What Role Does Probation Play in California Juvenile Cases?

In addition to prosecutors and defense attorneys, county probation officers play a big role in California juvenile court cases.

County probation officers are involved in most aspects of juvenile delinquency cases.  They make recommendations to the judge and district attorney about how to handle cases.  They also run juvenile halls and supervise minors placed on probation.

In this article, our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys discuss the role of probation in California juvenile court cases.1 We cover:

1. What role does probation play in California juvenile cases?

1.1. During the arrest phase

1.2. During the adjudication phase

1.3. After disposition (sentencing)

2. What happens if a minor violates probation?

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

1. What role does probation play in California
juvenile cases?

In adult criminal court, the major players in court proceedings are the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney.

In California juvenile delinquency cases, there is another important player...the county probation officer.

Probation officers are involved in most aspects of the case and its disposition.

1.1. During the arrest phase

When a minor is arrested for allegedly violating a California felony crime or California misdemeanor crime, the first "law enforcement" official the minor will come in contact with (after the police) is the probation officer.

After an arrest, if the police think the situation is serious, the police will take the minor to juvenile hall for an interview with a probation officer.2

Juvenile hall is like county jail for minors.  It is where probation officers first interview the minor and where minors remain during their trials if the judge thinks they pose a risk to the community or to themselves if they go home.

County probation departments run juvenile halls.  The Los Angeles County Probation Department Detention Services Bureau runs the three juvenile halls in Los Angeles County:

Following the initial interview, the probation officer will decide to do one of the following:

  • Send the minor home with a probation program designed to deal with the "root causes" of the offensive conduct (this is called "diversion" under California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 654).3
  • Send the minor home (or to a "suitable placement") with instructions to come back at a later date to see the juvenile court judge.
  • Detain the minor at juvenile hall (in which case the minor is entitled to a "detention hearing" before the judge within a few days to see if continued detention is necessary).

Let's look at an example:

Example:  Nikko is arrested for allegedly violating California Penal Code Section 594 pc vandalism.  This is Nikko's second offense and the conduct is getting worse.

Nikko lives in Orange County, so the police officers deliver him to Orange County Juvenile Hall.

After interviewing Nikko, the probation intake officer allows him to go home with his father with an order to come back to Orange County Juvenile Hall in a few days to see the judge.


Change the facts:  Nikko is arrested for violating California Penal Code 211 pc robbery.  Robbery is an offense considered very serious under Welfare & Institutions Code Section 707(b).

At Orange County Juvenile Hall, the probation officers have no choice but to detain Nikko until he can see a judge.4

All minors taken to juvenile hall are entitled to telephone their parents and an attorney.5

We discuss the rights of minors and parents in delinquency proceedings in our articles Police Questioning of Minors in California Delinquency Cases and Rights of Parents in California Delinquency Cases.

We discuss Section 707(b) offenses in our article Fitness Hearings in California.

1.2. During the adjudication phase

Probation officers also play a key role in other phases of a California juvenile delinquency proceeding, including:

  • Making a recommendation as to whether the district attorney should file a petition against the minor in the first place.6
  • Making a recommendation as to whether the minor is "fit" to be tried within the juvenile system.7

In our example from above, the probation office will evaluate a number of factors in deciding whether to recommend a filing against Nikko for second-time vandalism.  These factors are set forth in California Rule of Court Rule 5.516 and include:

  • Whether the alleged conduct involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm to person or property;
  • Whether the child has had serious problems in the home, school, or community that indicate that formal court action is desirable;
  • Whether the alleged condition or conduct is in dispute and, if proven, whether court-ordered disposition appears desirable;
  • The attitudes of the child and the parent or guardian;
  • The age, maturity, and capabilities of the child.

In the case of the robbery example, the probation officer must recommend filing because that is a Section 707(b) offense.

1.3. After disposition (sentencing)

If the judge "sustains the petition against a minor" (which means the minor is found guilty), the probation officer becomes responsible for oversight of the minor.  This is true whether the minor is allowed to go "home on probation" or whether the minor is committed to one of the county probation camps.

Depending on the circumstances, probation conditions can include:

  • mandatory school attendance
  • curfew restrictions
  • substance abuse counseling
  • anger management classes
  • anti-gang classes
  • not hanging out with certain people
  • community service
  • graffiti removal
  • stay-away order
  • restitution

The Los Angeles County Probation Department Residential Treatment Services Bureau runs the County's nineteen probation camps.8

2. What happens if a minor violates probation?

A probation condition is an order by a court of law for a minor to do or to not do something.  Failure to comply is very serious and can result in the minor's arrest and detention.9

The minor will have what is called a "Section 777" hearing, where the prosecutor only has to prove the alleged violation by a preponderance of the evidence.

Sometimes the judge will give the minor a break, but in other cases the judge will be fed up and impose a harsher set of conditions the second time around.

