Disposition (Sentencing) Hearings in California Juvenile Cases

When a minor is convicted of a crime, the minor gets "sentenced" at a disposition hearing.

A wide variety of sentencing options are available in juvenile court.  The judge formulates a sentence that is tailored to a particular offending minor to help that minor become rehabilitated.

Among the disposition (sentencing) options open to the judge are:

  • "home on probation"
  • custody at a probation camp
  • temporary or permanent placement in a foster home
  • commitment to the California Youth Authority (now called Division of Juvenile Justice).

Terms and conditions can involve restitution, community service, mandatory school attendance, curfew restrictions, and substance abuse counseling, among others.

"When the minor is no longer a ward of the juvenile court, the guidance he or she received should enable him or her to be a law-abiding and productive member of his or her family and the community."
-- California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 202, on the rehabilitative goal of juvenile delinquency dispositions

Our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys represent minors in disposition (sentencing) hearings throughout California.  We are especially qualified for this task because we know how the other side thinks.  Our lawyers used to be cops and district attorneys - arresting and prosecuting youth offenders - but now we defend minors in these cases.1

In this article, we explain what happens at your child's disposition (sentencing) hearing in California juvenile delinquency court.  We cover:

1. What is a juvenile court disposition hearing?
2. When will my child's disposition hearing take place?
3. What kind of sentence will my child be given?

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group for a consultation.

1. What is a juvenile court disposition hearing?

In California juvenile delinquency court, a minor's trial is called an adjudication hearing.  If the minor loses at trial, then the minor will move on to the sentencing phase of the process. This is referred to as the disposition hearing.

The judge looks at the whole picture in determining the minor's sentence, but in particular the judge considers:

  • the age of the minor,
  • the circumstances and gravity of the offense, and
  • the minor's previous delinquent history.2

The judge cannot penalize the minor for failing to confess or for refusing to plead guilty.  But the judge can take into account whether the minor violated Penal Code 118 pc perjury by testifying untruthfully at his or her adjudication hearing.

Let's look at a few examples:

Example: At Joey's adjudication hearing for violating Health & Safety Code 11350 hs possession of controlled substance, the judge finds true the allegation that Joey was in possession of hydrocodone "vicodin" pills.  The judge sustains the petition against Joey.3

Joey has no prior record and does well in school. The judge places Joey on supervised probation.  He is allowed to serve the terms of his probation at home, but only under the guidance of a probation officer.

In addition to other probation conditions designed to keep Joey on the straight and narrow (like school attendance and not hanging out with the kids who gave him hydrocodone "vicodin" pills in the first place), Joey is required to complete a drug education program.  Unless Joey's parents can show financial hardship, they will be responsible for the cost of the drug program.

Example:  Sandy is a 16-year old who has just been found guilty for her role as "get away" driver in a drive-by-shooting in violation of California Penal Code Section 246 pc shooting an inhabited dwelling.  Further, the judge rules that the shooting was done for the benefit of a street gang and sustains a charge of violating California Penal Code 186.22 street gang enhancement.

After the trial, Sandy is held for a few more days at Eastlake Juvenile Hall & Court until her disposition hearing.  When she comes back to court for sentencing, she is committed to a county probation camp, where the judge hopes she will get the structure and support she needs to put her life on a more positive path.

(Note that Sandy actually gets a lucky break in this case.  Her offense is a "Section 707(b)" offense, and under W&I Sec. 707(d) the district attorney could have filed the case against her directly in adult court.  Instead, the prosecutor opted for a fitness hearing in California, which came out in Sandy's favor.  Although Sandy is committed to probation camp, she does not face an adult sentence of ten years or more in an adult institution.)

This photograph  was originally taken by Flickr user Calkston SCAMP and the original photo can be found here.

Our California Criminal Defense Attorneys want to get your child off the probation department's bus and back on the school bus where he or she belongs.

2. When will my child's disposition hearing take place?

If the judge has all the information he or she needs to make a sentencing decision at the time of trial, the disposition hearing can take place right after the trial concludes.

But if the judge is still waiting for the probation officer's social study (which contains the probation officer's recommended sentence), or if the minor or minor's parents want to submit relevant material that might help portray the minor in a better light, then the disposition will be postponed.

If the minor has possible mental health issues, the judge might order a psychological evaluation.4

But rest assured, the judge can't continue things indefinitely.  If the minor is in custody...for example at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall & Court or Barry Nidorf/Sylmar Juvenile Hall & Court...then the sentencing hearing must take place within 10 court days of trial.5

The victim has the right to attend the disposition hearing.  The victim also can make a written victim impact statement and speak at the hearing.

The minor has the right to testify at the dispositional hearing.

3. What kind of sentence will my child be given?

There are a number of disposition / sentencing options available in a juvenile delinquency case.


The judge will try to craft a sentence that will discipline the minor but also help the minor get the tools necessary to become a productive citizen.

