Welfare & Institutions Code 654 WIC - Informal Diversion in Juvenile Court

Informal probation is a pre-filing diversion program under Welfare & Institutions Code 654 (WIC 654). Under this program, a petition (a formal case) is not filed with the court. Instead, the minor is informally supervised for up to six months. Informal probation is often available for first time offenders and less serious offenses.

WIC 654 states that:

The probation officer may, in lieu of filing a petition, delineate specific programs of supervision for the minor, and attempt thereby to adjust the situation that brings the minor within the jurisdiction of the court.

The purpose of the WIC 654 informal supervision program is for a minor to avoid a criminal record. If the minor successfully completes the program, a case is never filed. If the minor performs poorly, a petition can still be filed.

In this article, our California Juvenile Delinquency Attorneys will highlight some of the most important things to know about informal probation under WIC 654.

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

minor cuffed

1. Informal Probation Under WIC 654

Probation officers can informally supervise a minor who breaks the law without asking for a petition to be filed. This is called informal juvenile probation. The period of supervision may last up to six months. The probation officer must balance the interests of the minor and the community. In all cases a diligent effort must be made to place a minor on informal probation.1

In deciding whether to place a minor on informal supervision without filing a petition, a probation officer must consider a variety of factors:2

  • Is the conduct or condition considered serious?
  • Can the child and parents resolve the matter without formal court action?
  • Is further observation or evaluation needed before a decision can be reached?
  • What are the attitudes of the child and the parents (or guardian)?
  • What is the age, maturity, and capabilities of the child?
  • Does the child have any history of dependency or delinquency?
  • Is there a recommendation of any referring party or agency?
  • What are the attitudes of any affected persons?
  • Are there other circumstances that indicate informal supervision would be helpful for the child's welfare and the protection of the public?
  • Does the child have a problem in home, school, or the community that indicates supervision would be desirable?

2. Conditions and Terms of Informal Probation

The minor and parents must agree to the conditions of the informal supervision program. The agreement must state that the minor and parents or guardians will:

  • participate in counseling, parenting, and/or education programs,
  • obtain care and treatment for the misuse or addiction to controlled substances.

If the minor does not engage in the required programs within 60 days, a petition must be filed. Further, a petition may still be filed for poor performance at any time:3

  • within the 6-month probation period, OR
  • within 90 days after the end of informal probation.

3. Informal Probation After a Petition is Filed

In many cases, the probation officer will refer a case to the prosecutor for filing but recommend that informal probation be granted. The court has the final decision. The judge must consider all relevant evidence bearing on:

  • the present condition of the minor, and
  • the future welfare of the minor.

A judge can decide to order informal probation even over the objection of the prosecutor or probation officer.4

If informal probation is granted the case is continued for six months. The parents (or guardians) of the minor must agree to participate in any required counseling or education programs. The minor does not have to admit that the petition is true.

minors sharing a beer

4. DUI's in Juvenile Court

If the offense alleged involves a controlled substance or a California driving under the influence charge, the minor must successfully complete an alcohol or drug education program. Informal probation does not protect a minor from the DMV consequences of driving under the influence charges.5

5. Completion of Informal Probation

At the end of the six-month period the minor must appear back in court. Fifteen days before the conclusion of informal probation, the probation officer will submit a report to the court regarding the minor's performance.

If the minor has successfully completed probation the petition will be dismissed. If the minor's performance is unsatisfactory the court may extend the period of probation. If the minor still does not successfully complete probation, proceedings on the petition resume. The court has up to one year after the date on which the petition was filed to resume delinquency proceedings.6

6. Felony Charges and Informal Probation

Some cases MUST be referred to the prosecutor for filing. A minor alleged to have committed a felony when he or she was 14 or older may not be placed on WIC 654 informal probation EXCEPT in unusual cases.7 Under WIC 654.3, the court may:

  • find an unusual case where the interests of justice would best be served, and
  • specify on the record the reasons for its decision.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Even if a minor 14 or older is alleged to have committed a felony, the court should be asked to make a finding of "unusual circumstances.” Informal probation is a much better option for a minor than deferred entry of judgment (WIC 790) because:

  • the minor is not required to admit the offense,
  • the probationary period is shorter,
  • the conditions of informal probation tend to be more lenient, and
  • the minor may still contest the matter if probation performance is unsatisfactory.

