When juveniles violate the law, they are held accountable for their actions, just like adults. However, juvenile offenders face trial according to the Juvenile justice system. Once the police arrest a minor offender, the process he/she goes through is determined by the offense they have committed and their past social conduct. Juvenile informal diversion is quite common, especially for first-time offenders and those who have committed minor crimes.

The juvenile informal diversion process in California is quite extensive. You should be familiar with the legal procedures involved to understand what will happen to you or your loved one after the arrest. Contact us at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney and work with our team of experienced criminal attorneys. Let us help you through the process for a favorable outcome.

Overview of the California Juvenile Justice System

If you have been arrested before, you will know how traumatizing it can be. It is even more traumatizing if you have to go through trial and be convicted. Imagine how much more traumatizing it can be for a child? Unfortunately, children who violate the law have to face the consequences of their actions, too, though not as grave as those faced by adult offenders. California’s juvenile justice system is not as strict as its adult justice system. However, young offenders are not allowed to roam as if nothing happened.

Juvenile offenders are, in most cases, associated with minor offenses. Most issues dealt with in the state juvenile system are minor infractions and some misdemeanors. However, it is not unusual to find a child facing charges for a grave offense associated with adults. Cases have been heard of children committing felonies such as murder, kidnapping, vandalism, and assault with a deadly weapon. When it comes to crimes of greater magnitude like those, courts are likely to treat juveniles leniently. Thus, they may not have to face severe consequences like adult offenders in a similar situation. However, several factors, such as the minor’s previous social behavior and circumstances of the case, have to be considered before a juvenile court makes its final decision.

Generally, California’s juvenile system is all about rehabilitation and not punishment. The law advocates for minors to be given a second chance in life. The law punishes adult offenders because they are believed to be aware of the consequences of their behavior, but they acted the way they did anyway. Children lack that capacity. Other people could also manipulate children into engaging in crime. Some children violate the law as a call for attention, probably because of the harsh life in which they live. All these and many others are why the law is a little lenient when it comes to punishing minor offenders.

Juvenile court judges have several options when it comes to punishing minors. A judge may decide to let the child go with a mere warning. He could also confine the juvenile or place him/her on house arrest. Young offenders can also be detained in a juvenile hall, juvenile camp, or detention facility. Another option is to put them on probation, under the supervision and guidance of a probation officer. The gravity of the offense the minor has committed and his/her social behavior determine the type and magnitude of the sentence chosen. Note that some cases will require the judge to defer the matter to an adult criminal court, where the minor will face trial and punishment like an adult.

The most common of them all is placing juvenile offenders on a diversion program. It could apply at the beginning of the case or after the minor has been found guilty. Juvenile informal diversion is an example under this category, and it will be discussed in detail in this text.

What is an Informal Diversion?

When a child breaks the law, they are arrested just like any other offender. But the arresting officer decides what to do with the minor after the arrest. If the police caught the youth committing a minor infraction, the officer might release him/her with a stern warning. However, if the child is involved in a more severe offense, the officer could send him/her to the juvenile hall, where a probation officer takes over the case.

The probation officer assigned to the case will investigate the matter. From the findings, the officer may decide to release the minor with a stern warning. His/her other options are to place the offender on an informal diversion program or refer the case to a prosecutor, who will, in turn, file a petition against the minor in a juvenile court. Cases involving minors that end up in the hands of a prosecutor are more serious. But those considered minor are dealt with even before the prosecutor files a petition in court.

Generally, probation officers play a vital role in the juvenile justice system. They determine the course a young offender’s case will take after the arrest, based on their investigation’s findings. If the minor is placed on probation, the officer will ensure that the minor completes the probation and does not violate the court’s conditions.

In cases where the minor is a first-time offender, has not portrayed troubled social behavior in the past, or is involved in a not-so-serious offense, a probation officer assigned to the case may decide to place the offender in a juvenile informal diversion. Informal probation is also known as informal diversion. It refers to a program in which a juvenile offender is placed before a prosecutor files a petition against them in a juvenile court. Under the program, the minor is placed under a probation officer’s supervision for a period not exceeding six months.

Juvenile informal diversions are allowed by law, under Section 654 of California Welfare and Institutions Code. The law does not necessitate all criminal offenses involving minors to end up in the justice system. Therefore, less-serious crimes and those committed by first-time offenders can be handled informally instead of being determined by a judge. In this program, probation officers agree to supervise the juvenile offender without asking the prosecutor to file a petition in a juvenile court. When making this decision, probation officers have to consider the minor’s best interest and those of the public.

In cases involving minors, the law requires those involved to make a diligent effort to place the juvenile on an informal diversion program. However, several factors must be put into consideration by the probation officer to ensure that only those placed on informal probation are those that will benefit in the end. Some of these factors include:

  • The nature of the minor’s condition or conduct, whether severe or minor.

  • Whether the minor and his/her parents will agree to resolve the case without the intervention of a court

  • Whether the probation officer needs to take time to observe the child or evaluate the matter before making the final decision

  • What the attitude of the juvenile or his/her parents /guardian is like— Is the child ready and willing to learn from their mistakes?

  • The age, capabilities, and maturity level of the minor

  • Whether the child has a history of juvenile delinquency or dependency

  • Whether there is a commendation for a referring agency or party

  • What the point of view of the affected persons is like

  • Whether there are indications that informal diversion would greatly benefit the minor, will it help the juvenile’s well-being and community safety?

  • Whether the child has other problems, be it in school, home, church, or the public. Will informal supervision benefit in those areas too?

