A minor who breaks the law is held responsible for their actions, just like an adult offender. However, the juvenile justice system operates under a different set of rules when it comes to hearings and penalties. The legal processes that follow the arrest of a minor depend on the severity and nature of the offense they have committed. When a minor is placed on informal probation and no criminal charges are brought, this is referred to as juvenile informal diversion.

However, informal diversion may not always be an available option for all juvenile cases. The problems associated with juvenile delinquency cases are highly complex. Therefore, it is essential to seek legal advice from a qualified criminal defense lawyer. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we offer counseling and legal assistance to ensure the best possible outcome for your child's case. Our attorneys serve the city of Chula Vista, CA.

Understanding the Juvenile Justice System

When a person is under the age of 18 and has committed a crime, they face charges in the juvenile justice system. When a juvenile violates the law, they are required to take responsibility for their conduct. However, the juvenile legal system seeks to rehabilitate children rather than punish them as in adult courts.

Minors often get a second chance because their mental capacity could prove insufficient to make sound judgments. Additionally, juveniles can be easily persuaded to commit crimes. As a result, the legal system is lenient toward them.

Most juvenile charges are minor and fall under the category of misdemeanors or infractions. However, a minor can end up facing charges as an adult and be subjected to harsh legal consequences if he or she is found guilty of a violent crime like rape, murder, or any serious felony. It is important to get legal counsel if your minor has been detained.

The law enforcement officer has two options after making an arrest:

  • Warn the child and discharge them.
  • Take the minor to a detention center.

Several hearings take place while an individual is in detention. While awaiting the verdict of the case, the magistrate could choose to discharge the minor or keep them in custody. Bail isn't admissible to minors. However, if your attorney can show that the juvenile doesn't pose a flight risk and poses no harm to other people, the court could allow them to leave and come back to the court hearing.

A juvenile who has perpetrated a crime can be held under house arrest, transferred to a juvenile detention facility, camp, or both. Another alternative is serving informal probation under probation officer monitoring.

Probation officers are crucial in every aspect of juvenile court proceedings. Following an arrest, the police officer conducts interviews with the child before deciding whether to hold the minor in custody. The probation officer can tell whether the prosecution will present an appeal against the juvenile at the adjudication stage of the juvenile case.

During probation, juveniles are required to regularly check in with their assigned probation officer. The probation officer compiles a report at the end of the probation period and ensures that the minors are adhering to the rules. The type of sentence a minor will receive in juvenile court varies depending on the seriousness of their offense.

In juvenile cases, enrollment in the juvenile diversion program is the most common penalty. A diversion can occur before the trial even begins or after the accused has been convicted. It is crucial to seek legal counsel for your minor as soon as possible if they are detained.

Types of California Juvenile Probation

The California Welfare Institute and Code (WIC) contains the law governing minors. Probation is regularly used in California criminal cases in place of serving time in jail. However, it serves as a common factor among juveniles. Minors can be placed on probation in several ways, such as:

  • Informal Diversion

An arresting officer could refer a juvenile offender to an informal diversion program under WIC 626(b). However, the perpetrator and the victim could appear before a juvenile court to settle the situation.

  • Informal Probation

The probation department is in charge of this kind of informal probation. The juvenile court isn't involved. The prosecution doesn't have to file a case against the juvenile since the probation sentence is voluntary. During this type of probation, the minor will be required to stay under house arrest for a maximum of one year.

  • Deferred Entry of Judgment

A minor is required to admit that they committed a misdemeanor offense under this law. However, the court will sentence the minor to serve probation for 6 months under the supervision of the probation department. If you don't adhere to the probation's rules, the judge could choose to prolong your probation term. When deferred entries of judgment are granted under California WIC 725a, the juvenile isn't considered a ward of the court unless the necessary conditions are not met.

  • Probation for Wardship

When the prosecution files a case and the juvenile is found guilty of committing the alleged crime, the minor is designated as the court's ward. In this situation, the juvenile justice court retains jurisdiction over the minor. The wardship probation period can last no more than six months. A minor offender on probation for wardship is required to adhere to the probation requirements, which can involve counseling, required school attendance, and refraining from illegal activities.

  • Probation With Deferred Entry of Judgment

When a minor engages in a serious crime and meets certain requirements, WIC 790 allows for the deferral of judgment and the imposition of probation. The juvenile has to meet the age requirement of 14 years and not have received any sentence that would have transferred them to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Additionally, the minor shouldn't have committed an offense that necessitates the registration of sex offenders.

