More so than adult court, juvenile court judges have a wide-range of potential alternatives when faced with a child accused of committing a crime. This is because the focus of juvenile court is rehabilitation (meaning the court is trying to fix the reasons your child is not law abiding before your child turns 18). Rehabilitation, however, sometimes includes things which feel very much like punishment to your child.
Informal Probation: For less serious offenses (and typically for younger offenders), the court can continue the case for six months and ask the child to perform certain tasks during that time. At the end of six months, the court can dismiss the petition if the child performed satisfactorily. The court can give the minor additional time to complete the tasks if necessary. The child does not need to admit to committing any crime to be eligible for this program, but this type of probation is not available for all minors.&
DEJ (Deferred Entry of Judgment): Minors at least 14 years old who are charged with a felony may be eligible for DEJ. This means that a minor admits to felony conduct and is placed on a form of probation supervision for one year. If the child satisfactorily performs, the court will dismiss the case after one year. The arrest is deemed never to have occurred, and all records are sealed. Again, this program is not available to all minors.
Probation: Minors with misdemeanor or felony adjudications can be placed on supervised probation, generally lasting one year. During this time, your child will be required to report to a probation officer. Your child will have rules to follow (generally called “terms and conditions” of probation). If your child does not follow the rules, the Probation Department can ask the judge to begin probation violation proceedings. This could result in additional punishment for your child.
Juvenile Hall: Although not favored, juveniles can be ordered to spend a certain amount of time in juvenile hall (often referred to as “Ricardo M.” time).
Placement: Juvenile court judges have the power to remove juveniles from their homes to live in a placement facility with other minors, run by a third party provider. Lengths of placements vary, as do their locations (some are out of state). Once the child successfully completes placement, they are re-united with their family on after-care probation.
DJJ (Division of Juvenile Justice): Reserved for the most serious offenses or repeat offenders, a juvenile court judge has the power to confine your child in DJJ, which is essentially prison for minors. Please note that the Governor has made a proposal to close DJJ due to the problems with the California State budget.
For minors with substance abuse or mental health problems, the court may have special programs aimed at helping with those particular problems. Those programs have special criteria.
Finally, you should be aware that the judge has the ability to impose sanctions on your child which may directly impact you. Typical consequences in juvenile court can be the suspension of a child’s license (or delayed ability to obtain a license); participation in family counseling; joint liability for restitution (money owed to compensate for damages done by your child) until your child turns 18; and requiring reimbursement for costs (i.e. costs of juvenile hall or other placements, costs for appointed counsel if you use the Public Defender).