Our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help...
Img-call-for-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 related articles Juvenile Criminal Defense in California, The Juvenile Court Process in California, Detention Hearings in California Juvenile Cases, Adjudication Hearings (Trials) in California Juvenile Case, Disposition (Sentencing) Hearings in California Juvenile Court, Sealing Your California Juvenile Records, Juvenile Crimes that Count as Strikes under California's Three Strikes Law, and Riverside Juvenile Hall.

Helpful links:

Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

California Courts Crossover Projects

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

References:

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 626.5 provides:  "If an officer who takes a minor into temporary custody under the provisions of Section 625 determines that the minor should be brought to the attention of the juvenile court, he or she shall thereafter take one of the following actions:  (a) He or she may prepare in duplicate a written notice to appear before the probation officer of the county in which the minor was taken in custody at a time and place specified in the notice.  The notice shall also contain a concise statement of the reasons the minor was taken into custody.  The officer shall deliver one copy of the notice to the minor or to a parent, guardian, or responsible relative of the minor and may require the minor or his or her parent, guardian, or relative, or both, to sign a written promise that either or both will appear at the time and place designated in the notice.  Upon the execution of the promise to appear, the officer shall immediately release the minor.  The officer shall, as soon as practicable, file one copy of the notice with the probation officer.  (b) He or she may take the minor without unnecessary delay before the probation officer of the county in which the minor was taken into custody, or in which the minor resides, or in which the acts took place or the circumstances exist which are alleged to bring the minor within the provisions of Section 601 or 602, and deliver the custody of the minor to the probation officer.  The peace officer shall prepare a concise written statement of the probable cause for taking the minor into temporary custody and the reasons the minor was taken into custody and shall provide that statement to the probation officer at the time the minor is delivered to the probation officer.  In no case shall he or she delay the delivery of the minor to the probation officer for more than 24 hours if the minor has been taken into custody without a warrant on the belief that he or she has committed a misdemeanor.  In determining which disposition of the minor he or she will make, the officer shall prefer the alternative which least restricts the minor's freedom of movement, provided that alternative is compatible with the best interests of the minor and the community."

3 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 654 provides:   "In any case in which a probation officer, after investigation of an application for a petition or any other investigation he or she is authorized to make concludes that a minor is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court or will probably soon be within that jurisdiction, the probation officer may, in lieu of filing a petition to declare a minor a dependent child of the court or a minor or a ward of the court under Section 601 or requesting that a petition be filed by the prosecuting attorney to declare a minor a ward of the court under subdivision (e) of Section 601.3 or Section 602 and with consent of the minor and the minor's parent or guardian, delineate specific programs of supervision for the minor, for not to exceed six months, and attempt thereby to adjust the situation which brings the minor within the jurisdiction of the court or creates the probability that the minor will soon be within that jurisdiction.  Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the probation officer from filing a petition or requesting the prosecuting attorney to file a petition at any time within the six-month period or a 90-day period thereafter.  If the probation officer determines that the minor has not involved himself or herself in the specific programs within 60 days, the probation officer shall immediately file a petition or request that a petition be filed by the prosecuting attorney.  However, when in the judgment of the probation officer the interest of the minor and the community can be protected, the probation officer shall make a diligent effort to proceed under this section.  The program of supervision of the minor undertaken pursuant to this section may call for the minor to obtain care and treatment for the misuse of or addiction to controlled substances from a county mental health service or other appropriate community agency.  The program of supervision shall require the parents or guardians of the minor to participate with the minor in counseling or education programs, including, but not limited to, parent education and parenting programs operated by community colleges, school districts, or other appropriate agencies designated by the court if the program of supervision is pursuant to the procedure prescribed in Section 654.2.  Further, this section shall authorize the probation officer with consent of the minor and the minor's parent or guardian to provide the following services in lieu of filing a petition:  (a) Maintain and operate sheltered-care facilities, or contract with private or public agencies to provide these services.  The placement shall be limited to a maximum of 90 days.  Counseling services shall be extended to the sheltered minor and his or her family during this period of diversion services.  The minor and his or her parents may be required to make full or partial reimbursement for the services rendered the minor and his or her family during the diversion process.  Referrals for sheltered-care diversion may be made by the minor, his or her family, schools, any law enforcement agency, or any other private or public social service agency.  (b) Maintain and operate crisis resolution homes, or contract with private or public agencies offering these services.  Residence at these facilities shall be limited to 20 days during which period individual and family counseling shall be extended the minor and his or her family.  Failure to resolve the crisis within the 20-day period may result in the minor's referral to a sheltered-care facility for a period not to exceed 90 days. Referrals shall be accepted from the minor, his or her family, schools, law enforcement or any other private or public social service agency.  The minor, his or her parents, or both, may be required to reimburse the county for the cost of services rendered at a rate to be determined by the county board of supervisors.  (c) Maintain and operate counseling and educational centers, or contract with private and public agencies, societies, or corporations whose purpose is to provide vocational training or skills.  The centers may be operated separately or in conjunction with crisis resolution homes to be operated by the probation officer.  The probation officer shall be authorized to make referrals to the appropriate existing private or public agencies offering similar services when available.  At the conclusion of the program of supervision undertaken pursuant to this section, the probation officer shall prepare and maintain a followup report of the actual program measures taken."

