A juvenile disposition hearing is similar to a sentencing hearing in the adult court. This hearing occurs if a minor has committed a criminal offense or violated probation terms. At this hearing, the judge decides about the disciplinary measures the minor should face. There are several sentencing options under the juvenile court, and the judge has the discretion to choose the most suitable. The judge will choose the sentencing option that will help rehabilitate the minor. If your child is set to attend a disposition hearing, it is advisable to have an experienced attorney to represent the minor for the best possible outcome. The Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can help the child prepare for the juvenile disposition hearing and represent them at the hearing.

Understanding A Juvenile Disposition Hearing

A minor’s trial in the juvenile court is often known as the adjudication hearing. If the minor does not prevail at the adjudication hearing, meaning that the minor loses the trial, they will proceed to the sentencing phase known as the disposition hearing. During the disposition hearing, the juvenile judge will consider several factors, including:

  • The minor’s age
  • The circumstances and the magnitude of the minor’s offense
  • The minor’s prior delinquency history

The law does not allow the judge to penalize or punish the minor for failing to plead guilty or confess to an offense. However, the judge may penalize the minor if they violated perjury laws under PC 118 for issuing a false testimony at the adjudication hearing.

When The Disposition Hearing Occurs

The disposition hearing can occur soon after completion of the adjudication hearing if the judge has all the information they need to make a sentencing decision. The disposition hearing might be postponed as the judge waits for the probation officer's social study report. This report or study contains the probation officer's sentence recommendation. The judge may also postpone the disposition hearing if the minor or their parents intend to submit additional materials that will portray the minor in a better light.

The judge may order a psychological evaluation before the disposition hearing if the minor has possible mental health issues. However, it is essential to note that if the child is in custody, the hearing should happen within ten days of the conclusion of the trial. The law gives the victim the right to appear at the disposition hearing. If the victim wishes to speak at the hearing, they must first make a written victim impact statement. The minor facing charges has the right to testify at the disposition hearing.

During The Juvenile Disposition Hearing

If the judge decides that the charges against a minor are true, they set a disposition hearing right after the jurisdiction hearing. The judge may set the disposition hearing within thirty days after the district attorney files a petition against a minor. However, if the minor is in detention, the judge must set the disposition hearing within ten days. The hearing can take place later if all the involved parties agree to a later date. The judge will decide regarding the minor’s guidance, care, treatment, and punishment. Before the hearing occurs, the probation officer makes and submits a social study of the minor to the court. Every party involved in the case will receive a copy of the social study report before the disposition hearing. The social study report contains vital information to help the judge determine what should happen to the minor. Some of the information included in the report is:

  • The juvenile’s school and family history
  • Past criminal record
  • A statement from the victim if the juvenile has committed a felony offense
  • The probation officer’s recommendations

During the disposition hearing, both the minor and the district attorney will have an opportunity to present their evidence and help the judge decide. The victim will also have a chance to give an oral and written statement at the hearing. The judge will consider several factors when determining how to treat the minor:

  • How to protect the public and keep it safe
  • Ways of fixing the victim’s injuries
  • The minor’s best interest

When the judge listens to both the minor and district attorney’s evidence at the disposition hearing, there are several outcomes:

  • The judge may decide to set aside the findings at the jurisdiction hearing. In this case, the judge will dismiss the case after determining that it is in the minor's best interest or necessary for the interest of justice.
  • The judge may also set aside what the court had decided if they feel that the minor does not need treatment or rehabilitation.
  • The other possible outcome of the hearing is that the judge may decide to place the child on informal probation under the probation department for a minimum of six months.
  • Another possible outcome is making the minor a ward of the court. If a child becomes a ward of the court, the court and not the child's parents will decide regarding the minor. The court will decide regarding the child’s treatment, care, and guidance. When the court takes control of the minor, the judge has the right to determine how much control the guardian or the parent has over the minor.

When A Minor Is A Ward Of The Court

What happens when the judge declares the minor to be a ward of the court? The judge can issue several orders after this declaration:

  • The judge may send the child home, but the child will be on probation with supervision.
  • The judge may decide to have the juvenile live with a relative
  • The judge may send the minor to foster care, institution, or group home
  • At times, the judge could send the child to a ranch, detention facility, or county boot camp
  • In extreme cases, the judge will send the minor to the Division of Juvenile Justice

If the judge takes the minor from their home and places them at a relative’s home, group home, or foster home, a case plan for the minor’s future is created. The court will review the minor's placement regularly. If the judge decides to have the minor locked up in a secure facility, they must decide in advance about the period for which the child will remain locked in the detention facility. The judge only sends a child to the Division of Juvenile Justice if they believe that the child will learn and gain from the discipline or the programs available at the Division of Juvenile Justice.

Conditions Of Probation

After the disposition hearing, the judge may decide to place the juvenile on probation. In this case, the judge will set several conditions of probation that the juvenile must comply with. The judge must ensure that the probation conditions are reasonable and serve the minor’s best interests. The minor may have to give up some rights and freedoms. The typical probation conditions include:

  • Attending school without missing any day
  • Attending counseling with parents or guardians
  • Adhering to all laws
  • Complying with curfew requirements
  • Impromptu alcohol and drug testing
  • Not meeting or interacting with certain people
  • Engaging in community service
  • Participating in a work program without compensation
  • The judge may order the minor not to drive while on probation. If the minor must drive, there will be limits on where they can drive
  • Paying a fine or paying restitution to the victim
  • The child could be subject to search without a warrant

What happens if the minor has to pay fines and restitution to the victim, but the minor has no money? The minor's parents or guardian will pay restitution on the minor's behalf.

