision when deciding where a child will live and the services that must be rendered to help the minor achieve the objectives set by the court.

It is necessary to note that the court can also call for a disposition review hearing, also referred to as an intermediate disposition hearing. The main goal of the hearing is to assess the minor’s progress and find out whether the relevant stakeholders are complying with the orders imposed during the disposition hearing.

Ideally, a delinquent minor’s life should imply positive evolution when the court calls for a disposition review hearing. If it is, a child removed from their home can return to the family. This only happens if the parent/guardian has also made any changes ordered by the court. The court must act in the child's best interests, meaning that sometimes, a judge can order a minor to continue staying under the court’s jurisdiction.

What the Judge Considers Before Making a Disposition Determination

A judge must view a minor’s case from all possible perspectives before deciding on the disposition orders. Some of the factors you can expect the judge to consider are the age of the delinquent minor, the severity of their offense, the facts of a case, and criminal history. Also, you can expect the court to take note of a case’s mitigating factors or general conditions that are likely to have played a role in a child’s involvement in a crime.

It is imperative to note that minors do not have to confess their participation in a crime. Likewise, a judge cannot impose a penalty because a delinquent juvenile refuses to plead guilty. There are penalties allied with committing perjury or providing falsified information during the adjudication hearing.

In most cases, the disposition hearing happens right after the adjudication hearing. If a judge lacks adequate information to make a well-thought decision, the court could order a social study. The idea is to allow a social worker or other relevant parties to provide information about a child or living environment. 

Anytime a delinquent minor is seen to have mental health problems, it is standard protocol for a judge to allow a disposition deferment. This allows a mental health evaluation to be completed before a disposition hearing.

During the disposition, victims of a minor’s delinquent conduct get the chance to address the judge directly and provide a statement about the impact of an incident. The accused can also testify, allowing judges to consider their truth before deciding the best way forward.

Juveniles enjoy the right to: 

  • Have Miranda rights read during the arrest
  • Seek legal counsel
  • Remain silent
  • Have an attorney present during interrogations
  • Have their attorney present all through the court processes
  • Have a lawyer appointed for them if they cannot afford one
  • Confront and cross-examine witnesses

Anytime a minor is detained, the law allows them to exercise their right to an attorney. Your child must receive adequate legal guidance before appearing before a probation officer. Because of the theoretical nature of juvenile law when compared to laws that govern adults, ensure you choose an experienced attorney. Apart from an excellent educational foundation, the right expert to represent your child must have learned invaluable lessons through representing other clients. Ideally, you want a lawyer to ensure your child enjoys the best disposition options, including a case dismissal.

Disposition Options

Juvenile sentencing options, also known as disposition orders, can fall under incarceration or non-incarceration. Minors found to be delinquent have to face “punishment” as defined under the California Welfare and Institutions Code. 

It is crucial to understand that the disposition orders have their primary focus on rehabilitating young offenders, allowing them to return to society safely. Also, a judge can make one disposition order or several orders that a minor must obey to the latter. For instance, the judge can order incarceration in juvenile hall and make the youth pay a fine or restitution.

Here are the orders to expect during a juvenile disposition hearing:

Incarcerating Orders

A judge can decide that the best disposition is to have a minor incarcerated. There are unique confinement methods used when dealing with juveniles, so most parents do not have to worry about their children serving time in typical jails or prisons.

Incarceration orders can result in a delinquent minor being confined in:

  • Juvenile hall — Stays in juvenile detention centers are often short and will not last for more than a few months.
  • Home confinement — Home confinement is also known as house arrest. This involves a judge ordering a minor not to leave their home unless to attend school, treatment programs, or work.
  • Placement — The placement option involves a minor being removed from their home or where they live with a parent or guardian. The judge can order that they relocate temporarily and live in a foster home, a group, or with a relative.
  • Secured juvenile facilities — If a judge finds it fit to have a child incarcerated for longer, the disposition orders will often involve sending the minor to a secured juvenile facility. These facilities are commonly referred to as camps, where delinquent juveniles can stay for months or even years, depending on the nature of their offense.
  • Probation after juvenile hall — Another disposition option a judge can consider is sending a minor to a juvenile facility before putting them on probation. Usually, their stay in the juvenile hall will only last for a few months.
  • Blended sentencing — Blended sentencing refers to when a minor has to serve time in a juvenile and adult facility. The arrangement works by holding the minor in a juvenile facility until they reach 18 years before sending them to adult facilities like jails and prisons.