4 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 625.3 provides:  "Notwithstanding Section 625, a minor who is 14 years of age or older and who is taken into custody by a peace officer for the personal use of a firearm in the commission or attempted commission of a felony or any offense listed in subdivision (b) of Section 707 shall not be released until that minor is brought before a judicial officer."

5 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 627 provides:  "(a) When an officer takes a minor before a probation officer at a juvenile hall or to any other place of confinement pursuant to this article, he shall take immediate steps to notify the minor's parent, guardian, or a responsible relative that such minor is in custody and the place where he is being held.  (b) Immediately after being taken to a place of confinement pursuant to this article and, except where physically impossible, no later than one hour after he has been taken into custody, the minor shall be advised and has the right to make at least two telephone calls from the place where he is being held, one call completed to his parent or guardian, a responsible relative, or his employer, and another call completed to an attorney.  The calls shall be at public expense, if the calls are completed to telephone numbers within the local calling area, and in the presence of a public officer or employee.  Any public officer or employee who willfully deprives a minor taken into custody of his right to make such telephone calls is guilty of a misdemeanor."

6 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 652 provides:  "Whenever the probation officer has cause to believe that there was or is within the county, or residing therein, a person within the provisions of Section 601 or 602, the probation officer shall immediately make an investigation he or she deems necessary to determine whether proceedings in the juvenile court should be commenced, including whether reasonable efforts, as described in paragraph (5) of subdivision (d) of Section 727.4, have been made to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the minor from his or her home.  However, this section does not require an investigation by the probation officer with respect to a minor delivered or referred to an agency pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 626."  SEE ALSO California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 653.5: "(a) Whenever any person applies to the probation officer to commence proceedings in the juvenile court, the application shall be in the form of an affidavit alleging that there was or is within the county, or residing therein, a minor within the provisions of Section 602, or that a minor committed an offense described in Section 602 within the county, and setting forth facts in support thereof.  The probation officer shall immediately make any investigation he or she deems necessary to determine whether proceedings in the juvenile court shall be commenced. If the probation officer determines that it is appropriate to offer services to the family to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the minor from his or her home, the probation officer shall make a referral to those services.  (b) Except as provided in subdivision (c), if the probation officer determines that proceedings pursuant to Section 650 should be commenced to declare a person to be a ward of the juvenile court on the basis that he or she is a person described in Section 602, the probation officer shall cause the affidavit to be taken to the prosecuting attorney.  (c) Notwithstanding subdivision (b), the probation officer shall cause the affidavit to be taken within 48 hours to the prosecuting attorney in all of the following cases:  (1) If it appears to the probation officer that the minor has been referred to the probation officer for any violation of an offense listed in subdivision (b), paragraph (2) of subdivision (d), or subdivision (e) of Section 707.  (2) If it appears to the probation officer that the minor is under 14 years of age at the date of the offense and that the offense constitutes a second felony referral to the probation officer.  (3) If it appears to the probation officer that the minor was 14 years of age or older at the date of the offense and that the offense constitutes a felony referral to the probation officer.  (4) If it appears to the probation officer that the minor has been referred to the probation officer for the sale or possession for sale of a controlled substance as defined in Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 11053) of Division 10 of the Health and Safety Code.  (5) If it appears to the probation officer that the minor has been referred to the probation officer for a violation of Section 11350 or 11377 of the Health and Safety Code where the violation takes place at a public or private elementary, vocational, junior high school, or high school, or a violation of Section 245.5, 626.9, or 626.10 of the Penal Code.  (6) If it appears to the probation officer that the minor has been referred to the probation officer for a violation of Section 186.22 of the Penal Code.  (7) If it appears to the probation officer that the minor has previously been placed in a program of informal probation pursuant to Section 654.  (8) If it appears to the probation officer that the minor has committed an offense in which the restitution owed to the victim exceeds one thousand dollars ($1,000).  For purposes of this paragraph, the definition of "victim" in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 730.6 and "restitution" in subdivision (h) of Section 730.6 shall apply.  Except for offenses listed in paragraph (5), the provisions of subdivision (c) shall not apply to a narcotics and drug offense set forth in Section 1000 of the Penal Code.  The prosecuting attorney shall within his or her discretionary power institute proceedings in accordance with his or her role as public prosecutor pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 650 and Section 26500 of the Government Code.  However, if it appears to the prosecuting attorney that the affidavit was not properly referred, that the offense for which the minor was referred should be charged as a misdemeanor, or that the minor may benefit from a program of informal supervision, he or she shall refer the matter to the probation officer for whatever action the probation officer may deem appropriate.  (d) In all matters where the minor is not in custody and is already a ward of the court or a probationer under Section 602, the prosecuting attorney, within five judicial days of receipt of the affidavit from the probation officer, shall institute proceedings in accordance with his or her role as public prosecutor pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 650 of this code and Section 26500 of the Government Code, unless it appears to the prosecuting attorney that the affidavit was not properly referred or that the offense for which the minor was referred requires additional substantiating information, in which case he or she shall immediately notify the probation officer of what further action he or she is taking."

