If you have been arrested, you know how traumatic it can be, and perhaps you can bear it to a given extent. But what if it were your child experiencing the same? How would they withstand being handcuffed, subjected to mysterious proceedings and hearings, and confined for the so-called rehabilitation? It may be an overly traumatic experience that they may be unable to bear.

That’s why if your child has been arrested, you need to act fast and fight for them. Retaining the right Juvenile lawyer is the absolute most critical step in doing this. We have several other sentencing options within the juvenile justice system that don’t involve confinement, and the lawyer may be able to obtain your child one of those. Better yet, they may have the minor’s case dismissed.

At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we boast of juvenile delinquency defense lawyers who once prosecuted juveniles when working as prosecutors and now use the inside knowledge they gathered to represent them. We are devoted to keeping your child out of custody and helping them regain their freedom. Contact us as soon as you believe your child may be a suspect of an offense, and we will do all we can to help them. Let’s look at how a juvenile disposition hearing works.

An Overview of Juvenile Disposition Hearings

A juvenile justice case goes through several steps before the juvenile is eventually punished for their mistakes. It starts with an arrest, intake and investigation, detention hearing, transfer hearing, adjudication hearing, and finally, disposition hearing.

Firstly, when your child is arrested for committing an offense, he/she doesn’t automatically go through these steps. The arresting officer has a few choices based on what’s best for the community and the child. He/she may:

  • Write a citation and have the child or his/her parents promise, in writing, to visit the probation office.
  • Release the child on the spot after having warned them
  • Take the child to the juvenile hall until the judge looks at their case.

Once the officer takes your child to juvenile hall, the probation officer must investigate all the facts surrounding the case. If the offense is severe, the officer requests that charges be brought against the minor. And in case it is not, the probation officer decides what to do. He/she could release the minor with a warning, impose informal supervision, or suggest to the District Attorney (DA) to file charges.

If the officer suggests filing of charges, the District Attorney’s office files a petition, which is a paper stating:

  • The minor’s age, address, and name
  • What law the child violated
  • If the charge is a felony or misdemeanor
  • The address and names of the guardians or parents
  • A brief statement saying what happened
  • If the child is still locked up or is already released

In case the child is detained for committing a felony, the petition must be filed within forty-eight hours. And if it’s a misdemeanor allegation, the District Attorney has seventy-two hours to bring the petition. No deadline is in place to file the petition if the child is not detained.

After petition filing, a detention hearing is held to determine whether the minor must stay locked up in juvenile hall pending case resolution or if they should be released. This hearing usually takes place 24 hours after the District Attorney brings the petition. After the detention hearing, the transfer hearing follows. The transfer hearing is also known as the fitness hearing. The purpose of this hearing is to determine if your minor’s case will be transferred to adult court or remain in juvenile delinquency court.

An adjudication hearing follows the transfer hearing. This is a trial for your child and is conducted before a judge instead of a jury. It’s at this point that the judge determines whether to sustain the petition against your child and have the case thrown out. If, after arguments and presentation of proof, the judge rules that there’s adequate evidence supporting the petition, the child will have to attend court again for their disposition hearing. 

The Disposition Hearing In Detail

A disposition hearing in juvenile court is similar to the adult court sentencing hearing. At this stage of the juvenile justice case, your child has been determined to have violated probation or committed a criminal offense, and the judge decides what disciplinary actions he/she will face. Before this hearing, the probation officer must compile a social study of the child for the court. Everybody involved in the juvenile’s case is issued with the social study before the hearing begins. The study contains all the crucial info that helps the judge decide what’s best for the juvenile, including:

  • The child’s family and education history
  • Their past criminal record, if any.
  • A statement by the victim in case the charges against the child are of a felony.
  • Recommendations

There are several different options for the judge when deciding an appropriate sentence. They’ll first gather input from the prosecutor, the child’s lawyer, and the probation officer before making their decision. Several sentencing options are available to the judge, including:

  • Placing the child in foster care
  • Committing the minor to the DJJ (Division of Juvenile Justice)
  • Custody in a probation camp
  • Sending the child home on probation

The judge imposes a sentence that’s tailored to a specific offending juvenile to help them become rehabilitated.

What the Judge Considers When Determining What Sentence to Impose

The judge considers several factors when deciding an appropriate sentence after the adjudication hearing. He/she looks at the minor’s age and criminal record. He/she also considers how severe the child’s offense is and the circumstances and facts surrounding the child’s conduct. Additionally, the judge keeps in mind mitigating info regarding the child and any events that would’ve contributed to their commission of the offense in question.

The judge can’t punish the child for declining to admit the accusations mentioned by the petition or not confessing.

