When an adult is alleged to have committed a crime, they are charged and have to undergo the criminal justice process to prove their innocence. The same case applies to suspected child offenders, although they go through the juvenile justice system instead of the adult criminal justice system. However, like adults, suspected juvenile offenders are taken through various stages of the juvenile delinquency court before determining whether or not they should face disciplinary action. One of these stages is the disposition hearing. 

If your child is alleged to have committed an offense, you should hire a lawyer to help them navigate the juvenile court process, including the disposition proceeding. This will increase their chances of obtaining the best potential outcome for their case.

At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we aim to have your child’s charges lowered, if not dismissed. If a dismissal is not possible, we will pursue rehabilitation instead of harsher punishment against the child since we recognize how helpful rehab can be for a child offender. Whatever the case, we will consult with you and your minor to ensure that whatever outcome they receive is positive. Call us to start the journey to securing your child’s freedom.

What Is Disposition Hearing in Juvenile Delinquency Courts?

The juvenile and adult justice systems are separate from one another. The juvenile justice system is designed to address matters that involve minors under the age of 18. Its principal purpose is rehabilitation instead of punishment, aiming to help young offenders reform and become valuable community members.

A disposition hearing in juvenile courts is a process during which the juvenile court judge determines the ideal disciplinary action for minors accused of an offense. Once a child is arrested and a petition is filed against them, they may be subject to a trial, at which point the judge may decide whether or not to sustain their petition.

A child's trial is called an adjudication hearing in juvenile delinquency courts. If, after the submission of arguments and evidence at the adjudication hearing, the judge finds that sufficient evidence exists to sustain the petition against the juvenile, the young one will come back before a judge to undergo a disposition hearing. A disposition proceeding is the equivalent of a sentencing hearing in adult courts.

There are various factors for the juvenile delinquency court judge to look at before deciding an ideal disposition, and they will also receive the input of the prosecutor, probation officer, and the child's lawyer before making a decision. Various disposition options are at the judge’s disposal, including committing the child to the DJJ (Division of Juvenile Justice), placing them in a foster home, imposing probation camp custody, or sending them home on probation.

Judge’s Considerations When Determining a Disposition Option

At a disposition proceeding hearing, the juvenile delinquency court judge considers various aspects when deciding the ideal treatment or punishment for the minor. They will look at the offender’s:

  • Age—although, legally, a child is any individual under 18, juvenile cases create more distinctions between the juveniles’ age groups, particularly when determining a disposition option. Thus, a child’s case may attract various outcomes based on their age group.

For example, child offenders under 16 may be subject to informal probation, while a child older than 16 may be subject to stricter consequences that entail formal probation. Additionally, younger child offenders receive more help comprehending the events throughout the proceedings. Despite this, a younger juvenile declared a ward of the court can still face the judge’s orders. Meaning they must obey all the conditions of their punishment.

  • Criminal record, if any—generally, juvenile court judges are more lenient on first-time offenders, particularly if the child’s lawyer successfully argues mitigating evidence. On the contrary, a minor with a previous juvenile record will more likely receive harsher disciplinary action.

For example, if a juvenile previously committed a severe crime under the Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) 707(b) and a judge declared them a ward of the court, this will be a critical factor at the present disposition proceeding.

However, if the child successfully expunged the prior juvenile record, the judge might overlook their record. Regardless, the judge's discretion will guide them on the disposition option to impose. Sometimes, the type of prior offense the child committed may be so severe that the criminal record works as an aggravating factor in their present case.

  • How serious the child's offense is—the juvenile court judge also considers the type of crime the child committed. Often, most juvenile cases entail children who have committed less severe crimes, such as petty theft and vandalism.

However, some juveniles may be accused of severe crimes under WIC 707(b). This section lists severe crimes that usually result in serious bodily injury or permanent damage to the victim. Examples of these crimes are robbery, murder or attempted murder, rape, attempted rape,

The judge also considers the results of any psychiatric or other tests, the mitigating factors concerning the juvenile, and any circumstances that might have led to the child committing the underlying crime.

The judge will not punish the young one for declining to admit or not confessing to the allegations mentioned in the petition. They can, for example, look at whether the minor violated PC 118 by perjuring themselves at the adjudication proceedings.

Sometimes, the court judge will hold the disposition proceedings right after the adjudication proceedings if they find that the child committed the crime mentioned in the petition. For other scenarios, the judge might need more time to acquire a social study by the probation officer or review more mitigating circumstances and recommendations the prosecution, the minor, their lawyer, or their parents provided.

The juvenile court judge could also instruct that the juvenile undergo a psychological assessment to determine whether they have any mental health concerns. This information helps the judge understand the child’s history, any challenges or difficulties they might be having, and what type of intervention could help them reform.

The judge will also assess the child’s willingness to undergo therapy or rehabilitation and the possibility of recidivism. The child’s willingness to participate in rehab programs and the capability to change their behavior is called amenability to treatment. The likelihood that the juvenile may re-offend is known as the likelihood of recidivism. 

