When your baby is charged with a crime and should attend a juvenile disposition hearing, you might have several questions. Will the child serve time in jail? Will they have a delinquent record which will stop them from enrolling in school or securing employment? What can you do to protect your child? The competent criminal defense lawyers at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm can help you navigate the complicated California juvenile judicial system.

Understanding a Juvenile Disposition Hearing

A juvenile disposition hearing is identical to the sentencing hearing in adult court. In the Los Angeles delinquency court, the trial of a minor is known as an adjudication hearing. If your child loses at trial, the juvenile will proceed to the sentencing stage called disposition hearing.

The court reviews the case before determining your sentence. The judge will consider:

  • The gravity and circumstances of the crime
  • Your prior delinquent history
  • Your age

The judge will not penalize you for refusing to plead guilty or failing to confess. However, the judge will consider whether you broke perjury law under California Penal Code Section 118 PC by testifying deceptively at your adjudication hearing.

When Does Disposition Hearing Occur?

If the court has the information it requires to make a sentencing decision during the trial, the disposition hearing could happen immediately after your trial concludes.

However, if you or your parents want to present necessary material which could assist portray you in a better light, or the judge is waiting for the probation officer's social study (recommended sentence), then the hearing will be postponed.

If you have a mental health condition, the court could order a psychological evaluation.

The judge cannot continue things indefinitely. If you are in police custody, your sentencing hearing should happen within ten days of trial or thirty days following the district attorney bringing the petition. If everyone agrees, your hearing could take place later.

At your hearing, the court determines your treatment, guidance, punishment, and care. Before the disposition hearing, a probation officer writes a social study. The study has information such as:

  • School and family history
  • Previous criminal record
  • Recommendation
  • A victim's statement if the charge is a California felony

During the disposition hearing, both you and the district attorney can present evidence to the court. Additionally, the alleged victim can give an oral or a written statement during their hearing.

The court considers:

  • What is best for the child
  • How to fix the injury of the victim
  • How to keep the community safe and protect it

After everyone has presented their information or evidence, the judge could:

  • Set aside the court's decision in your jurisdiction hearing and then dismiss your case. The court does this if it is in the interest of justice, the juvenile's good, or if your child does not require rehabilitation or treatment.
  • Make the juvenile a ward. It allows the courts to decide about guidance, treatment, and care for the child instead of their parents. The judge could take the minor's control or restrict the amount of control the guardian or parent has over their child.
  • Put the minor on informal probation for six months.

What are the Various Juvenile Court Sentencing Options?

A juvenile court has numerous sentencing options that it could impose on youth offenders or juveniles who have violated the law (delinquent). The judge should develop a sentence that will discipline your juvenile and acquire tools essential to become a better citizen. Generally, disposition options are categorized into two, namely:

  • Non-incarceration
  • Incarceration

Incarcerating Delinquent Options

Following adjudicating a minor as delinquent, the court might impose incarceration. However, the incarcerating methods used vary from criminal charges involving adult defendants (when prison and jail are typical options). Discussed below are strategies that judges could impose confinement for minors:

  • House arrest or home confinement: The court could order the juvenile to continue staying at their home with exemptions of attending work, counseling, or school.
  • Placement with another person apart from a guardian or parent: The court could need that the juveniles stay in groups, foster homes, or with relatives. The placement will be reviewed regularly.
  • Juvenile detention facility or juvenile hall: The court could also send you to a juvenile hall. The facilities are tailored for short-term stays.
  • Adult jail: Sometimes, you could be taken to an adult facility such as state prison or county jail.
  • Juvenile and adult jail: Sometimes, the judge could send minors to juvenile facilities and later instruct transfer to adult facilities after the minors attain eighteen years. When a juvenile is sentenced to both an adult and juvenile facility, it's known as a blended sentence.
  • Secured juvenile facility: The facility is tailored for long term stays. Also known as camps, the minor could serve time in a secured facility for many months or even years.
  • Probation after juvenile hall: You can be sent to a juvenile hall for a couple of months before being put on probation.

If your baby is placed in a probation camp or group home or is taken to the Department of the Corrections and Rehabilitation, you should:

  • Communicate regularly with the child by asking a probation officer when you could see the child
  • Support the positive things the child is engaging in
  • Know what is happening to the child so that you could protect and support the child when they return home
  • Know how to make the child accountable for their conduct

Non-Incarcerating Juvenile Options

A judge has the discretion to tailor a rehabilitation program or sentence that meets your needs. Common non-incarceration options include:

  • Fines: You might be required to compensate the alleged victim or pay fines to the government.
  • Community service: You might be required to work for a given number of hours in your community.
  • Counseling: The judge might require you to attend counseling classes in your disposition order.
  • Verbal warning: Your sentence could be a simple verbal reprimand.
  • Electronic monitoring: You could also be supposed to put on an ankle or wrist bracelet, which always verifies your location.
  • Probation: You can also face probation following the delinquent hearing.

