Understanding Juvenile Probation In California

Juveniles, or youths up to age 18, who commit crimes may be brought into the juvenile court system where their cases are adjudicated and dispositions (sentencing) ordered by the court if found in violation of the law unless charges are deferred.

Dispositions for juveniles generally include placement in a foster home; community service;  payment of a fine or restitution to victims; commitment to a ranch, juvenile hall or camp; commitment to the DJJ or Department of Juvenile Justice and/or probation.

Juvenile probation is varied. If a child becomes a ward of the court, then the court has authority and jurisdiction over the youth and may remove the child from the home if in its judgment there are circumstances that warrant it.

Probation is granted to about half of all juvenile offenders who come into the system. This requires that probation officers be involved in all phases of a juvenile matter. Courts depend heavily on a probation officer’s assessment and recommendations regarding programs and other dispositions.

The Role of the Probation Department During a Juvenile Case

Probation officers play a key role in a juvenile case from arrest to disposition.

Arrest Phase

If the juvenile has committed a serious offense, then the arresting officer will take the youth to juvenile hall to be interviewed by a probation officer. The options for the probation officer following the interview are:

  • Send the juvenile home with a diversion program. This is a matter between the probation officer, youth and family only and no petition is filed.
  • Send the juvenile home or other suitable placement with an court date before the juvenile court judge.
  • Detain the juvenile at the facility and have a judge determine within 48 hours (weekends do not count) if the youth should remain in detention.
Adjudication Phase

A probation officer can make recommendations to the prosecutor’s office on whether to file a petition for adjudication or whether the juvenile is fit to be tried within the juvenile system or be referred to adult court.

Any 707b case requires filing by the prosecution. For other offenses, the probation officer will consider certain factors in whether to recommend filing:

  • If the offense involved violence or the threat of physical violence against another person
  • If the youth is experiencing serious problems in school, family or within the community
  • The attitudes of the youth and family
  • If the conduct in question is disputed and if proven that court disposition is preferred
  • The age, maturity and capabilities of the youth
Disposition Phase

When a juvenile is sentenced and placed on probation, a probation officer is assigned to him or her who may or may not be the one who did the initial intake and made a recommendation on filing a petition. If formal probation is imposed, the youth must meet with the probation officer on a weekly or bi-monthly basis or whenever the officer deems appropriate. If informal, the probation officer may only call on the juvenile or meet infrequently with the youth and family.

The probation officer is responsible for monitoring the juvenile and assisting the youth in attending all required programs and ensuring that other terms and conditions are met. The youth’s parents or guardian are involved as well and are required to report any violations to the probation officer.

When placed on probation, the court or probation office will impose certain terms and conditions on the juvenile depending on the severity of the offense and the youth’s record and history within the family and community. Commonly imposed terms and conditions include:

  •  Attending school with no truancy or unexcused absences
  • Participation in a drug and alcohol program, anger management or other program selected by the probation department
  •  Submission to random drug and alcohol testing
  • Abiding by a curfew
  • Making restitution to a victim or county for property damage
  • Removing grafitti
  • Being banned from wearing gang colors or associating with known gang members or certain other people
  • Staying away from the victim
  • Being on electronic monitoring and restricting movement
Drug Testing

Regarding drug testing during probation, the probation department will have the juvenile submit a urine sample. Drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, angel dust and LSD may be the subject of the test. It helps to know what the juvenile’s drug or drugs of choice have been so that these drugs may be flagged for testing.

drug recognition expert may be used to determine the category of possible drugs that have been ingested or administered. Signs of drug use include:

  • Eye changes such as dilation, constriction, reaction to light
  • Injection sites or needle marks
  • Performance on coordination tests
  • Movements indicating muscle rigidity

If any of these signs or others are noted, then testing for a certain category of drugs may be done.

Types Of Juvenile Probation

Juveniles are subject to a number of different types of probation found in the state statutes under the Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC):

WIC 626(b) Informal Diversion

Under this provision, a police officer may just refer the youth to an informal diversion program. No charges are ever filed so the court never intervenes. The service agency handling the matter may have the juvenile appear before a teen court of his/her own peers or have the offender and victim meet to resolve the matter.