For particular cases, the judge proceeds right away to the disposition hearing once the juvenile’s adjudication hearing is over and the child is determined to have violated the law as stated by the petition. But for others, the juvenile court judge will want extra time to assess additional mitigating info the child or his/her parents provide or read through the probation department’s social study. The judge may also order that the child complete a psych evaluation to check whether there is an underlying mental health concern. In case your minor is in custody, they have the legal right to a disposition hearing within only ten days after the adjudication hearing.

If there’s a victim involved, he/she has the legal right to be present at the disposition hearing. He/she can also speak directly to the judge or give them a written statement during this hearing. The child is also entitled to testify at their disposition hearing. He/she can present proof to the court that will help the juvenile court judge decide. Apart from the factors we mentioned above, the judge should also consider what is best for the juvenile, address the victim’s injuries, and how to keep the community safe when making his/her ruling.

Sentencing Options

When everybody has presented their information and evidence, the judge will decide what to do for the child’s care, guidance, and treatment, including their punishment. A judge can order various sentences at a juvenile’s sentencing hearing as the state’s Welfare & Institution Code dictates.

If the judge determines that the interests of justice will be served, they can set aside the adjudication hearing findings then dismiss the DA’s petition per Welfare & Institutions Code 782. The petition against the child can also be dropped if the juvenile doesn’t require any rehabilitation/treatment.

The judge could also place your child on informal probation per Welfare & Institution Code 725. Under this kind of probation, the child would be required to comply with court-ordered conditions but wouldn’t need to be monitored by a probation officer.

Another disposition option is the deferred entry of judgment (DEJ) per Welfare & Institution Code 790. Here, judgment wouldn’t be entered provided your child complies with the court-ordered conditions and doesn’t commit any new crimes. In this case, the case would eventually be dismissed should the juvenile fully adhere to their DEJ terms and conditions.

The judge may also order formal probation for your child, where they would have to serve a probation period at home. In case the child doesn’t have a conducive home environment, the judge will order formal probation at a relative’s home, foster home, or group home. If the child is serving their probation term in foster care, a group home, or a relative’s home, a future case plan is created. The court will be reviewing the placement routinely.

In more severe cases, the court may order that the juvenile enrolls in a county probation camp. And in extremely severe cases, the judge will commit the child to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility. If the minor is committed in a DJJ facility, the judge should determine the maximum period they will spend there. Your child is taken to a DJJ facility because the judge deems it good for them to learn something from the facility’s programs or discipline.

The judge could set various terms for a juvenile on probation, which may be strict. For instance, your child might have to forfeit some legal rights. However, the judge-ordered conditions have to be reasonable, fair, and ideal for the child. The judge might order that the minor:

  • Sticks to curfew restrictions
  • Goes to counseling with the guardians or parents
  • Follows every law
  • Attends school without missing even a day
  • Undergoes alcohol or drug test
  • Does community service
  • Doesn’t see particular people
  • Go to work without pay
  • Pays victim restitution or fine
  • Doesn’t drive or restrict where and when they may drive
  • Agrees to warrantless searches

If the child must pay a fine or victim restitution, the guardians or parents is the one to do so. The law dictates that a victim who incurs any economic loss due to the minor’s offense receives restitution directly from that child. Therefore, if there’s a victim involved in your child’s case, the court will order full restitution.

Each parent will be requested to fill out an information form. The form is then sent to Central Collections. They’ll mail the parents a notice to contact them within twenty days to set up a financial interview when restitution and fines are ordered. In case the parents fail to appear at or schedule this interview, further legal action is taken.

At the financial interview, the Central Collections staff reviews the parents’ financial info and decides whether they can make monthly payments for restitution or fines. The parents may ask the Central Collections to schedule a Financial Review Hearing with the court. The parents must present themselves in court, where the judge then decides the amount to be reimbursed and the monthly parents. Should the parents fail to pay the restitution or fine amount, further legal action is taken.

A Minor May Have a Dependency and a Juvenile Justice Case Simultaneously

At times, juveniles have criminal cases that fall under juvenile justice and juvenile dependency (Welfare & Institutions Code 602 and 300). In a situation like this, together, the Probation Department for Juveniles and the DFCS (Department of Family and Children’s Services) recommends to the Juvenile Court what status/case type would be best for the child.

In case the court selects only one case, the case is then heard either in Dependency or Juvenile Justice Court, based on the judge’s decision while the other is dismissed.

In some instances, a child will have these two cases running simultaneously, a situation called ‘dual status.’ Under these circumstances, the juvenile justice case is heard first as the Dependency one is suspended. After the Juvenile Justice Case ends completely (including probation time or confinement period), in Juvenile Hall, the Dependency case then kicks off.

Minors Can Be Treated as Adults, Meaning There Won’t Be a Disposition Hearing.

