Like adults, juveniles have to be responsible for their actions when they violate the law. The laws that govern trials and punishments under the California juvenile justice system are different from those that govern the adult criminal court. The process a minor goes through after an arrest depends on the severity of their offense. Under the juvenile informal diversion, a young offender does not face criminal charges. Instead, an offender undergoes informal probation for six months. 

Not all crimes qualify for a juvenile diversion program. The juvenile informal diversion provides an excellent opportunity for a minor to avoid conviction and the harsh consequences of a juvenile conviction. The issues that surround juvenile delinquency cases are intricate. The Orange County Criminal Lawyer can guide you through the juvenile justice system and advise you regarding the juvenile diversion program. 

The Juvenile Justice System in Under California Law

Facing an arrest is often a traumatic experience. The situation is even worse if the offender is a minor. It is often challenging for a minor offender to withstand being handcuffed and going through mysterious proceedings. The good news is that there are many rehabilitation options under the California juvenile system that does not involve confinement. If your child violates the law, it is advisable to contact an experienced lawyer who understands the California juvenile system.

Unlike the adult criminal system that seeks to punish the offenders, the role of the California juvenile system is to rehabilitate the juvenile offenders. This goal of rehabilitation is what sets the juvenile justice system apart from the adult criminal system. The adult criminal system focuses on punishing the defendant after the conviction and sentencing. However, when a minor is placed into informal probation, the DJJ, or camp, the purpose is to rehabilitate the minor. 

The juvenile justice system seeks to ensure that even after committing an offense, young offenders still have access to treatment services and education that enables them to move past the crime.  The juvenile justice system seeks to ensure that the juvenile offenders reunite with their families and become productive and responsible citizens.  

The sanctions imposed under the juvenile justice system are not designed for retribution. However, it is essential to note that just because the juvenile justice system seeks to rehabilitate the victim does not mean that a person who breaks the law will quickly get away with it.  The minor could be subject to sanctions due to their impermissible conduct. However, the sanctions are not for retribution but discipline. 

Types of Probation Under the Juvenile Justice System

Juvenile offenders could be subject to several types of probation under the California juvenile justice system:

Informal Diversion - WIC 626(b)

Under WIC (b), the law enforcement officers may refer a youth to an informal diversion program. The court does not intervene because no charges are ever filed. The service agency in charge of handling the case will determine how to resolve the matter. 

Informal Probation – WIC 654

The juvenile probation department conducts this diversion program. The intervention of the juvenile court is not essential. Informal probation is also known as non-wardship or voluntary probation. The prosecutor does not file a petition with the court.  The minor stays at home and remains on probation for six months. In some instances, the probation may extend for up to one year from when the minor committed the offense. If the minor was not previously under WIC 654 probation, he or she might still qualify for informal probation even if the minor had committed a felony offense. 

Informal Probation Under WIC 654.2

The informal probation under WIC 654.2 is similar to the informal probation under WIC 654. The only difference is that the 654.2 informal probations are under the juvenile court. This probation occurs after a formal petition filing by the prosecutor. The court puts the petition on hold for six months and sets the minor on probation instead of sentencing. The minor participates in a diversion program within the probation department. Before the court suspends all the charges against the youth, the youth must complete the diversion program and comply with its requirements. 

6-Month Deferred Entry of Judgment – WIC 725(a)

The minor admits to misdemeanor charges under the non-wardship deferred entry of judgment, but the juvenile court places the minor under probation for six months. This type of probation is conducted under the authority of the probation department. There is a possibility of probation extension if the minor fails to comply with all the imposed terms and conditions. Under this provision, the minor is not a ward of the court. However, the minor might become a ward of the court if he or she fails to comply or abide with probation requirements.  

Wardship Probation – WIC 725(b)

This type of probation lasts for six months. The minor is a ward of the court. Even while on probation, the juvenile court retains jurisdiction and authority over the minor. 

Wardship Probation – WIC 727 

Under this probation, the minor is deemed to violate the law and is under the ward of the court. This type of probation is the juvenile court’s jurisdiction and not under the jurisdiction of the probation department. Under this probation, the court administers the youth's probation, and the youth must adhere to all the probation terms and conditions the court imposes. 

Deferred Entry of Judgment – WIC 790

The deferred entry of judgment probation under WIC 790 is available to youths who commit a non-serious felony and meet specific criteria. This form of probation has strict standards:

  • At the time of the hearing, the minor must have attained the age of 14 years. 
  • The minor should not have been declared a ward of the court previously for committing a felony offense. 
  • The offense the minor commits must not be a 707b offense 
  • The minor must not have been sentenced to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The Department of Juvenile Justice was previously the CYA.  
  • It should be evident that the minor has never had a probation revocation by the court in the previous convictions. 
  • The minor should be eligible for probation under the Penal Code Section 1203.6 
  • The offense for which the minor faces charges should not be rape, oral copulation, sodomy, or a crime of sexual penetration outlined in Sec 289 of the penal code. It should be evident that the victim could not resist due to unconsciousness, intoxication, a controlled substance, anesthetizing, or a physical or developmental disability. 

