Juvenile probation has been dubbed the workhorse of the juvenile justice system. It is the most common disposition order because it offers limitless ways to ensure the treatment and rehabilitation of delinquent minors. Well-designed and well-implemented probation programs often yield the intended outcome and meet the needs of the youth and the state. If you need help with a juvenile delinquency case, we strongly recommend contacting Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. We have a team dedicated to minors' issues and can help you protect your child’s rights, future, and best interests.
The core purpose of juvenile probation is to protect the community from the actions of delinquent minors. At the same time, programs are designed to make wayward children accountable for their offenses. Ideally, the probation term should correct young offenders and equip them with skills, knowledge, and the overall ability to live productive and responsible lives within the community.
Juvenile Probation Defined
Juvenile probation is a sentencing option a judge can consider during a disposition hearing in juvenile court. The sentencing allows young offenders to undergo a probationary period while remaining within their community. Even though probation can be unsupervised, most juveniles reenter society under the supervision of a probation officer.
If the judge orders supervised probation, the young offender becomes a ward of the court. This means the court assumes the primary responsibility for the child's treatment. It is usual for the court to limit the control or involvement of a minor’s parents or guardians during wardship if:
- A minor’s parents cannot provide the needed training, maintenance, and education during probation
- A young offender has a history of being on probation but did not reform
During unsupervised probation, minors who are found to have violated the set conditions are often ordered to become wards of the court. Also, those on wardship can be moved from their homes. This usually happens when home probation has failed to yield the intended outcome or the court finds it in a minor’s best interests to provide placement.
A minor can benefit from placement in a:
- Foster home
- Relative’s home,
- Group home
Also, there are instances when a judge finds it fit to order probation while a minor is physically confined. When a young offender commits a violent felony using a firearm, the court must give a mandatory confinement disposition order.
Minors with mental disorders or those that can benefit from more structured probationary programs are also confined in a forestry camp, juvenile hall, camp/ranch, secured juvenile halls, or a DJJ institution. Unlike adult confinement, juvenile incarceration aims not to punish the young offender but to provide a more structured rehabilitative environment.
Juvenile Probation Terms and Conditions
If a delinquent minor faces misdemeanor charges, a judge can put them on probation for up to 6 months. Felony charges, on the other hand, can attract a probation term of up to one year. Usually, young offenders can remain on probation until they turn 21. However, those accused of serious crimes and serving their probation term in a DJJ (Department of Juvenile Justice) institution can remain on juvenile probation until their 25th birthday.
During probation, the duration notwithstanding, the young offenders must stick to a set of rules or orders imposed by the court. A judge can impose the probation conditions, and they often involve parental participation.
Some of the standard terms and conditions for juvenile probation include:
- Compulsory school attendance
- Parental participation during counseling and other education or treatment programs
- Curfew rules
- Compliance with random searches
- Compliance with random drug or alcohol tests
- Settling of court fines and restitution for the victims
Also, minors on court-wardship are under the control of the court. This can limit parental control on matters touching on development services, extracurricular activities, or even education. Whether a minor is on supervised or unsupervised probation, they must comply with all the probationary terms and conditions.
Juvenile Probation Types under the Welfare and Institutions Code
The Welfare and Institutions Codes are laws and regulations that govern the probation options for young offenders. The most common options include:
Informal Diversion — Welfare and Institutions Code 626(b)
Not all juvenile arrests lead to a prosecutor filing a petition immediately. Sometimes, the arresting officer finds it best to let the minor go home with a warning. If the crime is more than just a minor infraction, the young offender can be held in the juvenile hall, where a probation officer decides the ideal steps to take.
Depending on the outcome of the investigations, the minor can again be allowed to go home with a stern warning. Another option a probation officer can consider is imposing an informal diversion program in place of referring a case to a prosecutor. If the minor completes probation, the issue is dropped. The probation officer hands the case to the prosecutor if the accused fails to adhere to informal diversion program terms.
Informal diversion programs can run for up to six months, and the minor remains under the strict supervision of a probation officer. The program aims to rehabilitate young offenders and meet their needs while protecting the safety and best interests of the public. Often, this option is available to first-time offenders, more so those accused of low-level crimes.
Informal Probation — Welfare and Institutions Code 654
Informal probation is pretty similar to informal diversion. However, the former can run for six to twelve months, depending on the rehabilitation needs of a young offender. Moreover, informal probation is a diversion program that happens after the prosecution has filed a case against a minor in juvenile court.
During the adjudication hearing, the judge will consider the nature of a case, among other factors, before deciding whether to grant informal probation during the disposition hearing.
Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ) — Welfare and Institutions Code 790
DEJ (Deferred Entry of Judgment) is a juvenile probation option available to minors accused of felonies. The minor must admit to the filed charges for a judge to grant DEJ, although judgment will not be entered. Probation can last for anything between one and three years, where the court dismisses a petition and seals all records of an arrest if a minor performs satisfactorily.
Deferred entry of judgment is not an option that all minors accused of felonies can enjoy. This program is solely designed for first-time offenders of nonviolent felonies. Also, juveniles charged with serious sex crimes cannot benefit from DEJ probation.
DEJ programs help rehabilitate young offenders and reduce their risk of engaging in criminal activity in the future. Some of the requirements you must meet for a judge to consider granting DEJ include:
- The defendant must be at least 14 years of age at the time of the disposition hearing
- The young offender must not have a past of being a ward of the court because of felony charges
- The minor must not be facing charges for any of the crimes listed on WIC Code707 (b))
- The defendant must not have a history of CYA (California Youth Authority) commitment or incarceration in a DJJ (Division of Juvenile Justice) facility
- The young offender must not have been serving juvenile probation for another crime
- The minor must meet the requirements for Penal Code 1203.06 probation
It is imperative to understand that you do not have an absolute right to benefit from Deferred Entry of Judgment even if you qualify for the program. The judge has the discretion of deciding whether the program can suit your needs and those of the state.
If DEJ can treat, educate and rehabilitate a minor, there is a good chance that the judge will grant the program. There is no specific protocol for granting or denying DEJ, and sometimes, all the judge will ask is for the offender to admit to the charges. When handling more complex cases, the judge can request a suitability hearing that prompts further investigations into a minor’s conduct by the probation department.
Here are some of the aspects the investigations should unveil:
- A minor’s educational background
- The age, maturity level, and motives of the young offender
- A minor’s treatment history, where applicable, and family relationships
- Any aggravating or mitigating factors allied with a case
If a judge allows DEJ, the minor must follow all the terms and conditions of probation and strive to show the positive effect of treatment, education, and rehabilitation. It is also crucial to steer clear of committing other crimes while on probation and ensure the probation department has no reason to feel dissatisfied with your performance.
Wardship Probation — Welfare and Institutions Code 602
Wardship probation is when a young offender is declared a ward of the court. Essentially, this means that the court assumes authority over the child and allows probation to take place under the supervision of a probation officer. With this option, the court can order a young offender to be removed from their home and committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or Juvenile Hall.
Non-Wardship Probation — Welfare and Institutions Code 725
Non-wardship probation is when a delinquent minor is not made a ward of the court. Even though the minor can still be under the supervision of a probation officer, the court reserves their right to serve their probation term from home. Also, this type of probation is shorter and only lasts for a maximum of six months.
WIC 725 and WIC 654 have stack similarities. The main difference is that the latter involves the prosecution filing a petition against a minor but putting it on hold to afford the young offender a second chance. Non-wardship probation does not include the accused admitting to charges, and the court agrees to drop the petition upon the successful completion of a program.
Understanding the Functions of Probation Officers during Juvenile Probation
The juvenile system focuses on the primary goal of maintaining public safety. Probation helps with skill development, rehabilitation, habilitation, treatment of the individual needs of each minor, and the successful reintegration of delinquent minors into society.
Probation remains the most common order given by a judge during the disposition hearing. Juvenile probation officers are tasked with supervising the young offenders on probation.
If a minor is not removed from their home, the officer will make regular house visits to ensure complete compliance with the probation terms and conditions. It is also typical of probation officers to work closely with family members and provide counseling to ensure a proper support system as the minor works on changing or eliminating behavioral issues.
If a juvenile is moved to a relative’s home or a juvenile detention center, a probation officer will still be in charge of monitoring the progress of the young offender. You can expect an officer to play critical roles throughout the case, from the arrest to the disposition hearing.
Let us have a look at the main functions of probation officers during juvenile probation:
Presentence Investigations and Intake Procedures
A probation officer is often the first stop for any juvenile in the court system. The officer reviews arrest reports, interrogates the accused, and compiles information about a case to be presented in court.
During presentence investigations, the probation officer will consider whether a minor is accused of a low-risk or high-risk crime. Petty, first-time offenders often do not need to go through formal court proceedings, and the probation officer could opt for a diversion program instead.
Presentence diversion programs allow young offenders to complete community service, among other probation terms and avoid court proceedings. As long as the accused minor performs satisfactorily, they can rejoin the community with only a stern warning. On the other hand, the probation officer will recommend that the prosecution files a case against juveniles that fail to perform satisfactorily during presentence diversion programs.
When a minor faces charges for a serious offense, a probation officer will interview the young offender after an arrest. Sometimes, it is necessary to detain the minor for at least 48 hours to allow thorough investigations into a matter. The probation officer can order temporary detention or let a minor go home or into suitable placement until the scheduled court date for an adjudication hearing.