Generally, a child goes through the Juvenile Justice system as we have described. However, when they commit certain crimes, they’re tried in adult court. The crimes include murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, a lascivious or lewd act with a minor below 14, forcible sexual penetration, carjacking, torture, arson causing significant bodily injury, weapon offenses, and drive-by shooting.

When a child commits a crime that warrants them to be charged as adults, the DA doesn’t file charges directly to adult court. Instead, he/she files the case with the juvenile court first to establish the minor’s fitness in a fitness hearing (or the so-called transfer hearing). During this hearing, the judge considers various issues, including:

  • The degree of criminal sophistication the juvenile exhibited
  • Past criminal record
  • If the child can undergo rehabilitation within the period allotted to the juvenile justice system’s jurisdiction (age twenty-one or age twenty-five if taken to a DJJ facility)
  • Circumstances and severity of the crime
  • If past rehabilitation efforts were made

However, per Senate Bill (439), children below 12 years can’t be tried as adults. This bill only permits the court to have jurisdiction over a child below twelve years old if the juvenile is charged with oral copulation, rape, sodomy, murder, or sexual penetration by violence, force, or threat of significant bodily harm.

And if:

  • The child is sixteen years at the minimum and has committed any crime in the past, or
  • They are sixteen years at the minimum and have been a ward of the court depending on a previous felony crime or have committed at least two additional felonies since turning fourteen years; they are presumed unfit for juvenile court.

If the child is presumed unfit and the prosecution has made a prima facie case for unfitness, the child can present proof to show they are open to treatment within the juvenile system. Testimony of their mental health will help them prove this. 

Juveniles who are at least fourteen and commit capital murder or a forcible or violent sexual offense have to be tried in adult court.

If juveniles are tried in adult criminal court, they’re treated like adults, and a disposition hearing doesn’t exist. This means they have to undergo the same procedures and laws and have the same legal rights as adults. It also implies that the child will be subject to the same penalties as a grown-up if found guilty of the same offense. However, as the case nears the end, the judge may decide that your child should receive a juvenile sentence.

What Next After the Disposition Hearing?

Other things can take place after your child’s case ends, including the following:

  • The court could impose a more restrictive sentence
  • The child could seek to set aside the judge’s order
  • He or she could also appeal the judge’s decision or
  • Seek to seal their record

More Restrictive Sentence

In case the juvenile is not complying with the court-ordered conditions, they may be taken back to court, and the judge would impose a stricter disposition. 

Request to Set Aside the Judge’s Order

Your child could request the court to cancel/change a given court order, for instance, because there is new proof or their situation changed.

Appealing the Judge’s Decision

If your minor is not satisfied with the sentence the judge imposed, or if they believe their legal rights were ignored, their attorney could appeal. In case the child wishes to appeal, their lawyer ought to file a Notice of Appeal. The lawyer has only sixty days after the sentencing hearing or after the court order has been made to bring this notice. Sometimes, the district attorney can file an appeal, as well, if the judge’s ruling didn’t favor them.

Seeking to Seal the Child’s Criminal Record

If the child doesn’t have any additional problems filed in the juvenile justice court within five years of the judge’s ruling, they could apply for the sealing of their criminal record. But this is only the case if their contact was only with a probation officer. In case the original hearing was presided over by a judge, the minor can request the sealing of their record at any time once they reach 18 years old. At times the child or probation officer could ask that the court seal probation records, arrest records, court files, and records from other organizations that could have details to do with the case.

The juvenile applies for record sealing by completing an application form requesting the same and paying a fee. After which, the probation department will decide on the child’s request. A probation officer will:

  • Decide if the minor can petition the court
  • Complete and file the petition
  • Compile a report for the court
  • Choose a court date
  • Tell the District Attorney’s Office

The judge then reads the report and petition and decides. Before making their decision, the judge has to consider the minor’s crime, if the juvenile completed his/her sentence, if the child is rehabilitated and whether there’s any suit still in court about the minor’s case.

Find an Experienced Juvenile Delinquency Attorney Near Me

A juvenile sentence can have negative consequences for your child when they become an adult. If your child commits a crime while all grown up, the judge can consider their juvenile adjudication when determining the sentence. For this reason, you need to ensure that if your child is in trouble with the law, they have the best defense attorney fighting for them, so they don’t receive a criminal record. If the criminal record is unavoidable, you could have the record sealed so that it doesn’t haunt them in the future.

At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, one of the practice areas we specialize in is juvenile delinquency. We have successfully defended against hundreds of juvenile cases thanks to our understanding of how the juvenile justice system works. Contact us at 714-262-4833 for a cost-free confidential consultation and let your child receive a powerful legal representation.