As our children age, sometimes they can make poor decisions that can put them in trouble with the law, leading to criminal charges. While it can be confusing and emotional as a parent to hear that your child is in legal custody for an alleged offense, you can help instead of worrying.

Every person can make a mistake, and children are no exception, especially during their teenagehood when their curiosity to try out everything is at its peak. If your child is in legal custody, a skilled defense attorney can help him/her understand what to expect in the juvenile delinquency court system and disposition hearing upon conviction.

While the purpose of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate, counsel, and educate minors, the court decisions at the disposition hearing can ruin your child's life and future. Hence, it is important to work with a skilled defense attorney to increase the odds of obtaining a favorable outcome for your child's case during this hearing.

Our skilled attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can help your child fight for the minimum sentence or disposition possible or the case's dismissal. We understand the importance of rehabilitating your child favorably and will do our best to convince the judge to award the most favorable disposition at the juvenile disposition hearing.

Juvenile Disposition Hearing at a Glance

Lawmakers understand that minors (a person aged below 18 years) are not young adults. When your child commits an offense, the minor will not pass through the usual criminal justice system for adults. Instead, the alleged case the minor is up against will remain in the juvenile justice system, where a judge will decide whether the allegations are true. 

Unlike what you would expect in the criminal justice system, the lingo or legal terms used in the juvenile justice system are different. For instance:

  • A "delinquent act" is a term used to refer to a crime or wrongdoing committed by a minor in the juvenile court
  • A "sustained petition" in the juvenile delinquency court means the allegations your child is facing are true. In other words, a sustained petition is similar to a conviction in an adult court
  • An "adjudication hearing" in the juvenile delinquency court is similar to a "trial hearing" in an adult court
  • A "disposition hearing" in the juvenile delinquency court is similar to a "sentencing hearing" in an adult court

In this article, we will focus on the disposition hearing, which is a critical stage in the juvenile justice system. If your child loses at the adjudication hearing or trial, the minor’s case will proceed to the disposition hearing. The juvenile court judge will decide the appropriate disposition or sentence for your child's sustained petition or conviction at this hearing.

Since several disposition options are available in the juvenile justice system, the court will consider several factors when crafting the appropriate disposition for your child's case, including:

  • Your child's age
  • The severity, gravity, and circumstances of the alleged delinquent act
  • Your child's past delinquent record
  • The probation officer recommended disposition for the minor’s case
  • Your child's attorney mitigating arguments
  • Whether the minor is mentally or psychologically impaired

If your juvenile delinquency court has all information it needs to make a disposition decision, your child's disposition hearing can occur right after the adjudication hearing concludes. However, the court can postpone this hearing to a later date if the following is true:

  • The judge is waiting for the probation officer's recommendation on the appropriate disposition for your child's case
  • The judge is waiting for you, the child's parent, to submit relevant documentation or information that can help portray the minor in a better light
  • The judge is waiting for a psychological or mental examination of the child

If your child is still in legal custody, the disposition hearing should occur within ten (10) days after the minor’s trial hearing. While your child has a legal right to testify at this hearing, you should let him/her know that his/her statements can influence the judge's disposition decision negatively or positively.

If your child has to testify, a defense attorney can advise the minor on what to say and not say in court for the best favorable sentence.

Disposition Options Available to a Juvenile Judge at the Disposition Hearing

Depending on several factors mentioned above, the court will craft an ideal disposition or sentence that can discipline, rehabilitate, and give your child the tools necessary to grow as a productive citizen. Discussed below are potential dispositions or sentences your child could receive at the disposition hearing if the court sustains the prosecutor's petition against him/her:

Deferred Entry of Judgement (DEJ)

Another disposition option available at the disposition hearing is DEJ. According to Welfare and Institution Code (WIC) 790, the minor must admit the allegation he/she is up against is true to receive this disposition. Then, the court will dismiss the minor’s case upon satisfying and completing the required DEJ programs successfully.

Typically, the court will sentence first-time felony offenders with sustained petitions for non-WIC(b) offenses to a DEJ program which can last between twelve (12) to thirty-six (36) months.

Placement at a (DJJ) Division of Juvenile Justice Facility

DJJ is a rehabilitation system for minors with sustained petitions for serious or violent felony offenses. For example, WIC (b) offenses and any sex crime specified under Penal Code (PC) section 290.008 are some of the severe crimes that can qualify your child for commitment to a DJJ facility. These severe crimes include (but are not limited to):

  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Attempted murder
  • Assault with a firearm
  • Arson
  • Discharge of a firearm at an inhabited building or structure
  • Any severe sex crime

Also previously known as California Youth Authority (CYA), DJJ is part of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The correctional or detainment facilities the court will require your child to spend his/her sentence upon receiving a sustained petition are as severe as detainment in an adult prison.

While the purpose of placing a minor in a DJJ facility is not punishment, detention in these facilities can affect your child's social life negatively because the minor will spend his/her youthful years with other juvenile offenders.