Several crimes qualify as 707b offenses. The list of criminal offenses under this category includes murder, arson, attempted murder, rape with force, kidnapping with bodily harm, other forcible sex offenses, sexual assault, armed carjacking, and other violent felonies. 

Wardship Probation – WIC 602

Under this type of probation, the court considers the minor to have violated the law and places them under formal probation. If the minor is a ward of the court, the minor will be under supervision until age 21. If the minor is committed to the DJJ, he or she will remain under supervision until the age of 24 years. 

Understanding the Juvenile Informal Diversion

The juvenile informal diversion is a pre-filing diversion program offered under the WIC 654 (Welfare & Institutions Code 654. Under this case, a formal case (petition) is not filed with the court against the minor. The minor undergoes informal supervision for six months. In most cases, informal juvenile diversion is available to first-time young offenders who commit minor offenses. 

According to WIC 654, a probation officer may adopt specific supervision programs for the minor instead of filing a petition. The purpose of the informal diversion program under WIC 654 is to help a minor avoid a criminal record. The probation officer does not file the case as long as the minor completes the probation program successfully. The probation officer may file the petition if the minor performs poorly in the diversion program. 

The law requires the probation officer to balance the minor’s interests and the community’s interests. Therefore, the probation officers have the discretion to supervise a minor who breaks the law without filing a petition against them. The informal juvenile probation could last for up to six months. 

Factors Considered While Subjecting a Minor to a Juvenile Informal Diversion 

The probation officer considers several factors when deciding whether to place a minor under informal supervision without filing a petition. The factors that the probation officer considers are:

  • If the minor’s conduct is serious — The seriousness of the offense a minor commits matters in determining whether to subject the minor to informal probation. Informal diversions are typical in the juvenile justice system because the system mainly deals with minor offenses committed by juveniles. However, if a minor commits a serious crime, the probation officer hands over the case to the prosecutor, who then files a petition. In some instances, the minor may be tried like an adult offender. 
  • The best way to resolve the offense — Some offenses are easy to solve without a formal action. Minors who commit such crimes are likely to be subjected to an informal diversion. The probation officer will consider whether the offense can be solved outside court when deciding whether to put the minor in an informal diversion program. 
  • Whether the minor has a history of delinquency or dependency — The law is strict on repeat juvenile offenders than first-time offenders. Therefore, a minor is not likely to receive an informal diversion if they have a history of criminal conduct. The juvenile system seeks to rehabilitate a minor and not to punish them. However, the minor could face punishment if they habitually break the law. The probation department might be unwilling to grant an informal diversion on minors with several past criminal convictions. 
  • Whether the minor and their parents can resolve the matter without the court's intervention — The probation officer is likely to recommend an informal diversion if it’s evident that the minor can solve the issue at hand with his or her parents or guardians. 
  • Whether further evaluation and observation is necessary before reaching a decision
  • The minor's attitude and the parents' or the guardians' attitudes— The probation officer will consider the minor’s home environment before granting the probation. Most informal diversion programs do not require the minor to leave home. The minor's parents or guardians have a role in ensuring that the minor stays away from criminal activities. The probation officer might be reluctant to recommend an informal diversion if they feel that the community or the home environment is not conducive to rehabilitate the juvenile offender. 
  • The capabilities, age, and maturity of the minor — Whether or not the juvenile will benefit from the informal diversion program will depend on their age and abilities. For young and first-time juvenile offenders who are easy to rehabilitate, the probation officer may recommend informal probation. Why does the minor’s attitude matter? If a minor has a positive attitude, they are more likely to benefit from the program than minors who do not seem to care. The minor’s attitude and the willingness to learn from their past mistakes will determine whether the minor benefits from the diversion program. 
  • If there is a recommendation from the referring agency or party — If the referring party or agency is against an informal diversion, the probation officer would be reluctant to recommend the diversion. 
  • The attitudes of all the affected persons — The affected person include the victim the minor committed the offense against. The opinion of the minor's parents or guardians will also determine if the probation officer recommends informal probation. If the minor is defiant to the parents' and guardians' instructions, the probation officer might not grant the minor probation. 
  • All the circumstances showing that informal supervision is suitable for the child's welfare and public protection — The informal probation might not be ideal if the minor is likely to pose a threat to himself or herself or the community. 
  • Whether the minor has a problem in school, home, or in the community, indicating that supervision would be necessary. 

The law indicates that the prosecutor or the probation officer should opt for probation instead of detention when handling juvenile cases whenever possible. 