Terms and Conditions of Juvenile Informal Probation

Probations come with specific terms and conditions to which the person placed on the program must adhere. It is the same with juvenile informal diversion. Based on the facts of the case, the probation officer will come up with a set of terms and conditions to which the minor and his/her parents must abide in the course of the supervision program. The most common terms of this type of diversion program include:

  • That the minor participates in counseling, education, and parenting programs ordered by the probation officer

  • That the child must obtain treatment and care for addiction or misuse of controlled drugs

The probation officer designs these terms and conditions based on the case at hand and the minor’s past behavior. If the minor fails to participate in the recommended program at least within sixty days of probation, the officer has a right to refer the case to a prosecutor. The prosecutor will, in turn, file a petition against the minor in a juvenile court. Again, the probation officer has the right to request for the filing of a petition against the minor if he/she performs poorly at any given time in the course of the supervision.

A petition against the minor after a failed informal diversion can be filed:

  • Within the six months of probation period

  • Within ninety days following the completion of the informal probation

Informal Probation After the Filing of Petition

Sometimes juvenile informal diversion happens after a petition has already been filed against the minor in a juvenile court. Again, depending on the case’s nature, a probation officer may first refer the matter to a juvenile court and then request the court to grant the minor informal probation. In a case like this, the judge will have to study the issue and decide. Some of the factors that could guide the court on whether or not to place the minor on informal probation are:

  • The circumstance of the child at that time

  • The future well-being of the juvenile

Juvenile court judges can order the minor to be placed on informal diversion even if the prosecutor and probation officer disagree. The most important part is the best interest of the juvenile and public safety.

Once informal diversion is granted after the petition’s filing, the minor’s case will continue for six months. The minor’s parents or guardians will have to agree to participate in the necessary education and counseling programs. Note that the child doesn’t have to confess to any wrongdoing for the court to place him/her on probation.

Note: If the underlying offense involves driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or other drug-related crimes, the juvenile must complete a drug or alcohol program while on informal probation. For DUI cases, the minor is also subject to DMV penalties as informal probation doesn’t protect him/her from them.

California has a zero-tolerance law for underage drinking and driving on California Vehicle Code Section 23136. The rule applies to all alcoholic substances, not just alcoholic drinks. An underage driver will be subjected to these charges as long as he/she had a measurable amount of alcohol in their system. The only punishment for underage DUI is a suspension of the minor’s driving license. The suspension length is one year for first-time violators and two or three years for subsequent violators.

What Happens After Completion of Juvenile Informal Diversion?

As mentioned above, informal diversion usually goes for six months. Once the six months of probation are over, the juvenile offender must appear in court to determine his/her case. The law requires the probation officer in charge of the case to prepare a report for the court at least fifteen days before completing the probation period. The report will contain information regarding the case’s nature and the minor’s performance during the probation period.

If the juvenile has completed the program, the court will dismiss the petition. Thus, the minor will be allowed to go back home and carry on with their life. However, if he/she did not satisfactorily complete the probation, the court may decide to extend the probation period. If the minor fails to complete the probation satisfactorily, the prosecutor may now file a petition against him/her in a juvenile court. The court is given a maximum of one year from the petition’s filing to proceed with the delinquency case.

Informal Probation and Felony Charges

Some cases involving minors will have to be determined by the court. In that case, the probation officer handling the minor will have to defer the matter to the district attorney for filing. If the offense the child is believed to have committed is serious, and the affected people are seeking justice, the offender has to go through the juvenile court system. A child suspected of committing a felony offense when he/she was above 14 years of age may not be granted juvenile informal diversion, except in certain special situations. In this case, the court has the following options, under California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 654.3:

  • To determine whether there are exceptional circumstances in the case whereby the best interests of justice would be served if the court places the minor on informal probation.

  • To provide specifics on its decision on the record and why it arrived at that particular decision.

Note: Even if the youth was over 14 years of age during the alleged offense commission, the court must first find unusual circumstances that could allow it to grant him/her informal probation. Informal probation is the best option available for juvenile offenders than the deferred entry of judgment. If the court defers its decision, the minor has limited chances of avoiding facing all the consequences of his/her actions. The advantages the youth receives from informal probation in this case include:

  • If the court grants informal probation, the minor will not be required to admit to committing the offense even if he/she was guilty.

  • The probation period of six months is shorter than the sentence he/she is likely to get after conviction.

  • The terms and conditions set for informal probation are a little more lenient.

  • If the court penalizes the minor for failing to complete the informal probation satisfactorily, he/she has a chance of contesting the matter.

Example: The police arrest an 11-year old boy alongside other youths for vandalism. After his arrest, the police will defer the boy’s case to a probation officer. Vandalism is a severe offense, and so, the court’s intervention is needed. The court is tasked to find unusual circumstances that could make it possible to place the boy on informal probation.

The judge could state that since the boy is below 14, he is too young for a deferred judgment. The judge could also say that the police arrested the boy alongside others who were much older than him. Therefore, he deserved a second chance in life. He is placed on informal probation and allowed to rectify his behavior for a crime-free future.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Juvenile informal diversion gives juvenile offenders a second chance to correct their behavior and avoid crime in the future. There is a lot of information regarding juvenile probation that parents/guardians need to know to understand their loved one’s situation. An experienced criminal attorney can help you gauge your options. He/she will also fight aggressively to ensure that your loved one’s best interests are preserved. For more information and help regarding juvenile probation, call the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney at 424-333-0943. Let us guide you through the legal process.