When deciding whether to send a minor to a DJJ facility, the juvenile court judge will consider the following factors:

  • The child's best interests
  • Public and community safety
  • The importance of paying damages for the victim's injuries

Also, the prosecutor must provide adequate evidence to convince the judge beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • Less severe disposition alternatives are not ideal or appropriate for your child's sustained petition due to the case’s severity
  • The child will be amenable to treatment provided under the DJJ system

Since every child's case is unique, the specific DJJ facility or program the court will assign a convicted minor will depend on the following factors:

  • The child's age
  • The child's individual needs and risks
  • The child's educational needs
  • The child's maturity level

The maximum time your child will spend in a DJJ facility could be up to the maximum confinement period an adult would spend in prison upon conviction for a similar offense in the adult criminal justice system.

Formal Probation

If your child is declared a "ward of the court," all hope is not lost. At the disposition hearing, the minor's attorney can convince the judge to sentence your child to formal probation, which is a lighter sentence than spending time in a DJJ detention facility.

When a child is declared a ward of the court, the court assumes primary responsibility for determining appropriate treatment for the child. During the formal probation duration, the court could decide whether your child should live with a family member or in a foster or group home.

Like in an adult court, if your child receives formal probation, the court will require the minor to abide by particular terms and conditions. Some of these conditions include (but are not limited to):

  • Abide by a curfew restriction
  • Stay away or refrain from speaking with particular individuals
  • Remove particular graffitis
  • Perform community service
  • Attend substance abuse counseling session
  • Compulsory school attendance
  • Pay restitution to the victims of the case
  • Wear a monitoring device

In more serious cases, or if your child needs significant rehabilitation and treatment, the court can sentence the minor to a probation camp for three (3) to twelve (12) months. Most of these camps will have a structured daily schedule, providing education and treatment programs that the minor must comply with during probation.

Informal Probation

If your child's delinquent act is not severe or violent, the minor could be eligible for informal probation or diversion under WIC 654 or WIC 754, respectively. For instance, if your child has a sustained petition for a non-violent offense like vandalism under PC 594, the court could sentence the minor to WIC 654 informal probation.

If your child qualifies for informal probation under WIC 654, he/she should be happy because the prosecutor will not file the alleged case in court. A court-appointed probation officer designs the probation program your child will participate in, which could include the following services:

  • Counseling
  • Drug education
  • School attendance

On the other hand, for a diversion under WIC 754, the prosecutor will file a petition against your child. However, the judge will put it on hold until the minor completes the required probation successfully. Completing probation "successfully" means the minor did not violate any terms and conditions ordered by the court during the probation period.

Upon completing the probation successfully, the court will dismiss the minor's case. However, poor performance or failure to abide by the required conditions during the probation period can result in termination of the probation.

When that happens, the prosecutor will file a formal petition against the minor to let a juvenile court judge decide his/her appropriate sentence. That means the minor should be prepared to defend the charges in the usual manner at the adjudication hearing, which could result in harsher penalties if the petition is sustained by the judge.

Generally speaking, sentencing options at the disposition hearing depend on the severity of your child's unique delinquent act and the case's facts. Depending on your child's attorney's evidence and his/her mitigating arguments, the juvenile court could also decide to dismiss or drop the alleged delinquent act against the minor at the disposition hearing.

Having an experienced defense attorney who understands the ins and outs of the juvenile justice system by your child's side can make a difference between incarceration and dismissal of the alleged charges.

Other Severe and Lasting Consequences of a Sustained Juvenile Petition

Unfortunately, a sustained petition against your child can follow the minor, even after serving his/her case's disposition or sentence. That is why it is important to have an attorney challenge the allegations your child is up against to obtain a case dismissal or a lighter charge with less severe consequences upon conviction.

In addition to the possible standard penalties listed above, a juvenile conviction or sustained petition can also attract the following lifelong detrimental consequences:

Inclusion in the Sex Offender Registry

People who commit sex crimes must register as sex offenders with the nearest law enforcement agency to their residence, according to PC 290. Initially, a conviction or sustained petition for any sex offense required lifetime registration as a sex offender.

However, since the enactment of Senate Bill (SB) 384, most people who are guilty of particular sex crimes, including minors, will have to abide by registration duties for only:

  • Ten (10) years or
  • Twenty (20) years

For the sake of SB 384, only people with convictions or sustained petitions involving egregious sex offenses like rape must comply with lifetime registration duties.

According to PC 290, "registration" means your child has to keep local law enforcement officers informed about his/her whereabouts, including the location where he/she lives, attends school, or works. Typically, your child will have up to five (5) working days after receiving a disposition to register his/her primary address with a local law enforcement agency.