Diagnosis and Needs Assessment
One of the critical roles of probation officers is to provide a minor’s delinquent behavior diagnosis. It is possible to identify the needs of a young offender based on various aspects such as family relationships, problems at school or within the community, or the overall attitude portrayed by the minor and his/her family. Other elements the probation officer will consider during the assessment include the defendant's age, capabilities, and maturity level.
The probation officer can recommend that the prosecutor files a formal petition against a juvenile based on the assessment findings. Also, the officer can help determine whether the young offender is fit for the juvenile court or should be transferred to an adult court.
The disposition hearing is the sentencing phase in juvenile delinquency court. If a juvenile’s sentence includes probation, the probation officer will be in charge of monitoring the program. An officer can decide the number of times to meet with a minor during formal or informal probation.
During client supervision, the primary role of the probation officer is to ensure that a juvenile complies with all the conditions of probation. The officer will need to use various tactics to ensure that the young offender truly and genuinely fulfills the imposed terms and conditions.
Based on performance assessments, a probation officer can recommend that the court modify probation terms to impose more lenient or stricter probationary terms. Note that the involvement of the family and community during a minor’s probation is crucial. They should promptly report any violations to the probation officer.
If probation involves drug or alcohol abuse treatment, the probation department will again be responsible for making random drug tests. A probation officer will decide the best moments to request a minor to submit his/her urine sample.
Contrary to popular belief, probation officers are not hard-edged individuals. The experts have special training that allows them to be exceptionally good at building relationships with young offenders. By building rapport and creating a cozy relationship, young offenders feel more comfortable opening up and listening to directions. They also learn to develop and maintain good relationships with their families and community members. Ultimately, this ensures the objectives of probation are met, and a minor can lead a crime-free lifestyle.
You must not underestimate the importance of having a skilled criminal attorney representing your child in a juvenile case. Effective counsel can increase the chances of your child getting a case diverted or handled informally. Most importantly, a competent juvenile delinquency attorney will strive to minimize the risk of being tried as an adult. Probation is often the most compassionate disposition, and your lawyer will dispense guidance to ensure an ultimate favorable outcome.
The Repercussions of Juvenile Probation Violations
A probation officer monitors a minor during juvenile probation to ensure complete compliance with the court-imposed probation terms and conditions. There are harsh repercussions closely allied with violating the terms of various types of juvenile probation.
Violating Juvenile Probation While On Court-Wardship
Once a minor is declared a ward of the court, a probation officer is assigned to monitor his/her compliance with the terms and conditions. Successful completion of probation often leads to the dismissal of charges.
On the other hand, violating the probation terms can lead to the termination of probation under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 777. If probation is revoked, the defendant can be removed from his/her home and sent to a juvenile detention facility or probation camp. A judge can also decide to place the young offender back on home probation but with stricter terms and conditions or even loss of privileges.
Penalty for Violating Non-Warship Probation
Non-wardship probation is often granted during informal probation (before a case is formally filed by the prosecution). Most offenders who benefit from this type of informal probation under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 654 are charged with low-level crimes. The probation term often does not last for more than six months.
With informal probation, the probation officer monitors a minor to ensure they comply with all the set terms and conditions. If they complete probation, the charges are dismissed, and the prosecution will not file a petition with the court. Violating probation terms puts a minor at risk of going through the usual juvenile court proceedings once the District Attorney files a case.
Penalty for Violating A DEJ (Deferred Entry of Judgment) Program
Another typical disposition order a judge can grant is the deferred entry of judgment. Under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 725, minors must confess to the allegations they face and waive his/her right to contest before benefiting from a DEJ program.
Upon successful completion of the program, the judge will dismiss the charges. However, violating the terms of probation can force the court to proceed to the sentencing phase.
If a minor is accused of violating juvenile probation terms, there is much a skilled juvenile delinquency attorney can do to remedy the situation. The young offender has a right to defend themselves against the allegations by cross-examining witnesses and even presenting witnesses that can table favorable evidence. The prosecution bears a lower burden of proof, making it necessary to seek the help of an attorney as soon as possible.
Find a Juvenile Defense Attorney Near Me
Nearly half of all minors in juvenile court are granted probation. Whether you are put on DEJ, wardship, or non-wardship probation, a probation officer will be involved all through the matter. Positive recommendations from the officer lead to the dismissal of a juvenile petition and the sealing of all records regarding an arrest. If your child is facing charges in juvenile court, we encourage you to contact Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. Our experience in handling juvenile probation matters allows us to protect the best interests of our clients. Contact us at 951-946-6366 for a confidential and 100% free case evaluation.