Non-Incarcerating Orders

The disposition orders must essentially meet a young offender’s rehabilitative needs. Sometimes, incarceration is not necessary, and a judge can find it fit to make any of the following non-incarcerating orders:

  • Fines and Restitution — A judge can order a minor to settle a fine with the government or provide compensation to the victims
  • Verbal warning — If a delinquent minor does not require rehabilitation and shows excellent potential to abide by the law, a judge can let them go with a simple verbal warning.
  • Counseling — It is typical for judges to order counseling, especially when an incarcerating disposition order is not the best option.
  • Community service — Sometimes, the disposition orders can involve making a delinquent minor render their services to the local community for several hours a week.
  • Probation — Probation is the most common disposition order in juvenile delinquency cases. The judge can order a home arrest with probation supervision for half a year, order formal probation under a probation officer or put a minor on placement and probation concurrently. Apart from serving probation from a close relative’s home group home or foster home, a judge can even find it fit to put a minor on probation from a ranch or camp.

The Difference between Juvenile Probation, Informal Probation, and Deferred Entry of Judgment

The possible sentences minors can receive during disposition are informal diversion under Welfare & Institutions Code 654 and juvenile probation under Welfare & Institutions Code 725. A judge can also order a deferred entry of judgment under WIC Code 790, where the case is dismissed upon the successful completion of probation.

Judges are mandated to issue sentences based on the evidence presented during a case and the degree of sophistication portrayed in the commission of a crime. Most importantly, the judge must choose a sentence option that has the best chance of disciplining the young offender and providing essential rehabilitative tools.

Let us have a look at two of the most common sentencing options:

Welfare & Institutions Code Section 654 — Informal Diversion or Informal Probation

Informal diversion allows young offenders to dodge the repercussions of having a conviction on their record. Even though the case is not formally filed with the court, the offender must enter an informal supervision program for six months maximum.

The informal diversion option is often only available to first-time offenders or minors accused of petty crimes. Like all other disposition orders, informal diversion aims to rehabilitate the defendant and provide essential services capable of addressing the core cause of criminal behavior.

 The offender will still need to pay the court costs, fines, restitution, and counseling fees, among other expenses. However, a judge will not formally enter a judgment upon completing the diversion program. If the delinquent minor performs poorly, a formal petition will be filed.

Some of the terms and conditions of informal probation that the young offender must abide by include:

  • Mandatory participation in counseling or other educational programs
  • Enrollment for treatment of drug abuse or other controlled substances (if necessary)

A judge can decide whether to grant an informal diversion or have the prosecutors file a formal case. Usually, the judge can still order the diversion even if the prosecution objects. The arrangement involves a case continuing after six months of informal probation. 

Upon completing informal probation, the minor has to report back to court, where the probation officer will table a report. The case is dismissed during the official disposition hearing if the young offender's performance is good. If the performance is wanting, the judge can extend the probation period or resume juvenile delinquency proceedings.

It is imperative to note that informal probation is not the same as DEJ (Deferred Entry of Judgment — Welfare & Institutions Code 790). The two differ in the following manner:

  • During informal probation, the minor does not have to admit the crime
  • Informal probation is shorter, and the terms are more lenient 
  • The young offender reserves their right to contest if the case proceeds because of their unsatisfactory probationary performance.

Informal probation is one of the best outcomes of any juvenile delinquency case. Working with a skilled attorney increases the odds of your loved one benefiting from a diversion program.

Welfare & Institutions Code 725 — Juvenile Probation 

Another typical disposition order is probation. Like informal diversion, probation can run for up to six months. A probation officer also supervises the program. 

During probation, a minor can become a ward of the court or be placed on non-wardship probation.  Non-wardship often involves serving probation from home. However, wards of the court can complete their probationary program from home, at a relative’s house, juvenile hall, a group home, or a camp. A judge has the discretion to decide where the term will be completed. 