After initial registration, the minor must update their registration details within five (5) working days of his/her birthday or change of residence. Apart from the mandatory registration obligation, inclusion in the sex offender registry can also affect your child's life in various negative ways, including:

  • The minor cannot live near schools
  • The minor cannot live near parks

A Sustained Petition Can Count as a "Strike" Under the Three Strikes Law

Passed by the voters in 1994, The Three Strikes Law, codified under PC 667, is a sentencing measure or scheme designed to punish repeat offenders who are unwilling or unready to learn from their past mistakes. According to this statute, a sustained petition or conviction for particular severe offenses will also count as a "strike."

That means an adult court can consider your child's delinquency record when making probation or sentencing decisions for any new offense the minor commits in the future. Typically, your child could face up to 25 years to life in prison for future offenses or convictions if the minor has two (2) or more sustained juvenile petitions or strikes on his/her record under this statute.

However, if the minor has one sustained juvenile petition for a qualifying severe or violent felony, the court will double his/her prison sentence for any future offense conviction. Below are examples of violent or serious felony crimes that will count or qualify as a strike under PC 667:

  • Arson
  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Carjacking
  • Oral copulation
  • First-degree burglary
  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Juvenile Disposition Hearings

As a parent, it is natural to worry and ask questions if your child is in trouble with the law. Below are some common FAQs that most parents ask about juvenile disposition hearings and the juvenile justice system:

  1. Is it Possible to Appeal Disposition Handed Down at the Juvenile Disposition Hearing?

Yes, just as adults can appeal a sentence decided by a criminal court judge, your child has a legal right to ask a higher court to overturn a disposition order handed down at the disposition hearing. With the help of an attorney, your child can convince a higher court to overturn a juvenile court judge's disposition by arguing with proper evidence that:

  • Your child is factually innocent
  • The court violated your child's rights
  • The disposition handed down is unacceptable
  1. Can My Child be Sentenced to Adult Prison for an Alleged Delinquent Act?

While it is rare, your child could face prosecution in an adult criminal justice system if the minor is sixteen years of age or older and the alleged offense is listed under WIC 707(b). However, the juvenile court judge must schedule a transfer hearing to determine whether the alleged case should remain in the juvenile justice system.

Some of the factors the court will consider at this hearing include the following:

  • The minor's past delinquency record
  • The degree of criminal sophistication the minor exhibited during the commission of the alleged offense
  • Whether the minor is amenable to rehabilitation programs offered by the juvenile court
  • The success of past attempts to discipline and rehabilitate the minor

Upon conviction in an adult court, your child will face the usual sentence an adult would face upon conviction for a similar charge, including incarceration, fines, or both. An experienced attorney can help you build evidence to convince the judge your child's case belongs in the juvenile justice system for the best possible outcome.

  1. Will The Sustained Juvenile Petition Remain on My Child's Criminal Record?

Contrary to a common misperception, a sustained juvenile petition or conviction does not disappear automatically once your child turns eighteen (18) years old. To help your child obtain a fresh start, you or the minor’s attorney must file a petition to seal and destroy his/her criminal record.

Sealing a juvenile record is important because it prevents prospective landlords, employers, school officials, lenders, and licensing agencies from discriminating against your child due to his/her past criminal background.

If the petition to seal your child's juvenile record is successful, the minor can confidently answer "No" when asked whether he/she has an arrest or conviction record. Also, your child will no longer have to register as a sex offender after sealing the juvenile record.

  1.  How Can an Attorney Help My Child Achieve a Favorable Outcome at the Disposition Hearing?

Undoubtedly, being in legal custody or under investigation for an alleged offense can be confusing, even for an adult. While delinquent acts are not technically crimes in the eyes of the law, it is a good idea to hire an attorney if your child is in legal custody for alleged wrongdoing or is awaiting the disposition hearing.

In addition to being your child’s legal counselor, the attorney you hire will be the minor’s voice at the juvenile disposition hearing to fight for the best possible outcome. A favorable outcome could include dismissal of the case or a light sentence like informal probation. Here are some tips to help you find a reliable attorney for your child’s case:

  • Consider the attorney’s experience
  • Consider the attorney’s reputation and past client reviews
  • Consider the legitimacy of the attorney’s licensing credentials
  • Consider the attorney’s cost of services
  • Consider the attorney’s personality

Find a Defense Attorney Near Me

If your child is under investigation or arrest for an alleged delinquent act or crime, his/her freedom and quality of life could be at stake. While it can be a worrying experience for a parent, you should speak with an attorney without delay to help him/her challenge the allegations for the best possible outcome.

A seasoned and aggressive attorney can help your child challenge the allegations to avoid the possible consequences the court could impose at the juvenile disposition hearing. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we understand what is at stake when your child is in trouble with the law.

We invite you to call us at 424-333-0943 if your child is in legal custody, under investigation, or pending a disposition hearing upon receiving a conviction or sustained juvenile petition. With our skilled attorneys by your child's side, you can rest easy, knowing that his/her case is in the right hands for the best possible outcome.