Guide to Wardship - Being a Ward of the Court in the California Juvenile System

Being made a ward of the juvenile court is serious. It means that the court takes primary responsibility for the control and treatment of a minor. Welfare and Institutions Code section 725(b) states:

If the juvenile court finds that a minor has violated any law other than a curfew, it may order and adjudge the minor to be a ward of the court.

During wardship, the court can limit control of the minor by the parents. A ward can even be taken from the physical custody of a parent if the court finds:

  • the parents are incapable of providing maintenance, training, and education,
  • the minor has been on probation and failed to reform, OR
  • the minor's welfare requires custody be taken from the parents or guardians.

The court options for wards range from placing the juvenile on probation and remaining in the home, to committing the minor to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

In this article, our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys will highlight some of the most important things to know about Being a Ward of the Court in the California Juvenile Court System.

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

a minor made a ward of the court
Being made a ward of the court means the court takes over primary responsibility for the control and treatment of a minor

1. Wardship - Ward of The Court

Being made a ward of the court means the court takes over primary responsibility for the control and treatment of a minor. In finding a wardship the court must consider:

  • the age of the minor,
  • the circumstances and gravity of offenses committed by the minor, AND
  • the minor's previous delinquent history.

The court may order that wardship will last:

  • for a specific period of probation, OR
  • until further order of the court.1

UNSUPERVISED PROBATION

In some cases, the court will allow the ward to be on juvenile probation without supervision of the probation officer. The court will impose reasonable and appropriate probation conditions on the minor.2

SUPERVISED PROBATION

Many juvenile crimes require supervised visitation. A ward can only be placed on supervised probation for the following offenses:

The court may order a nonresident juvenile offender returned to the custody of parents in a foreign country.4 However, the court may make such an order only in the best interest of the minor.5

2. Conditions of Probation

When the court places a ward on probation it may impose appropriate conditions. Juvenile probation conditions imposed by the court must:

  • be related to the crime committed,
  • require (or prohibit) conduct that is reasonably related to future criminal conduct.

Such conditions may include:

  • attending school,
  • maintaining a curfew,
  • driving restrictions,
  • limits on associating with certain persons,
  • prohibition on gang-related activities,
  • the wearing of a monitoring device.

The court may also order that the ward and his or her family participate in a program of counseling.

a minor handcuffed
Sometimes the court will remove the ward from the home for placement elsewhere.

3. Placement Away from Home

Sometimes the court will remove the ward from the home for suitable placement elsewhere. The court must find that:

  • home probation has failed, AND
  • it is in the best interests of the minor to be taken from the custody of the parents.

The probation department determines appropriate placements.6 The probation officer may seek to place the minor:

  • in a foster home,
  • the home of a relative,
  • a private institution, OR
  • a public agency.

4. Confinement of a Ward

The court may order a ward to be confined. Punishment is not the main objective. Confinement is a means of instilling a sense of responsibility in the minor.

If the minor committed a violent felony with the personal use of a firearm, confinement is mandatory. If the minor has a serious mental disorder, the court may place the minor in an alternative treatment program.7

The minor may be physically confined by placement in:

  • Juvenile hall,
  • a ranch or camp,
  • forestry camp,
  • a secure juvenile home, OR
  • a Division of Juvenile Justice institution.

Most juvenile offenders are committed to county facilities in their home community. For a minor with drug, alcohol, or mental problems, placement can be made at a private institution.

LENGTH OF COMMITMENT

The court must determine whether the offense is a felony or a misdemeanor. This determines the possible length of confinement. The term could be up to the maximum allowed under the law for an adult facing the same crime.

DIVISION OF JUVENILE FACILITIES COMMITMENT

The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) provides treatment to youthful offenders who have committed serious and/or violent felonies.

In placing a ward at DJJ, the courts and public agencies must consider:8

  • the safety and protection of the public,
  • the importance of redressing injuries to victims, AND
  • the best interest of the minor.

