Sentencing Options In Juvenile Cases

Juveniles who have committed a criminal or status offense and whose petitions filed by the probation department or prosecutor have been sustained by the court are subject to a number of different sentencing or disposition options. Although those under the age of 18 are not incarcerated in a jail or prison, some are committed to camps or other facilities where their freedom is restricted.

Depending on the severity or gravity of the offense, the prior record of the juvenile offender, whether serious bodily harm was inflicted on the victim, the victim’s status and other factors, the possible dispositions include:

Informal Juvenile Probation

Informal probation under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 554 or 725, a petition is filed but the juvenile could receive informal probation. This may entail a period of supervision for no more than 6-months where the minor enters a drug or alcohol treatment program along with the participation of the parent or parents. Otherwise, the minor can be placed under the supervision of the probation department for 6-months and require that the minor attend a school program, have the parents and child participate in a counseling or education program and be subject to a curfew between the hours of 10:00 pm to 6:00 am unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The child can also be subject to drug testing and/or making restitution to a victim. A parent can be required to make restitution if the child is not working or otherwise unable to make the payments.

This disposition is usually for non-violent first offenses including vandalism or trespass charges. Once the period of probation has passed and the child has not re-offended and has met all other terms of the probation, the petition is dismissed.


Before a petition is filed, the parties can agree to a diversion disposition pursuant to W&I Section 654. The probation office can formulate a plan for the child that includes the participation of the parents in a treatment or education program for up to 6-months. The parents may have to attend separate parenting programs within the community as well.

A child under this section could be sheltered within a community facility for up to 90 days. If the child successfully completes the program, no petition will be filed and the matter is dropped or dismissed. This does not prevent the probation department from filing a formal petition within the 6-month period or for 90-days after the 6-months has expired if the minor has failed to abide by the terms of the program.

Deferred Entry Of Judgement

A DEJ disposition requires the juvenile to admit to the allegations contained in the petition though it allows its dismissal should the juvenile complete a court-mandated program. These are for low-level offenses only and do not include violent felonies, sexual assaults, crimes involving firearms or gang-related crimes or any other of the 30 crimes listed under W&I Section 707(b). Minors with a truancy history or first-offenders who are arrested for drug possession or sale are eligible for DEJ. The minor cannot have been previously been declared a ward of the court for commission of a felony, has never had probation revoked in the past and is at least 14 years of age. The probation department can have the charge or charges dismissed no earlier than 12-months nor later than 36-months from the date of referral to the program.

While under a DEJ disposition, the minor is subject to warrantless searches of his/her person, residence or property. The court may or may not impose a condition that the minor also be subject to random drug or alcohol testing though  a curfew will be imposed along with mandatory school attendance. Restitution and other terms of probation may also be required by the court.

Formal Juvenile Probation

Once declared a ward of the court, the minor can be sentenced to formal probation at home, at the home of a relative, group home or at a camp if the minor requires a higher degree of structure. If the minor is at a group home or other residence, the court can require any number of terms that the minor must comply with during the probationary period, including:

  • Curfew restriction
  • Mandatory school attendance
  • Community service
  • Avoiding association with certain persons
  • Alcohol or drug counseling
  • Restitution

If the minor is to be sent to a camp, there are a number of different types that the juvenile can attend. There are wilderness camps where forestry and fire-fighting skills are taught, military-style ones and those where treatment and counseling are emphasized.

California Division Of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commitment

The DJJ (formerly the California Youth Authority or CYA) disposition is for those minors who have committed serious felonies or any of the crimes enumerated in W&I Section 707(b), or for an offense for which sex offender registration is required. In certain circumstances if the child was at least 14 years of age and had been arrested for a 707(b) crime, the prosecution was able to directly file charges in adult court prior to the passage of proposition 57 and have the minor tried in adult court and be sentenced accordingly if found guilty.

Additional Resources On The Juvenile Court System

Next Steps If You Need Help

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