Sentencing options at the disposition hearing range from dismissal of the charges "in the interest of justice" to informal probation to commitment to CYA.  Sentencing options include:

  • Dismissal under W&I Sec 7826
  • Informal probation under W&I Sec. 725
  • Deferred entry of judgment under W&I Sec. 790
  • Formal probation at home
  • Formal probation at a relative's home
  • Formal probation at a group home
  • Formal probation at county probation camp
  • Commitment to the California Youth Authority CYA (now called Division of Juvenile Justice)

Our California Criminal Defense Attorneys discuss each of these options in more detail in our articles Juvenile Criminal Defense in California and Probation in California Juvenile Court Cases.

Our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help...

If you or loved one is charged with a juvenile crime and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

We invite you to review our articles Police Questioning of Minors, Detention Hearings in California Juvenile Cases, Adjudication Hearings (Trials) in California Juvenile Court, The Juvenile Court Process in California, Sealing Your California Juvenile Records, Juvenile Crimes that Count as Strikes under California's Three Strikes Law, Ventura County Juvenile Hall Facility & Justice Center, San Bernardino Central Juvenile Hall, Orange County Juvenile Hall and Common California Crimes A to Z.

Helpful links:

Prison Law Office

Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Ella Baker Center Books Not Bars Campaign

Youth Law Center

Juvenile Law Center

Burns Institute For Juvenile Justice & Equity

Youth Justice Coalition

Healing Justice Coalition

Fair Sentencing for Youth

Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles


1 Our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina and Whittier.  We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

2 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 725.5 provides:  "In determining the judgment and order to be made in any case in which the minor is found to be a person described in Section 602, the court shall consider, in addition to other relevant and material evidence, (1) the age of the minor, (2) the circumstances and gravity of the offense committed by the minor, and (3) the minor's previous delinquent history."

3 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 725 provides:  "After receiving and considering the evidence on the proper disposition of the case, the court may enter judgment as follows:  (a) If the court has found that the minor is a person described by Section 601 or 602, by reason of the commission of an offense other than any of the offenses set forth in Section 654.3, it may, without adjudging the minor a ward of the court, place the minor on probation, under the supervision of the probation officer, for a period not to exceed six months.  The minor's probation shall include the conditions required in Section 729.2 except in any case in which the court makes a finding and states on the record its reasons that any of those conditions would be inappropriate.  If the offense involved the unlawful possession, use, or furnishing of a controlled substance, as defined in Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 11053) of Division 10 of the Health and Safety Code, a violation of subdivision (f) of Section 647 of the Penal Code, or a violation of Section 25662 of the Business and Professions Code, the minor's probation shall include the conditions required by Section 729.10.  If the minor fails to comply with the conditions of probation imposed, the court may order and adjudge the minor to be a ward of the court.  (b) If the court has found that the minor is a person described by Section 601 or 602, it may order and adjudge the minor to be a ward of the court."

4 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 741 provides:  "The juvenile court may, in any case before it in which a petition has been filed as provided in Article 16 (commencing with Section 650), order that the probation officer obtain the services of such psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians and surgeons, dentists, optometrists, audiologists, or other clinical experts as may be required to assist in determining the appropriate treatment of the minor and as may be required in the conduct or implementation of the treatment.  Payment for the services shall be a charge against the county.  Whenever diagnosis or treatment pursuant to this section is due to, or related to, drug or alcohol use, the cost thereof shall be considered for the use of funds made available to the county from state or federal sources for the purpose of providing care and treatment for drug- and alcohol-related illness or for drug or alcohol abuse."

5California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 702 provides:  "After hearing the evidence, the court shall make a finding, noted in the minutes of the court, whether or not the minor is a person described by Section 300, 601, or 602.  If it finds that the minor is not such a person, it shall order that the petition be dismissed and the minor be discharged from any detention or restriction theretofore ordered.  If the court finds that the minor is such a person, it shall make and enter its findings and order accordingly, and shall then proceed to hear evidence on the question of the proper disposition to be made of the minor.  Prior to doing so, it may continue the hearing, if necessary, to receive the social study of the probation officer, to refer the minor to a juvenile justice community resource program as defined in Article 5.2 (commencing with Section 1784) of Chapter 1 of Division 2.5, or to receive other evidence on its own motion or the motion of a parent or guardian for not to exceed 10 judicial days if the minor is detained during the continuance.  If the minor is not detained, it may continue the hearing to a date not later than 30 days after the date of filing of the petition.  The court may, for good cause shown continue the hearing for an additional 15 days, if the minor is not detained.  The court may make such order for detention of the minor or his or her release from detention, during the period of the continuance, as is appropriate.  If the minor is found to have committed an offense which would in the case of an adult be punishable alternatively as a felony or a misdemeanor, the court shall declare the offense to be a misdemeanor or felony."

6 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 782 provides:  "A judge of the juvenile court in which a petition was filed, at any time before the minor reaches the age of 21 years, may dismiss the petition or may set aside the findings and dismiss the petition if the court finds that the interests of justice and the welfare of the minor require such dismissal, or if it finds that the minor is not in need of treatment or rehabilitation.  The court shall have jurisdiction to order such dismissal or setting aside of the findings and dismissal regardless of whether the minor is, at the time of such order, a ward or dependent child of the court."


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