In the following EXAMPLE, a minor was before the San Diego Juvenile Court charged with committing seven residential burglaries. In granting WIC 654 informal probation, the judge stated:

“The Court finds unusual circumstances as follows: The minor was under the age of 12 at the time the offense was committed. The co-participants were substantially older than the minor. I am going to put him under 654 contract and give him an opportunity at the age of 12 not to be a criminal for the rest of his life.”8

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Legal References:

  1. Welfare & Institutions Code 654: 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 that brings the minor within the jurisdiction of the court or creates the probability that the minor will soon be within that jurisdiction. This section does not 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.

  2. California Rules of Court 5.516. Factors to consider. (a) Settlement at intake (WIC 653.5) In determining whether a matter not described in rule 5.514(d) should be settled at intake, the social worker or probation officer must consider: (1) Whether there is sufficient evidence of a condition or conduct to bring the child within the jurisdiction of the court; (2) If the alleged condition or conduct is not considered serious, whether the child has previously presented significant problems in the home, school, or community; (3) Whether the matter appears to have arisen from a temporary problem within the family that has been or can be resolved; (4) Whether any agency or other resource in the community is available to offer services to the child and the child's family to prevent or eliminate the need to remove the child from the child's home; (5) The attitudes of the child, the parent or guardian, and any affected persons; (6) The age, maturity, and capabilities of the child; (7) The dependency or delinquency history, if any, of the child; (8) The recommendation, if any, of the referring party or agency; and (9) Any other circumstances that indicate that settling the matter at intake would be consistent with the welfare of the child and the protection of the public.

    (b) Informal supervision. In determining whether to undertake a program of informal supervision of a child not described by rule 5.514(d), the social worker or probation officer must consider: (1) If the condition or conduct is not considered serious, whether the child has had a problem in the home, school, or community that indicates that some supervision would be desirable; (2) Whether the child and the parent or guardian seem able to resolve the matter with the assistance of the social worker or probation officer and without formal court action; (3) Whether further observation or evaluation by the social worker or probation officer is needed before a decision can be reached; (4) The attitudes of the child and the parent or guardian; (5) The age, maturity, and capabilities of the child; (6) The dependency or delinquency history, if any, of the child; (7) The recommendation, if any, of the referring party or agency; (8) The attitudes of affected persons; and (9) Any other circumstances that indicate that a program of informal supervision would be consistent with the welfare of the child and the protection of the public.

  3. Welfare & Institutions Code 654.

  4. Welfare & Institutions Code 654.2. (a) If a petition has been filed by the prosecuting attorney to declare a minor a ward of the court under Section 602, the court may, without adjudging the minor a ward of the court and with the consent of the minor and the minor's parents or guardian, continue any hearing on a petition for six months and order the minor to participate in a program of supervision as set forth in Section 654. If the probation officer recommends additional time to enable the minor to complete the program, the court at its discretion may order an extension. Fifteen days prior to the final conclusion of the program of supervision undertaken pursuant to this section, the probation officer shall submit to the court a follow up report of the minor's participation in the program. The minor and the minor's parents or guardian shall be ordered to appear at the conclusion of the six-month period and at the conclusion of each additional three-month period. If the minor successfully completes the program of supervision, the court shall order the petition be dismissed. If the minor has not successfully completed the program of supervision, proceedings on the petition shall proceed no later than 12 months from the date the petition was filed.

  5. Vehicle Code 13105. For the purposes of this chapter, “convicted” or “conviction” includes a finding by a judge of a juvenile court, a juvenile hearing officer, or referee of a juvenile court that a person has committed an offense, and “court” includes a juvenile court except as otherwise specifically provided.

  6. Welfare & Institutions 654.2(a).

  7. Welfare & Institutions 654.3. No minor shall be eligible for the program of supervision set forth in Section 654 or 654.2 in the following cases, except in an unusual case where the interests of justice would best be served, and the court specifies on the record the reasons for its decision.

  8. In Re Adam R. (1997) 57 Cal. App. 4th 348.

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