Can Arguments Be Submitted?

Arguments might be submitted at juvenile disposition proceedings to determine the ideal disciplinary action for the child who has committed an offense. The hearing permits the defense and prosecution to submit evidence and argue their respective positions on the ideal treatment or punishment for the juvenile offender.

Generally, the prosecutor will go for a stricter treatment option or sentence, while the defense will go for a lenient option. The prosecutor may present evidence of the child’s previous criminal activity, the seriousness of the crime, and other aggravating circumstances that might have led to the juvenile’s conduct. Conversely, the defense might offer evidence of the minor’s age, mitigating factors, and any move the child made to address the underlying problem that resulted in their delinquent behavior.

Disposition Options

Several disciplinary options exist for the juvenile delinquency court judge during a child’s disposition proceedings, as dictated under the WIC.

Should the judge find that vacating the adjudication hearing’s findings and dropping the case against the child will serve the interest of justice, they will do so per WIC 782, releasing the juvenile to their guardian or parents. The judge might also put the child on an informal probation sentence, whereby the child will be ordered to follow the court-imposed conditions. Still, a probation department officer will not need to monitor them.

The judge can also place the child on deferred entry of judgment (DEJ), whereby they would not enter a judgment provided the child follows the terms and conditions they impose and does not commit any other crimes. In these scenarios, the judge would eventually dismiss the case if the juvenile adhered to the imposed DEJ terms to the latter.

The judge can place the minor on formal probation, asking them to stay home during the probation period. If the child lacks a conducive environment at their home, the judge can place them on probation and order that they live at a group, foster, or relative’s home.

For more severe crimes, the court might dictate that the child enroll in and complete a probation camp program. And, for the most severe violations, the judge can commit the juvenile to a detention facility run by the DJJ.

A disposition proceeding is critical to the juvenile justice system, enabling the judge to establish the best treatment or punishment for a minor who has committed an offense. The whole process ensures the child receives the support and help they require to reform while simultaneously taking responsibility for their actions. It is an essential step to recovery and reintegration into society.

Remember, some crimes can lead to a juvenile standing trial in adult court. In that case, the juvenile offender will be prosecuted as an adult. And if they are convicted, they will be subject to adult criminal court consequences, not those imposed at the disposition hearing. Crimes that can lead to juveniles being tried in adult court are listed under WIC 707(b). They include:

  • Attempted murder or murder.
  • Arson of an occupied structure.
  • Arson inflicting significant bodily injury.
  • Robbery.
  • Rape achieved through violence, force, or threats of significant bodily harm.
  • Kidnapping for robbery, ransom, or through inflicting physical harm.
  • Carjacking.
  • Voluntary manslaughter.
  • Aggravated mayhem.
  • Torture.
  • Sodomy by violence, force, or a threat of significant bodily harm.
  • Drive-by-shooting.
  • Oral copulation by violence, force, or a threat of significant bodily harm.
  • Forcible sexual penetration.
  • A lascivious or lewd act upon a child under fourteen with violence, force, or a threat of significant bodily harm.
  • Assault using force likely to result in significant physical harm or with a gun or destructive device.
  • Kidnapping during a carjacking or for sexual assault purposes.

Formal Probation as a Juvenile Court Disposition

Probation is the most widely utilized and oldest community-based correction program the juvenile delinquency court imposes at the disposition hearing. It is both an option for low-risk juvenile offenders for their first crime and an alternative to institutional confinement for more severe juvenile offenders.

During a probationary supervision period, a juvenile remains in the community and can continue doing normal activities like work and school. However, the child must adhere to specific conditions. This adherence could be voluntary (the child agrees to the conditions instead of formal adjudication) or mandatory after an adjudication (the minor is officially ordered to serve a probation term and must adhere to the court-imposed conditions).

Apart from regularly meeting with a probation officer, the court may require a juvenile to comply with curfew restrictions, pay restitution or a fine, or complete specified hours of community service. A probationary term could also include additional conditions, like drug counseling. Minors who have committed more severe crimes may be put under intensive supervision, with the judge ordering more frequent meetings with their probation officer and harsher conditions.

The probation term may be open-ended or for a given period. The court holds review hearings to monitor the juvenile’s progress and terminates the case once the juvenile offender successfully meets the probation conditions.

Generally, the judge can revoke the probation term if the child violates the imposed conditions. If the judge revokes probation, they may reconsider their disposition option and impose harsher sanctions.

Timing of the Disposition Hearing

No clear guidelines exist on when disposition hearings must occur. As a parent or guardian, you should be 100 percent involved in the court procedures to avoid missing any stage your child will undergo before their legal matter is resolved. At times, disposition and adjudication hearings occur on different days. If the juvenile is held in custody, they are entitled to a disposition proceeding within ten days of the adjudication hearing.

In other cases, these hearings occur on the same day. If the judge has sufficient details to impose a disposition option after considering the presented evidence, they can schedule disposition proceedings immediately after the adjudication proceedings.

