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Juvenile Sentencing Options in California

Posted in Juvenile Crimes on May 29, 2017

The juvenile court system is not simply a smaller version of the adult system. It is completely different, with entirely separate goals for sentencing. Unlike the adult system, which serves to promote public safety and punish the individual for committing the crime with jail time or hefty fines, the juvenile system aims to teach young criminals how to become productive members of society. With this in mind, one can better understand the reasons behind California’s juvenile sentencing options. Here is an overview of sentences a juvenile might face in CA’s court system and how a Riverside juvenile defense attorney can help.

Informal Juvenile Probation

California Welfare and Institutions Code 725 allows a judge to place a minor on “informal probation” for a period of up to six months. During this period, a probation officer must supervise the minor, typically while the youth participates in a treatment program related to his or her offense. The court encourages parents to participate in these programs with their children to facilitate education and growth.

Other options include placing the minor under supervision of the probation department, a mandatory school program, parent/child counseling, and a curfew between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. (unless an adult accompanies the minor). The courts typically use informal juvenile probation as a sentence for nonviolent first-time offenders. If the minor meets all stipulations of the informal probation, the courts will typically dismiss the case and charges against the youth.


One form of diversion disposition according to the Welfare and Institutions Code 654 is the participation of parents in a six-month education program, like those described above in informal juvenile probation. Another option for diversion is to shelter the child within a special community facility for up to 90 consecutive days. If the minor successfully completes diversion disposition, the courts will not file a petition.

Deferred Judgment of Entry

If the minor admits to the allegations in the petition and completes a court-mandated program, a deferred entry of judgment (DEJ) is available. The courts will dismiss a petition if the minor upholds his or her end of the bargain in a DEJ. A DEJ is only available to minors who commit nonviolent crimes such as theft, and not felonies, sexual assaults, gang-related crimes, or others listed under Welfare and Institutions Code 707. With a DEJ, the probation department must dismiss the charges no earlier than 12 months and no later than 36 months from the minor’s referral into the program.

Formal Juvenile Probation

The courts might issue a formal probation of a minor at home, a group home, or a residence of a relative if they deem the minor needs a higher level of structure in his or her environment. Certain terms may come with formal probation, such as a curfew, mandatory school attendance, community service, or drug/alcohol counseling.

Commitment into the California Division of Juvenile Justice

Minors convicted of serious crimes such as felonies or sexual offenses may face a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) disposition. The DJJ educates and treats juvenile offenders guilty of only the most serious crimes, and is an uncommon sentence for the majority of cases involving minors. According to the DJJ, less than 1% of the 225,000 youths arrested in California every year go to the DJJ. While in the DJJ, minors will undergo academic and vocational education and treatment programs that address violent tendencies and mental health problems.

Adult Court and Sentencing

Prior to the passing of Proposition 57, if a child was at least 14 years of age and arrested for one of the crimes listed in Welfare and Institutions Code 707, it was possible for the prosecution to file charges in the adult court system instead of the juvenile court. The minor would subsequently face adult sentences. Today, a judge (rather than a prosecutor) must make the decision to try juveniles in the adult court system.

Related: What to do After Your Child is Charged With a Crime