Informal Diversion for Juveniles

Minors, like other adult offenders, can be arrested. However, their situations are handled differently. If a police officer takes a minor to the juvenile detention center, a probation officer would have jurisdiction over the matter. The probation officer will look into the case and could choose to discharge the juvenile, refer them to an informal diversion program, or send them to the prosecution team where the charges will be filed. A probation department is crucial when determining the path of a minor's case.

Petitions are only filed in cases when more serious crimes have occurred. The probation officer can place your minor in an informal diversion program if he or she is a first-time offender and hasn't previously exhibited disruptive behaviors.

Informal probation is another name for an informal diversion program. A diversion refers to a program in which a perpetrator gets placed rather than filing a case. A minor will remain under the probation department's supervision for no more than six months as part of the juvenile informal diversion program.

All offenses involving juveniles don't always lead to a criminal proceeding, as per California WIC 654. The probation department handles the less serious violations on an informal basis. The probation officers have to consider the minor's best interests and society when considering whether to enroll a juvenile in the diversion program.

When enrolling a juvenile in an informal diversion program, the following factors should be taken into account:

The Severity And Nature Of The Offense

The juvenile court system often handles children who commit less serious offenses. As a result, informal diversion programs are the most commonly used option in this situation. However, when a minor commits a serious offense, the prosecution could choose to turn the matter over to another prosecutor so that they could press charges. In other cases, juveniles can be charged as adults and subject to the same legal repercussions as adult offenders.

It's Crucial To Be Able To Resolve The Issue Without Going To Court

In some cases, minors are held for offenses that an adult would not be considered illegal. As a result, certain issues can be resolved without any need for formal legal action. The juvenile can be enrolled in an informal program if the probation officer believes that the issue can be resolved without going to court.

Knowing a Minor's Delinquency Background and Dependency History

Even for juvenile offenses, California law tends to be harsh on repeat offenders. A criminal history can have a detrimental impact on your child's status. Although the juvenile justice system aims to rehabilitate youth, a minor may nonetheless face punishment if they repeatedly break the law. A probation officer could be hesitant to place the juvenile in informal diversion if he or she had already committed an offense in the past.

The Juvenile's Home Environment

Most of the time, informal probation is carried out at the house, and guardians or parents are responsible for making sure the juvenile stays away from their criminal activities. The probation officer could be hesitant to place a minor on informal diversion if they feel that their home and neighborhood are not supportive of their rehabilitation.

The Minor's Age and Abilities are Taken Into Account

The program's suitability for a juvenile can be determined by considering their age and maturity level. Minor first-time offenders have a lower likelihood of having their cases heard in juvenile delinquent court. Instead, they frequently have their cases resolved through informal diversion.

The Probability That The Program Will Be Beneficial To The Minor

An informal juvenile diversion program seeks to help a juvenile become better. They are offered another opportunity to improve themselves and their decisions during the program. Additionally, a diversion guarantees that your minor won't have any criminal conviction records that could negatively affect their future.

Probation officers consider the attitude and determination of the perpetrator, as well as their ability to learn from their mistakes and change their behavior, before enrolling a minor in the informal diversion program. Before determining whether to turn over a juvenile offender to the prosecution or subject them to an informal diversion program, California probation officers should further monitor them. Speaking with a criminal lawyer is essential if your minor is detained.

The legal counsel for your loved one will be able to advise them on what to do and how to speak to prevent self-incrimination.

Probation Following a Juvenile Court Petition

A probation officer can submit a juvenile's case to the prosecution for petition filing and could propose informal probation. In this case, the court has to assess the situation and make a decision. The following are some of the elements that the judge can consider:

  • The Juvenile's Situation At The Time Of Committing The Offense

Even in cases where the prosecution or probation department is opposed, a juvenile court could order that the juvenile be placed in an informal diversion program. This is because the legal system highly values the welfare and protection of minors. When the informal diversion is approved, it is recommended that you guide your loved one through counseling and education programs.

  • A Juvenile's Future Well-Being

If the court believes that a juvenile will benefit from this program and make more informed choices in the future, they would most likely place them in it.

  • Underage Drunk Driving Is Illegal Under California Law

If a juvenile has an underlying conviction for a DUI or other drug-related offense, the juvenile would be required to take an alcohol or drug education program while on informal probation. Informal probation doesn't exempt your minor from the DMV penalties for driving while impaired.

Informal Probation Terms in a California Juvenile Case

Individuals who are placed on informal probation have to abide by certain rules. Informal diversion follows the same rules as informal probation. A probation officer can examine the specifics of a case to establish the conditions and rules that a juvenile, their parents, or caregivers must comply with during the program.