After The Disposition Hearing

What will happen after the disposition hearing? Several things could happen:

Filing An Appeal

If the minor is not happy with the ruling or how the process ended, the minor may file for an appeal. With the help of their lawyer, the minor can file an appeal if they feel like there was a disregard of their legal rights. The minor's lawyer will have to file an appeal notice before the actual appeal. If the child intends to appeal the outcome of the disposition hearing, they must file the appeal within 60 days after the disposition hearing or after the judge's ruling. At times, the district attorney can appeal if they are not happy with the case's outcome.

Asking The Court To Set Aside The Court Order Or Findings

With the help of their attorney, the minor may also request the court to cancel or change the court order. This is likely to happen if the minor’s situation changes or when there is new proof.

A More Restrictive Or Strict Disposition

After the disposition hearing, the judge may require the minor to adhere to certain conditions and requirements. If the minor fails to do what the court needs them to do, they may have to go back to court, where they will get harsher or more restrictive sentencing.

Sealing The Minor’s Records

The minor may request sealing of their juvenile records, usually after five years, if they do not commit other wrongs or have other problems arising in the juvenile court. The minor will only request sealing of their juvenile records if they only had contact with the probation officer. However, if the original hearing occurred in front of the judge, the minor can only request sealing of their records after they turn 18 years. The minor or the probation officer could request the court to seal the following:

  • The court file, probation records, arrest records and records from other agencies that could have records concerning the minor’s case

When requesting to have their juvenile records sealed, the minor will have to fill out an application seeking  for the sealing and pay a fee.

The Probation Department

The probation department will play an essential role in the sealing of the minor's juvenile records. The probation department will consider the request to seal the minor’s records and:

  • Decide if the minor should petition the court
  • Help in filling and filing the petition
  • Help to make and submit a report to the court
  • Book a court date
  • Inform the district attorney’s office

The judge will go through the petition, the report and decide regarding the sealing of the minor's records. The judge will consider several factors when determining whether to seal/expunge the minor's records:

  • The offense the minor committed
  • If the minor completed their rehabilitation and sentence successfully
  • If there are lawsuits still outstanding in court regarding the minor’s case or incident.

When A Minor Is Treated As An Adult

Usually, when a minor commits an offense, they go through the juvenile justice system. However, there are some exceptions, whereby the minor is treated as an adult and goes to adult court. If this happens, the juvenile disposition hearing will not occur. In 2000, the State of California changed the way it deals with certain minors. After taking and screening a minor, the probation officer determines what happened before a petition is filed. The District Attorney may opt to file charges in the adult court directly instead of going through the juvenile system. When deciding whether to file charges in an adult court, the district attorney will consider the following factors:

  • Whether the minor is already a ward of the court due to a previous felony offense
  • Whether during the commission of the crime, the minor was above 14 years
  • Whether the minor has a previous criminal record and was 16 or 18 years when they committed the crime
  • The district attorney will also consider whether the minor is facing charges for 1st-degree murder
  • An attempted premeditated murder
  • An aggravated kidnapping crime whose penalty is life imprisonment
  • A severe felony offense where the minor fired a firearm
  • A sex crime that the minor committed using force

The minor will be treated as an adult if the district attorney files the case in an adult court. The child will have the same rights as an adult and face the same laws and legal procedures as an adult. If the minor is convicted of a similar crime as another adult, they could face the same sentence as the adult. However, at times, the judge may decide that the minor should still receive juvenile jurisdiction at the end of the case.

A Fitness Hearing

The fitness hearing occurs typically after the detention hearing but before the jurisdiction hearing. The district attorney may request for a fitness hearing during which the judge will decide whether the minor should be in a juvenile justice court. The district attorney may request for a fitness hearing if the minor commits a serious crime and the child is old enough to face charges in an adult court. The probation officer will investigate the minor’s case and provide the court with a report outlining the juvenile’s acts and their social history.

The judge will consider all the findings and determine whether the minor will do well with the treatment programs and care provided in the juvenile justice system. The probation officer will also give their recommendation regarding whether the minor should be tried as an adult. Every person involved in the case will get a copy of the probation officer’s report. During the fitness hearing, the judge will consider the probation officer's report and the evidence provided by the minor's lawyer and the district attorney. The factors that the court will during the disposition hearing are:

  • How sophisticated the minor’s case is
  • Whether it is possible to rehabilitate the minor
  • The juvenile’s criminal history
  • The previous attempts to rehabilitate the minor and their outcomes
  • The current charges the child faces and their seriousness

If the judge feels that the minor’s case should proceed in the juvenile justice system, the jurisdiction hearing will occur. If the judge feels that the minor should not stay in the juvenile justice system, the judge will dismiss the case and send the child to adult court. If the judge dismisses the petition at the fitness hearing, both the jurisdiction and the disposition hearings will not occur.

The district attorney will proceed and file a complaint to initiate a case against the minor in an adult court. The minor will then face the law the same way as an adult and get the same sentence as an adult. The child could serve their sentence in a juvenile facility instead of adult prison, but this will vary from case to case.

What happens if the minor is not comfortable with the ruling or outcome of the fitness hearing? The minor cannot stop or appeal the ruling of the fitness hearing unless they request a writ to stop the process. The juvenile will have to apply for a writ to the court of appeal to get a writ. The child will have 20 days from the first appearance in an adult court to request a writ. If the judge decides at the fitness hearing that the juvenile should remain in the juvenile court and the DA is not comfortable, the district attorney may request for a writ.

Find A Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

When minors face charges, they have a right to legal representation and a hearing, just like adult offenders. Hiring an attorney who understands California juvenile law will go a long way in determining the outcome of your child's case. An attorney will be on your child's side to fight for their rights. If you need reliable legal representation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer. Call us at 310-502-1314 and speak to one of our attorneys.