Just like adults, minors are held responsible whenever they break the law. However, minors do not face trial in the adult justice system but are tried in the juvenile justice system. The process a minor follows after an arrest varies depending on the type of crime they commit. This process will also depend on the minor's criminal history. Juvenile informal diversion is common for children who commit minor offenses or first-time offenders. Many people do not understand the juvenile informal diversion program in California, given that it is so extensive. Call us at the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer to know what happens to a minor after an arrest. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys will take you through the legal process to help you get a possible favorable outcome.
Understanding California’s Juvenile Justice System
Experiencing an arrest is one of the most traumatizing experiences you can go through. Going through trial and facing conviction could be even more traumatizing. If the adults have difficulty facing prosecution, how much more traumatizing can it be for a minor? Whenever a minor violates the law, they have to be accountable for their actions. The good part is that the juvenile justice system is not as grave as the adult justice system. Unlike the California adult justice system that mainly seeks to punish the offender, the juvenile justice system aims to rehabilitate a minor. Even if the juvenile justice system is less strict than the adult system, it ensures that minor offenders cannot walk free as if nothing happened.
Most minor offenders commit minor offenses, primarily infractions, and misdemeanors. However, you could also find a child facing severe charges for felony offenses, commonly associated with adults. In addition, juveniles commit grave crimes like kidnapping, murder, assault using a deadly weapon, vandalism, and sex crimes. In cases involving these serious offenses, the court will consider several factors like the minor's previous social behavior before making the final decision. However, courts often treat children leniently, and the minor may not face severe consequences like an adult offender who commits a similar crime.
The law often advocates that minors should be given a second chance in life, which explains why the juvenile system is mainly about rehabilitating the minors and not punishing them. The law has a harsher sentence for adult offenders because adults understand the consequences of their actions. Minors do not have this capacity. Other individuals may also manipulate or coerce children into committing certain crimes.
Many children engage in criminal activities to seek attention due to the harsh lives they lead. All these factors explain why the law is lenient in dealing with child offenders. When punishing minors, juvenile judges have these options:
- The judge has the option of dismissing a case and letting a juvenile go with a warning
- The judge also has a choice of placing the minor on house arrest
- The judge may detain a juvenile offender in a juvenile camp, juvenile hall, or detention facility.
- The other standard option involves placing a minor on probation under the guidance and the supervision of a probation officer
The sentencing's type and magnitude will vary depending on the minor’s social behavior and the kind of offense a minor commits. In some instances, the judge may opt to refer a case to an adult court. If a juvenile judge refers a minor to an adult court, the minor will face the same trial and judgment as an adult. The most common ruling in the juvenile justice system is placing the child on probation, commonly referred to as a juvenile diversion program. The judge may recommend the program at the beginning of a case or after a minor is found guilty.
Types Of Juvenile Probations In California
In the adult criminal justice system, probation is an alternative to a jail sentence or imprisonment. However, in the juvenile justice system, probation is a common cause of action. There are several types of juvenile probation under the juvenile system:
WIC 626 (b) — Informal Diversion
Under this type of probation, the police refer a child to this program. There is court’s intervention since there are no charges were filed against the minor. However, the agency handling the matter may have the juvenile offender and the victim meet and resolve the issue or have the youth appear in a teen court.
WIC 654 — Non-Wardship (Informal Probation)
The probation department handles this form of a diversion program without the court's intervention or the necessity to report the case to the court. The alternative name for informal probation is voluntary probation and occurs before the prosecutor files a formal petition against the defendant in a juvenile court. The juvenile remains at home and will be on probation for a period of six months. The child may have committed a felony offense but still, be eligible for this type of probation provided they have never been on a WIC 654 probation before.
Informal Probation – WIC 654.2
This type of probation is almost the same as the WIC 654 probation, but it is under the juvenile court's authority. It occurs after the filing of a formal petition by a prosecutor. The juvenile must complete this probation before the charges against them are dismissed or before they face sentencing for the charges that led to the filing of a petition.
Other types of probation under the California juvenile justice system include:
- Six Month Deferred entry of judgment (non-wardship) —WIC 725 (a)
- WIC 725 (b) — Wardship Probation
- Wardship probation— WIC 727
- Deferred entry of judgment Probation — WIC 790
- Wardship Probation — WIC 602
Juvenile Informal Diversion Explained
A child is arrested like an adult offender once they violate the law. The arresting officer can decide what to do with a minor after an arrest. For instance, the officer may release the minor with a stern warning if they catch them committing a minor infraction or misdemeanor offense. However, the officer may send the child to a juvenile hall if they commit a more severe crime. After a minor is sent to the juvenile hall, a probation officer conducts a thorough investigation. Based on their findings, the probation officer may release the child with a warning.
The probation officer may also place the juvenile on an informal diversion program or hand over the case to the prosecutor. If the case is referred to a prosecutor, the prosecutor will submit a petition against the child in juvenile court. More severe offenses involving minors are likely to end up with the prosecutor. The minor cases are often resolved before the prosecutor file a petition in court. The probation officer plays an important role in the California juvenile justice system. The probation officer decides the direction a case takes after an arrest of a minor based on their investigations and findings. After being placed on probation, the probation officer ensures that the minor complies with all probation conditions and completes the full probation.
The probation officer might place an offender in the juvenile informal diversion. This mainly happens when a minor has committed a minor offense, is a first-time offender and has not shown troubled social conduct in the past. A minor is placed on an informal diversion before the prosecutor brings a petition against them in court. When on an informal diversion program, a minor will be under the supervision of a probation officer for not more than six months.