If a minor is referred to an informal diversion program, it’s the responsibility of the parents and caregivers to ensure that the minor completes the program. Some of the common terms for informal juvenile diversions are as follows:

The Probation Officer Could Require The Juvenile Offender To Take Part In Parenting Or Counseling Programs

The juvenile justice system seeks to rehabilitate juveniles and provide a safe atmosphere in which they can learn from their mistakes and change their habits. Minor offenders get to learn from their mistakes and resolve to be better by undergoing counseling sessions.

If A Juvenile Gets Enrolled In An Informal Diversion Program, They Have To Get Treatment For Any Substance Misuse Or Addictions

Juveniles can be arrested for using controlled substances like marijuana. If the crime in question is minor, the minor can be referred to a diversion program whereby they can receive therapy and counseling.

If Your Child Doesn't Take Part In The Activities Instructed By A Probation Officer, He Or She Could Refer The Matter To The Prosecution Team To Press Charges

The probation officer may also request that charges be filed against juveniles who perform badly on probation. A failed probation case can be presented within 90 days of completion of probation or during the 6-month probation program. Informal diversion programs are good alternatives for an underage offender to avoid prosecution and all of the consequences that come with them. Therefore, a minor should complete the probation program.

Completion of a Minor's Informal Diversion Program

An informal diversion program normally lasts for 6 months. A minor needs to show up in court after finishing the diversion program to have their case resolved. The probation officer has to submit a probation report to the court that includes all the minor's details, and his or her performance while under probation. If the officer's report shows that the juvenile is done with probation, their case would be dropped, and the minor released.

If a juvenile's behavior during probation isn't satisfactory the prosecution could extend the term of probation or press charges in court. Once a case is filed, the court has a maximum of twelve months to decide on the course of action for the issue.

California Felony Charges and Informal Probation

A magistrate can handle certain juvenile delinquent cases. The probation officer will refer the matter to the prosecutors to press charges. If the purported crime is serious and the affected parties want justice, the minor offender could face the juvenile court system.

However, there are very few cases whereby a juvenile who has been convicted of a California felony when they're at least fourteen years old can be given informal probation. According to WIC 654.3, a juvenile court can:

  • Find a rare situation where a fair resolution will benefit the interest of justice.
  • Make sure the reasoning for their judgment is documented.

The judge needs to identify exceptional circumstances, regardless of whether a minor perpetrated a felony crime. Informal probation serves as a better legal choice for a minor than WIC 790, deferred entry of judgment, because of the following reasons:

  • The minor is not required to openly admit to the alleged crime.
  • The probation period is reduced.
  • If your minor's performance in the informal diversion program is considered unsatisfactory, he or she can challenge the report.
  • Informal probation terms are less stringent.

For example, if your child is detained together with other children for vandalism, the court will look for unusual conditions that would allow for placement in informal probation. Infringing vandalism laws is considered a serious crime that needs court action. The judge could claim that the minor was arrested alongside other juveniles older than him or her. As a result, they deserve a second chance in their life.

Juveniles Violating Informal Probation

Although probation is a lenient punishment compared to incarceration, an offender has to serve the sentence and follow all probation rules. If an individual violates their probation, the court has the authority to terminate their probation. However, the designated probation officer has to submit sufficient proof indicating that you violated the terms of your probation.

If a juvenile violates probation by failing to attend school or violating curfew, the prosecution can proceed to press charges in court. On the other hand, if the issue was with another probation term, the court would terminate the probation and make the juvenile a court's ward.

The probation officer is mandated to prepare a probation report reflecting how effectively a juvenile has followed the terms of his or her probation. If a minor is facing the juvenile justice system for breaching informal probation, seeking legal counsel is essential.

How to Seal A Minor's Record

When a magistrate approves a motion to seal your minor's records under WIC 718, the case is closed, and the documents included within it are removed from the public record. The purpose of sealing a conviction record is to remove the negative connotation that comes with convictions. As a result, the minor can say "no" when asked if they have ever been arrested, had a criminal past, or have an expunged record.

All court documents and reports regarding juvenile criminal conduct, such as probation reports, arrest reports, and court rulings and verdicts, are included in the juvenile record. The following are some of the benefits of sealing a child's juvenile record:

  • The child can state that he or she has no criminal background, which opens the door to education financing, licensing, loans, and job opportunities.
  • Prospective employers aren't allowed to ask about or be biased against a minor because he or she has a sealed criminal record.
  • It gives the minor a second chance because their childhood mistakes won't haunt their future.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

A juvenile informal diversion program is a common alternative for first-time offenders and juveniles charged with minor crimes. A diversion program offers a minor the opportunity to avoid the criminal consequences of their actions. Understanding the legal process can help you gain insight into what will happen to your child in the event of an arrest.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, don't hesitate to contact the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney. Call us now at 619-877-6894, and we will guide you through the necessary steps to ensure you achieve the best possible outcome for your case.