WIC 654 - Informal Probation (non-wardship)

This is a diversion program that is entirely under the authority of the juvenile probation department without court intervention or the necessity to report to the court. This is also called voluntary probation. In these cases, the prosecution has not filed a formal petition with the court. The youth remains in the home and is on probation for 6-months.though it may be up to one year from the date the offense was committed.

The youth could have committed a felony and still qualify so long as the juvenile has not previously been on probation under WIC 654.

WIC 654.2 - Informal Probation

Similar to WIC 654, this type of probation is, however, under the authority of the juvenile court following the filing of a formal petition by the prosecutor’s office. In lieu of sentencing, the petition is on hold for 6-months while the youth participates in a diversion program with the juvenile probation department.

The youth must successfully complete the program before all charges are dismissed or face sentencing for the charges that prompted the petition.

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

Under this provision, the juvenile admits to a misdemeanor violation but the court has placed the youth under probation for 6-months under the authority of the probation department that may be extended if the juvenile has not completed all the terms and conditions imposed. The youth is not a ward of the court under this provision unless he or she fails to complete or abide by the terms of probation.

WIC 725(b) - Wardship Probation

The youth is determined a ward of the court that retains authority and jurisdiction over the juvenile. Probation is only 6-months with certain terms and conditions to be followed

WIC 727 - Wardship Probation

The youth is a ward of the court, was deemed to have violated the law, and is under the court’s jurisdiction and not the probation department. The youth’s supervision is administered by the court only and the juvenile must abide by whatever terms and conditions are imposed by the court.

WIC 790 - Deferred Entry of Judgment Probation

If the youth commits a felony which is not serious and the youth meets certain criteria, then the entry of judgment is deferred and the youth placed on probation. There are strict criteria for this form of probation:

  1. The youth is at least 14 years of age at the time of the hearing
  2. The juvenile has not previously been declared a ward of the court
  3. This is the youth’s first felony conviction
  4. The offense is not a 707b offense
  5. The juvenile has not been sentenced to the DJJ or Department of Juvenile Justice (previously the CYA)
  6. The juvenile has never had probation revoked in previous cases before the court
  7. The youth is eligible for probation under Penal Code Section 1203.6

A 707b offense includes a long list of serious criminal offenses including but not limited to:

  • Murder
  • Attempted murder
  • Arson
  • Rape with force
  • Other forcible sex offenses
  • Kidnapping with bodily harm or for robbery or ransom
  • Assault with a firearm or by other means likely to cause great bodily harm
  • Armed carjacking
  • Certain other violent felonies
  • Sexual assault
WIC 602 - Wardship Probation

This provision is applicable if the court found the juvenile to have violated the law and has placed the youth under formal probation. As a ward of the court, the juvenile’s supervision  is under its authority until age 21 but if committed to the DJJ, then up to the age of 24.

The Effect of a Probation Violation on an Existing Case

Any time a person on probation violates a term or condition, the court can terminate probation following a VOP or violation of probation hearing. At the hearing, a judge determines if you violated a term or condition by the standard of preponderance of the evidence.

If it is a minor violation such as breaking curfew, the court may not violate you or it may change the terms but allow you to remain on probation.

The consequences for violating probation may consist of any of the following:

  • Revoke probation and go forward with the petition if a 654 probation
  • If a 725 or 790 deferred probation matter, the court can revoke probation and declare the juvenile a ward of the court. The youth can be on HOP or “home on probation.” If a non-wardship matter, the youth is only entitled to a hearing based on a report provided by the probation department regarding a disposition. If the court wishes to remove the child from the home, the youth is entitled to a disposition hearing and the court will consider any evidence that indicates that remaining in the home is to the child’s benefit.

If the juvenile is already a ward of the court and on HOP, the prosecutor may file a 777 Petition to revoke probation. The probation department prepares a report outlining how well or poorly the youth has done in abiding by the terms and conditions of probation. The youth may be represented by an attorney at this hearing, or any other phase, and present evidence in the youth’s behalf.

Other consequences for violating probation may include:

  • A warning from the probation department or court
  • An order to attend other or additional programs
  • Perform community service
  • Wear an ankle bracelet for electronic monitoring
  • Attend in-patient alcohol or drug program
  • Confinement to juvenile hall
  • Referral to a camp or ranch program or group home
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