Probation Conditions 

While on a juvenile informal diversion, a minor has to comply with several probation conditions. Both the minor and the parents must comply with all the requirements of the informal supervision program. Some of the requirements include:

  • Participation in counseling, education, and parenting programs 
  • Seeking care and treatment for the addiction or misuse of a controlled substance 

The probation officer must file a petition if the minor fails to engage in the required programs within sixty days. The probation officer can still file the petition for poor performance:

  • Within the six-month probation period
  • Within 90 days after the completion of the informal probation 

An Informal Probation after Filing a Petition

Usually, the probation officer does not file the petition. Instead, he or she refers the case to the prosecutor for filing but recommends informal probation. However, whether to send the minor to informal probation depends on the court’s decision. The judge must consider all necessary evidence while considering:

  • The minor’s future welfare 
  • The minor’s present conditions 

Even with the prosecutor's objection or the probation officer, the judge may still decide to grant the minor informal probation. If the judge grants the minor informal probation, the minor does not admit that the petition is true. The minor must participate in all the recommended counseling and education programs with their parents or guardians. 

Sometimes, the alleged crime may involve a California DUI charge or a controlled substance. In this case, the minor must participate in a drug and alcohol education program. The minor will still face the consequences from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The informal probation does not shield the minor from the DMV; the DMV might suspend the minor’s license. 

After Completing the Juvenile Informal Diversion

What happens after the six months? 

Upon completion of the informal probation, the minor must appear in court. The probation officer files a report to the court regarding the minor's performance fifteen days before completing the informal probation. The juvenile judge suspends the petition if the minor completes the probation successfully. The court may extend the informal probation if a minor fails to perform satisfactorily or violates the probation terms. If the minor fails to complete the probation successfully after the extension, the proceedings on the petition resume. The law gives the court up to one year from when the petition was filed to resume the juvenile proceedings. 

Informal Probation and Felony Crimes

The law requires certain cases to be forwarded to the District Attorney for filing. If a minor had committed a felony offense at the age of 14 or older, the minor could not be put under the WIC informal probation except in unique circumstances. The court may place the minor on a WIC 654.3 probation if:

  • The court finds an unusual circumstance where the probation would serve the unique interests of justice. 
  • The court specifies the reasons for its decision on the records 

The law requires the court to make a finding of unusual circumstances even if a minor 14 years and above is alleged to have committed a felony. Compared to the deferred entry of judgment under WIC 790, informal probation is a much better option. Why is informal probation considered a better option than the deferred entry of judgment under WIC 790?

  • Under informal probation, the minor does not have to admit to the offense. 
  • The probation period is shorter. 
  • Informal probation has more lenient conditions of probation 
  • If the probation performance is unsatisfactory, the minor may still contest the matter

When a Minor Violates the Terms of Probation or a Diversion Program 

The Role of the Probation Officer

The probation officer plays a crucial role in California juvenile cases and informal juvenile diversions. The probation officer is involved in every stage of the juvenile case and its disposition; after an arrest for committing an offense, the first official that the minor meets (after the law enforcement officers) is the probation officer. The police will take the minor into a juvenile hall to be interviewed by the probation officer if they think it is serious. Juvenile hall for minors is similar to the county jail for adults. The probation officer interviews the minor and determines whether the offenders will be a risk to themselves or the community after going home. 

During the adjudication phase, the probation officer plays a vital role in determining whether the prosecutor should file a petition against the juvenile. The probation officer is also responsible for deciding whether the minor should be handled within the juvenile justice system. 

The probation officer is responsible for the oversight of the minor. The officer will ensure that the minor complies with all the conditions of probation. While on an informal diversion, some of the requirements that the offender may have to comply with are:

  • A mandatory school attendance 
  • Curfew restrictions 
  • Attending an anger management class 
  • Substance abuse counseling 
  • Anti-gang classes 
  • Performing community services 
  • Not hanging out with certain people
  • Restitution
  • Graffiti removal
  • A stay-away order
  • Monitoring/restricting movement (house arrest)
  • Random alcohol and drug tests 
  • The minor may be prohibited from wearing clothing that indicates gang affiliation.

When a Minor Violates the Probation 

When a minor violates the informal probation conditions, the probation officer may request the District Lawyer or the prosecutor to file a petition against the minor. At times, the juvenile court will give the minor a break. In other instances, the court may impose harsher probation conditions and extend the probation period. What the court does when a minor violates probation depends on the specific violation that the minor commits. 

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

The California juvenile justice system, including the informal probation, can be challenging to navigate. If you or your loved one is facing juvenile charges and looking to hire an experienced lawyer for reliable legal representation, we welcome you to contact us at the Orange County Criminal Lawyer. We will be happy to evaluate your case and help you fight the charges. We will negotiate with the prosecutor to avoid a formal petition against you. Instead, we will arrange for informal probation, which is a more favorable rehabilitation option. Contact us at 714-262-4833 and speak to one of our attorneys.