Nevertheless, it will serve the child’s best interests if the disposition hearing occurs sometime after the adjudication hearing, as the probation department will have time to submit its social study. This social study has the probation department’s suggested sentence contingent on the child’s behavior and the seriousness of the crime. The judge can also decide that they will wait for the child’s parent or guardian to present any recommendations or evidence that may portray the juvenile in a positive light. In that case, the judge may postpone the disposition proceeding.

Another reason why the judge may postpone the disposition proceeding is when the child supposedly has mental problems. In this case, the judge orders a psychological assessment of the child and will only hold the hearing after analyzing the report from the psychologist. Note that:

  • The judge cannot postpone a disposition proceeding indefinitely. Sooner or later, they must impose a sentence on the child offender.
  • If the child’s crime involved a victim or victims, they are entitled to appear at the disposition proceeding. They may also submit a written victim impact statement or speak directly to the juvenile court judge during the disposition hearing.
  • The child is also entitled to testify at their disposition hearing.

Rights of Children Facing Juvenile Delinquency Cases

Like adult defendants, children accused of offenses possess certain constitutional rights throughout the juvenile delinquency court process, whether at the detention or disposition hearing. These rights are crucial to facilitating fairness and protecting the child’s best interests while navigating the juvenile legal process. Some of the rights supposed juvenile delinquents have are:

  • The right to stay silentthis legal right ensures that juveniles cannot be forced to make statements that might incriminate them. After a child is arrested, the arresting police officer must read Miranda rights to them.
  • The right to a lawyerevery minor subject to juvenile charges is entitled to legal representation. The court must appoint one if the minor cannot afford a lawyer. It is critical to remember that the attorney represents the minor and not their guardians or parents.
  • The legal right to argue a defense and confront witnessesthis legal right becomes especially relevant at the jurisdictional proceeding. During this proceeding, the juvenile court judge hears the evidence that both the defense and prosecution present. The defense has the legal right to challenge the prosecutor’s arguments, cross-examine the prosecution witnesses, and submit evidence supporting the minor. Usually, the hearing is closed to the public to protect the child’s right to privacy.

One legal right that child offenders do not have, though, is the right to bail. Even though a child offender can be released to the parent pending the resolution of their case, they do not post bail at any stage of the juvenile court process. Rather than making a monetary commitment in exchange for being released, the child must demonstrate that they will attend court for the remaining proceedings after their early release.

How a Lawyer Can Help at the Disposition Hearing

A minor should have an attorney representing them at the disposition preceding. Juvenile delinquency cases can be intricate and severe. A juvenile attorney can ensure the child’s rights are respected and the best possible outcome is obtained. A lawyer can help the minor and their guardian or parents in these ways:

  • Explain the allegations and the potential ramifications of a child’s petition being sustained.
  • Advise on possible plea bargains and defenses.
  • Advocate for the legal rights of the juvenile in court.
  • Examine and dispute any evidence submitted against the child.
  • Present facts and argue in support of the child’s stance.
  • Advice the minor and their guardian or parents on the ideal disciplinary action.
  • Negotiate with the D.A. to obtain a plea bargain or another favorable result for the child.

Additionally, as the juvenile justice system is complex, a lawyer can help the child and their parents or guardians navigate the legal language, legal technicalities, and the juvenile court process, giving them a more significant grasp of the rights and the process. The lawyer may also help these parties understand the various outcomes and implications, ensuring they make an informed decision.

A lawyer’s presence at the disposition proceeding may significantly affect the case outcome. It may help protect the child’s rights and result in the imposition of the most ideal treatment or punishment for the minor.

What Follows After the Disposition Proceedings?

Once the disposition proceeding ends and the child is not content with the results or thinks the authorities violated their rights, their lawyer can appeal the case. To appeal, the lawyer must file a Notice of Appeal within sixty days of the disposition hearing date or the date the judge imposed the disciplinary action. The prosecutor can appeal, too, if they are unsatisfied with the judge’s decision.

A child can request that the judge withdraw or modify a court decision. They could do this if their circumstances have changed or new evidence has emerged. But if the child fails to obey the rules, they may be summoned to return to court, and the judge may impose a harsher punishment.

If the juvenile has no violations pending in the delinquency court within 60 months, they may request to expunge their juvenile criminal record. They may seek that the record be expunged at any time after they turn eighteen if their initial trial was by a juvenile judge. The records that may be expunged include arrest and court records, records from various agencies with information on the case, and probation records.

Find an Expert Juvenile Delinquency Defense Lawyer Near Me

Facing an arrest and criminal charges can be devastating for anyone, especially a minor. If your young one is arrested and accused of an offense, your biggest concern is helping them prove their innocence. The best way to do this would be to hire an experienced juvenile delinquency defense attorney for them. At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we are devoted to helping minors facing criminal allegations defend their rights as they navigate the juvenile justice system and obtain the best possible outcome. Contact us at 831-574-1791 to discuss your child’s case in detail.