Please note, the judge can order one or a combination of the mentioned-above options. For instance, you might require to attend counseling classes, engage in community service, and pay fines as penalties for one crime.

What Takes Place If Your Child is Taken to a Juvenile Hall?

If your child is taken to juvenile hall, it isn't the end of the world, and the child might not stay there for long.

Like police officers, probation officers in juvenile halls have choices. The probation officer will interview the minor and do any of the below:

  • Keep the juvenile in juvenile hall until the judge determines the case.
  • Send the minor home with a probation program that doesn't need returning to court unless the child violates the terms.
  • Send the juvenile home with a citation to appear in court later.

Probation for Minor

Probation is a supervision program where the juvenile's activities and freedom are limited. Under the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, it is the juvenile justice system's workhorse. It's the most popular disposition in charges in question. According to an article published on Nolo.com, approximately half of minors deemed as delinquent face probation.

The specific terms and conditions of probation differ with case and jurisdiction. The juvenile should comply with the terms and other requirements designed for their case. Usually, the judge expects the guardians or parents to assist the minor adhere to the various probation order conditions. Although the conditions are stringent, they must be best for the child and reasonable. They include:

  • Performing community service
  • Attending counseling classes
  • Attending a specific school
  • Curfews
  • An order not to interact with particular people, especially in cases with alleged gang members
  • Being searched without a warrant
  • Go to work without receiving pay
  • Pay restitution to alleged victims
  • Not driving or limit where and when the minor could drive
  • Attend a treatment program that offers more educational or monitoring services like social skill building, alcohol and drug abuse classes, and anger management classes.

A Probation Officer

The probation officer is assigned to a minor placed on probation. The officer monitors the juvenile's adherence to the disposition order. The minor child often meets with their probation officer; it could be weekly, monthly, or twice a month.

The guardians or parents should tell the child's probation officer of the probation violation. That way, both the parents and probation officers are a team that assists the minor in satisfying the probation conditions.

Probation Violation

Should a minor violate probation terms and conditions, the probation officer should notify the court by bringing a violation of probation notice. Should the judge learn the juvenile indeed broke their probation terms, the court could revoke their probation and impose more severe penalties like incarceration.

What Takes Place Following a Disposition Hearing?

Discussed below are things that could occur once your case is concluded.

You Could File an Appeal

If you are not satisfied with how your criminal process ended or believe your constitutional rights are violated, your defense attorney could appeal. If you want to appeal, you should bring a Notice of Appeal within sixty days following your disposition hearing. Sometimes the district attorney could also file the appeal.

Moreover, you could ask the court to adjust the disposition order should circumstances change. The judge has the discretion to alter the original order to serve your best interests and needs. For instance, a judge could instruct that the minor change their living arrangement if a more practical option is available.

Impose More Severe Disposition Order

If you're not complying with the disposition order, the court could impose a more severe sentence.

Ask to Set Aside the Court Order

You can request the judge to cancel or change the court order. You could do this if you have new evidence or your situation has changed.

Seal the Child's Criminal Record

If, after five years, the juvenile has not committed any other crime, they can request their criminal record to be sealed if the last contact was with a probation officer. And if your hearing involves a judge, you can file a petition after turning eighteen. You can request the judge to seal:

  • Your court file
  • Arrest record
  • Probation record
  • Records of agencies that have your criminal record

You should complete an application and pay fees. Then the probation officer:

  • Determines if you can file a petition
  • Fills outs and bring the petition
  • Reports to the court
  • Obtains the court date, and
  • Tell the district attorney.

The judge will read your petition and report and decide. When deciding, the court will consider:

  • The crime you committed
  • Whether you completed your sentence and is rehabilitated
  • If there is any lawsuit in court about your case

If you are eligible for criminal record sealing, the court will seal all the records outlined in your application. The court will seal only the records it knows. Ensure you highlight all your criminal records. The probation officer should assist in identifying criminal records. Moreover, you could obtain a copy of the criminal history from the California Department of Justice.

How Long Does It Take to Seal the Records?

If the records are from one county, the probation officer has ninety days to analyze the forms and notify the court if you qualify for record sealing. And if the cases are from different counties, the probation has six months to conduct the review. The court could determine immediately or schedule a hearing. If a hearing is scheduled, you'll receive a notice via mail with your hearing's time and date.

The Responsibilities and Report of the Probation Officer

The probation officer will write a report to tell the court about you. The judge will acquire the report during the disposition hearing. Typically, the report:

  • Outlines what the probation officer recommends should take place if you are guilty
  • Has a copy of your arrest record
  • Outlines the crime you committed
  • Contains statement from you, your family members, and another person who know you well
  • Has the alleged victim's statement

Preparing for Your Juvenile Disposition Hearing

Are you nervous about the upcoming court hearing? The feeling is normal irrespective of the case circumstances. Preparation is essential as far as dispelling butterflies in the stomach is concerned. You will be more put-together and confident when you're proactive about preparing for the juvenile disposition hearing.