7 California Rule of Court Rule 5.768 (a) provides:  "Contents of report (§ 707) The probation officer must investigate the issue of fitness and submit to the court a report on the behavioral patterns and social history of the child being considered.  The report must include information relevant to the determination of whether or not the child would be amenable to the care, treatment, and training program available through the facilities of the juvenile court, including information regarding all of the criteria listed in rules 5.770 and 5.772.  The report may also include information concerning: (1) The social, family, and legal history of the child; (2) Any statement the child chooses to make regarding the alleged offense; (3) Any statement by a parent or guardian; (4) If the child is or has been under the jurisdiction of the court, a statement by the social worker, probation officer, or Youth Authority parole agent who has supervised the child regarding the relative success or failure of any program of rehabilitation; and (5) Any other information relevant to the determination of fitness.  (b) Recommendation of probation officer (§§ 281, 707) The probation officer must make a recommendation to the court as to whether the child is a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under the juvenile court law. (c) Copies furnished.  The probation officer's report on the behavioral patterns and social history of the child must be furnished to the child, the parent or guardian, and all counsel at least 24 hours before commencement of the fitness hearing.  A continuance of 24 hours must be granted on the request of any party who has not been furnished the probation officer's report in accordance with this rule."

8 Office of Independent Review, County of Los Angeles, "Evaluation and Recommendations Concerning  Internal Investigations at the Los Angeles County Probation Department," June 2, 2010, p.5 ("The Los Angeles County Probation Department is one of the largest County departments, with a 110 year history and over 6,000 employees who run three juvenile detention halls and nineteen juvenile residential treatment camps, serve every branch courthouse, and supervise every adult and juvenile on probation in the County through their 36 field offices.  Approximately 4,400 of the Department's employees are "sworn," having peace officer status under California Penal Code Section 830 et seq.  Sworn personnel fill most of the positions that come into direct contact with detained juvenile wards in the camps and halls.  Deputy Probation Officers are also responsible for supervising adult and juvenile probationers in the field.  Many sworn employees fill administrative and managerial positions in the Department as well.  Most Department policies apply equally to sworn and unsworn employees, but the sworn employees, as peace officers in California, enjoy the protections of the Peace Officer's Bill of Rights."

9 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 777 provides:  "An order changing or modifying a previous order by removing a minor from the physical custody of a parent, guardian, relative, or friend and directing placement in a foster home, or commitment to a private institution or commitment to a county institution, or an order changing or modifying a previous order by directing commitment to the Youth Authority shall be made only after a noticed hearing. (a) The notice shall be made as follows: (1) By the probation officer where a minor has been declared a ward of the court or a probationer under Section 601 in the original matter and shall contain a concise statement of facts sufficient to support the conclusion that the minor has violated an order of the court. (2) By the probation officer or the prosecuting attorney if the minor is a court ward or probationer under Section 602 in the original matter and the notice alleges a violation of a condition of probation not amounting to a crime.  The notice shall contain a concise statement of facts sufficient to support this conclusion.  (3) Where the probation officer is the petitioner pursuant to paragraph (2), prior to the attachment of jeopardy at the time of the jurisdictional hearing the prosecuting attorney may make a motion to dismiss the notice and may request that the matter be referred to the probation officer for whatever action the prosecuting or probation officer may deem appropriate.  (b) Upon the filing of such notice, the clerk of the juvenile court shall immediately set the same for hearing within 30 days, and the probation officer shall cause notice of it to be served upon the persons and in the manner prescribed by Sections 658 and 660. (c) The facts alleged in the notice shall be established by a preponderance of the evidence at a hearing to change, modify, or set aside a previous order.  The court may admit and consider reliable hearsay evidence at the hearing to the same extent that such evidence would be admissible in an adult probation revocation hearing, pursuant to the decision in People v. Brown, 215 Cal.App.3d (1989) and any other relevant provision of law. (d) An order for the detention of the minor pending adjudication of the alleged violation may be made only after a hearing is conducted pursuant to Article 15 (commencing with Section 625) of this chapter."

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