The law allows the informal juvenile diversions outlined by the California WIC section 654. According to the law, not all juvenile offenders should end up in the California juvenile justice department. First-time offenders or offenders who commit minor offenses do not need to have their cases handled by a judge; these cases can be handled informally. The probation officer will guide and supervise the child without requesting the prosecutor to submit a petition in court. When deciding whether to place a minor on an informal diversion or forward their case to the prosecutor, the probation officer must consider the child’s best interest as well as the public’s best interest.
The law requires players in the California juvenile justice department to place minors on informal diversion programs deliberately. However, the probation officer must consider several factors to ensure that they only place a minor on informal diversion if they will benefit from the program. Some of the crucial factors that the probation officer must consider are:
- The minor’s conduct and condition
- Whether the child and their guardians or parents are willing to cooperate in resolving the case without the court's intervention
- Whether the probation officer requires additional time to evaluate the case and observe the child before making a final decision
- The juvenile's attitude and that of their parents and guardians
- The probation officer considers if the minor is remorseful and seems ready to learn from past mistakes.
- The probation officer will also consider the minor's capabilities, maturity level, and age.
- Whether the youth has a history of dependency or juvenile delinquency
- The affected persons or victim’s point of view
- Presence of commendation from a third party or a referring agency
- If the informal diversion would benefit the minor and promote their wellbeing and that of the community
- If the minor has other problems in school, church, home, or in public. The probation officer considers whether the informal diversion will help the minor improve on these areas.
Juvenile Informal Diversion’s Terms And Conditions
Even the informal probations have terms and conditions that the juvenile placed on probation must adhere to. Depending on the case's facts, the probation officer sets several terms and conditions that the child and their parents or guardians must adhere to throughout the program. The typical terms and conditions for informal diversion programs are:
- The child takes part in education, counseling, and parenting program as directed by the probation officer
- In case of misuse or addiction to a controlled substance, the minor must take part in treatment for addiction
While setting the terms and conditions, The probation officer considers the minor's past behavior and the case at hand. The probation officer has a choice to refer a minor to the prosecutor if the minor fails to adhere to the set terms and conditions. The prosecutor will submit a petition against the offender in juvenile court. If the juvenile performs poorly at any time during supervision, the probation officer has a right to file a petition against the youth. After an unsuccessful informal diversion, a petition against a minor can be filed within:
- Six months of the probation duration
- Ninety days after completion of probation
Informal Diversion After A Petition Is Filed Against A Minor
An informal diversion may happen after submitting a petition against a juvenile offender. The probation officer may choose to first refer a case to the juvenile court before requesting the court to give the offender probation. The judge will consider all the case’s facts before deciding whether to place the minor on probation. The following factors will guide the court in deciding whether to place an offender on juvenile informal diversion:
- The child’s circumstances at the time
- The juvenile’s future well being
Even if the probation officer and the prosecutor refuse, the juvenile court judge can still grant the informal diversion after filing the petition. This is because the judge mainly focuses on the minor's best interest and public safety.
The child does not have to confess to a crime for the court to place them on an informal diversion. The case will go on for six months after the judge grants an informal diversion. The child's parents and guardians must agree to take part in the appropriate counseling or education programs.
While on informal diversion, a juvenile must attend and complete a drug or alcohol program if the underlying crime involves driving while intoxicated or any other drug-related crime. A juvenile informal diversion program does not protect a child from DMV penalties if they commit a DUI offense. As outlined by California VC 23136, California has zero-tolerance laws for underage DUI. This rule does not just apply to alcoholic drinks but all alcoholic substances, including mouthwash. Underage drivers will face charges provided they have a measurable level of alcohol in the body. The punishment for an underage DUI offense under California law is a suspension of their driver's license, usually for one year for a first-time offender. The license suspension for second-time and subsequent offenders is two or three years.
When A Juvenile Offender Completes An Informal Diversion
A juvenile informal diversion typically lasts for six months. The juvenile offender appears in court after six months, where the judge determines their case. The probation officer prepares a report 15 days before the probation completion. This report outlines the juvenile’s performance and conduct while on probation alongside other case’s facts. If the youth completes the diversion program, the court will do away with the petition. Thus, the juvenile will be free to go home and continue with their life.
The court might extend the probation period if the juvenile did not complete the probation successfully. If the minor did not complete probation successfully, the prosecutor might also file a petition against them in the juvenile court. The juvenile court will have up to a year from filing the petition to continue with the juvenile delinquency case.
When A Minor Commits A Felony Offense
If a juvenile commits a felony offense, the case may have to be decided by the juvenile court. In this case, the probation officer will have to refer the minor’s case to the prosecutor for filing. The offender will then have to go through the California juvenile justice system, especially if the victim is seeking justice. A minor can't qualify for a juvenile diversion if they were above 14 years at the time of committing the crime. However, the minor may be granted informal diversion under certain circumstances. The court will:
- Determine if there are some exceptional circumstances whereby placing the child on informal juvenile diversion would be in the best interests of justice
- Explain why it arrived at the particular decision to place a minor on informal diversion
Even if the minor had attained 14 years at the time of committing the felony offense, the juvenile court will first explore all the exceptions that would allow it to place the child on informal diversion. Unlike the deferred entry of judgment, informal probation is a better option for offenders. In the case of deferred entry of judgment, the minor will likely face all the repercussions of their actions.
A juvenile offender receives the following benefits from an informal diversion:
- Even if the minor is guilty, they would not have to confess to the offense if the court grants them an informal diversion
- An informal diversion typically lasts for six months, shorter than the confinement the juvenile is likely to get after a conviction
- The terms and conditions of an informal diversion tend to be more lenient
- If the probation officer accuses the juvenile offender of failing to complete probation as required, the offender has an opportunity of challenging the accusation
If your child faces juvenile charges and you need guidance on juvenile informal diversion, the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer will guide you through the process and help you get a favorable outcome for the case. Contact us at 310-502-1314 and speak to one of our attorneys.