The first step is developing a theory of the case. What are you proving? How will you prove it?

While most people self-represent themselves, it is wise to hire a lawyer. The attorney is experienced and knows how to get you a fair trial. Depending on your charge, the lawyer can help you get lesser penalties or a sentence.

Also, Research. It includes analyzing laws, cases, and regulations that have dealt with legal facts and problems similar to your criminal charges. Be sure to look at relevant previous decisions. Ask the criminal defense lawyer to advise you on the cases and laws pertinent to the charges.

Other tips include:

  • Know the venue: Check the notice for the correct time and date. If you haven't been previously to the court, take a practice run. Undergo security and check for screens. The screens should tell you where to go on your court hearing date.
  • Be punctual: Reach the courtroom ten minutes before the scheduled time. Check-in with a court clerk so that they can know you have arrived.
  • Dress appropriately: What you put on at the disposition hearing is very vital. The judge can form opinions of you in a few seconds based on your outfit. Choose formal, professional, and modest clothing. It shows you are confident and trustworthy. Avoid tank tops and jeans: do not take fashion risks. If you aren't sure what kind of outfit works for you best, choose conservative options in darker colors.
  • Plan your testimony: You must have an idea of what you want to say in court. Most people are anxious when asked to narrate their version, forgetting the critical information. Preparing allows you to be familiar with what you want to say and how to say it. Practice the speech a couple of times. Although the speech should be short, it should cover every main point.
  • Know your witnesses and make sure they attend the hearing: A witness can offer the best testimony for your case. Spend quality time paying attention to your witnesses and ensure they appear in court. Notify them of the hearing immediately you receive the disposition date. It allows them to make arrangements to find transportation or take time off their work.
  • Carry your paperwork: Ensure you carry all the paperwork you received about your hearing. If there is something you want to show the court, bring your copy, a copy for the judge, and a copy for the alleged victim.
  • Use waiting time wisely: Courtrooms are busy, and in most cases, many court hearings start simultaneously. That means you might have to wait for your turn. Breathe and get comfortable. Watch how the court handles other criminal cases and what irritates the judge.
  • Act appropriately in the court: Be eloquent in your speech. When asked questions, answer all of them clearly and directly. Address a judge as "Your Honor" or "Judge." Speak only with the judge and do not argue with the alleged victim.
  • Control your emotions: An allegation is both a vital and emotional issue. You might have many months of conflict and disagreement with your accuser. However, this is time to be relaxed, rational, and calm so that you can convince the judge and be understood.
  • Be attentive to the judge: Many things can take place due to the juvenile disposition hearing. The judge could schedule another court hearing to obtain more case details or rule a verdict on that day. Before leaving the courtroom, ensure you comprehend what is expected of you and what shall occur next. Your defense attorney should ensure you are not confused.

What are Your Rights at the Disposition Hearing?

Like every criminal proceeding in California, you are entitled to specific rights during the hearing. Some of the constitutional rights include:

  • The right to be represented by a defense lawyer
  • Right to present your evidence

Right to be present for the hearing

Please note, you do not have the right to cross-examine or confront witnesses during your juvenile disposition hearing. It includes the lack of entitlement to cross-examine a person who submitted an out-of-court statement or probation officer.

Why You Require a Defense Lawyer

You need to have an attorney in your juvenile case. Your lawyer should be familiar or have specialized with juvenile court proceedings. Legal assistance can significantly affect your case outcome. It is because the lawyer can:

  • Get your case handled informally or diverted, so you are not incarcerated or have a criminal record
  • Arrange for your release from detention
  • Prevent you from being tried as an adult
  • Persuade the court to agree to a compassionate and creative disposition

However, some court experts claim that the attorney's involvement prolongs the case. Making the prosecutor handle informally to a formal adversarial proceeding. The judge might also treat or threaten to treat juveniles with legal representation harshly.

A brilliant student with a previous criminal record charged with putting graffiti on a building might receive advice that an informal, satisfactory, and quick disposition if an attorney is not involved. On the contrary, a juvenile is entitled to legal representation, even when they cannot afford it. 

Since variables are significant, there is no guideline about when an attorney must be used. Nevertheless, the more severe the offense and the worse your criminal record, the more essential it's to engage a lawyer.

Find a Los Angeles Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Is your minor child facing a disposition hearing? Probably, you do not know what step to take. It can be a devastating moment for your child, family, and you. The accusations can limit your child's future success and drastically alter their life. With the high stakes, you require a trustworthy, reliable, and compassionate defense attorney. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we can assist your family in taking the necessary action to protect the juvenile's legal rights. We have the knowledge, experience, and resources to ensure you receive the best judgment at the juvenile disposition hearing. Call us today at 310-935-1675 to get your questions answered.