Here are some of the common conditions for juvenile probation under W&I Code 725:

  • Mandatory school attendance
  • Parental involvement during counseling or education of the delinquent minor
  • Curfew terms
  • Enrollment for a drug or alcohol abuse treatment program (if necessary)
  • Disassociation with certain persons
  • Community service
  • Graffiti removal
  • Paying of court fees, fines, and restitution for the victim(s)

Depending on the needs of a child and what is necessary to provide effective rehabilitation, a judge can order supervised or unsupervised juvenile probation. As a ward of the court, the court assumes authority over the delinquent minor. This is irrespective of whether probation is completed from home or a different location.

Upon successful completion of probation, the court will, in most cases, dismiss the petition and order the sealing of all records pertaining to a lawsuit, including arrest records. If a petition is filed against a minor, the case is dismissed during the disposition hearing.

Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ) — Welfare & Institutions Code 790

As described under Welfare & Institutions Code 790, Deferred entry of judgment is just like probation, although it is reserved for first-time nonviolent felony offenders. To qualify for DEJ, the minor must confess to committing a felony or waive their right to contest. Essentially, the judgment is postponed until the delinquent minor completes the probation term. In DEJ, probation can run for one to three years.

Some of the standard terms imposed during a deferred entry of judgment include:

  • Mandatory school attendance
  • Curfew rules
  • Paying court fees, fines, and restitution to the victim(s)
  • Compliance with random drug or alcohol tests
  • Mandatory and warrantless searches of the delinquent minor and any areas in their control

Upon successfully completing DEJ probation, the court will dismiss all charges and order the sealing of all records, including arrest records. It remains crucial to note that the probation department or prosecutor can still access these records and help determine future DEJ probation eligibility.

If a minor does not complete the DEJ program satisfactorily, the court resumes the juvenile delinquency proceedings where a judge imposes a formal sentence during the disposition hearing.

DEJ probation aims to rehabilitate delinquent minors and equip them with tools to deter them from future criminal activity. Unfortunately, not all children are eligible for DEJ probation. Moreover, even if you qualify for the sentencing alternative, the judge has the power to grant or deny DEJ probation. 

The DEJ program eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • The young offender must be willing to admit all charges and waive their right to contest
  • The minor must not have a history of being a ward of the court because of a felony
  • The current offense must not be a serious or violent crime (offenses listed under California’s Welfare and Institutions Code707 (b))
  • The recent crime must not be a serious sex offense
  • The young offender must not have a history of being committed to a division of juvenile justice facility or CYA
  • The offender must have attained at least 14 years of age during the hearing
  • The young offender must be qualified for probation as stipulated under Penal Code 1203.06
  • If the offender has a history of being on juvenile probation, they must have completed the program

Often, a judge will approve DEJ if the above requirements are met, and the program is likely to educate, treat, and rehabilitate the delinquent minor. If these efforts have the slightest chance of not yielding the intended outcome, the judge can deny DEJ probation or order a suitability hearing to investigate a minor’s situation better.

Some of the aspects the probation department will investigate include:

  • The age of a delinquent minor and their maturity level
  • The mitigating or aggravating factors of a case
  • Family relationships
  • Educational background
  • Treatment and rehabilitation history, if applicable

If the investigations unveil treatments and rehabilitation programs that can address the criminal behavior, the judge will grant DEJ. Unfortunately, DEJ cannot be given if none of the treatments offered in probation can yield the intended outcome.

A deferred entry of judgment has numerous benefits, the most significant being that the court will dismiss the case upon successful completion of probation. Also, the judge will order the sealing of all records to appear as though an arrest never took place.

If your child is arrested or undergoing juvenile delinquency proceedings, the best way to ensure a favorable outcome is to enlist a competent lawyer. A skilled juvenile delinquency attorney will educate you about the different possible results of a disposition hearing. Most importantly, the expert will work on ensuring a favorable disposition that can protect the future of your child.

Find a Juvenile Delinquency Lawyer Near Me

If your child faces charges for breaking the law in Anaheim, we encourage you to reach out to the California Criminal Lawyer Group. Even though California’s juvenile justice system has its main focus on rehabilitating minors instead of punishing them, we understand too well that this system is not devoid of flaws. From a lack of adequate diversion programs and potentially dangerous correctional facilities to devastatingly high rates of youth confinement and racial or ethnic disparities, minors who lack proper legal representation often do not stand a chance. Call us at 714-766-0965 and let us assist in protecting your child’s rights, best interests, and future.