There must be evidence demonstrating:

  • probable benefit to the minor, AND
  • that less restrictive alternatives are ineffective or inappropriate.
a gavel on top of money
If there is a victim who incurred economic loss the ward will be required to pay restitution

5. Fines, Fees, and Restitution

The court may impose a fine against the minor. It could be as high as that for the same adult crime. The court must find that the minor has the financial ability to pay the fine.9 The fine is in addition to any restitution ordered paid by the minor.

VICTIM RESTITUTION

If there is a victim who incurred economic loss the ward will be required to pay restitution. A victim includes the immediate surviving family of the actual victim. It also includes any government agency responsible for repairing or replacing damaged property.

Restitution can include payment for:

  • stolen or damaged property,
  • medical expenses,
  • mental health services,
  • wages or profits lost by the victim (or victim's parents).

The ward has the right to a restitution hearing to dispute the amount of restitution.

RESTITUTION FINES

The ward must pay a restitution fine based upon the seriousness of the offense:

  • for felony offenses the restitution fine is between $100 and $1,000,
  • for misdemeanor offenses the restitution fine cannot exceed $100.

6. Parents Financial Responsibilities

The ward's parents are jointly liable for all restitution, fines and fees.10 This is subject to consideration of the parent's ability to pay.

The parent or guardian has the burden of showing:

  • an inability to pay, AND
  • no notice of potential liability prior to the petition being sustained, OR
  • not present during some proceedings and any hearing related to restitution, fines, or fees.

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california wardship attorneys
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Legal References:

  1. In re Antoine D. (2006) 137 Cal.App.4th 1314.

  2. Welfare & Institutions Code 727(a)(2). In the discretion of the court, a ward may be ordered to be on probation without supervision of the probation officer.

  3. Welfare & Institutions Code 707(b). (b) This subdivision is applicable to any case in which a minor is alleged to be a person described in Section 602 by reason of the violation of one of the following offenses: (1) Murder. (2) Arson, as provided in subdivision (a) or (b) of Section 451 of the Penal Code. (3) Robbery. (4) Rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm. (5) Sodomy by force, violence, duress, menace, or threat of great bodily harm. (6) A lewd or lascivious act as provided in subdivision (b) of Section 288 of the Penal Code. (7) Oral copulation by force, violence, duress, menace, or threat of great bodily harm. (8) An offense specified in subdivision (a) of Section 289 of the Penal Code. (9) Kidnapping for ransom. (10) Kidnapping for purposes of robbery. (11) Kidnapping with bodily harm. (12) Attempted murder. (13) Assault with a firearm or destructive device. (14) Assault by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. (15) Discharge of a firearm into an inhabited or occupied building. (16) An offense described in Section 1203.09 of the Penal Code. (17) An offense described in Section 12022.5 or 12022.53 of the Penal Code. (18) A felony offense in which the minor personally used a weapon described in any provision listed in Section 16590 of the Penal Code. (19) A felony offense described in Section 136.1 or 137 of the Penal Code. (20) Manufacturing, compounding, or selling one-half ounce or more of a salt or solution of a controlled substance specified in subdivision (e) of Section 11055 of the Health and Safety Code. (21) A violent felony, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5 of the Penal Code, which also would constitute a felony violation of subdivision (b) of Section 186.22 of the Penal Code. (22) Escape, by the use of force or violence, from a county juvenile hall, home, ranch, camp, or forestry camp in violation of subdivision (b) of Section 871 if great bodily injury is intentionally inflicted upon an employee of the juvenile facility during the commission of the escape. (23) Torture as described in Sections 206 and 206.1 of the Penal Code. (24) Aggravated mayhem, as described in Section 205 of the Penal Code. (25) Carjacking, as described in Section 215 of the Penal Code, while armed with a dangerous or deadly weapon. (26) Kidnapping for purposes of sexual assault, as punishable in subdivision (b) of Section 209 of the Penal Code. (27) Kidnapping as punishable in Section 209.5 of the Penal Code. (28) The offense described in subdivision (c) of Section 26100 of the Penal Code. (29) The offense described in Section 18745 of the Penal Code. (30) Voluntary manslaughter, as described in subdivision (a) of Section 192 of the Penal Code.

  4. Welfare & Institutions 738. In a case where the residence of a minor placed on probation under the provisions of Section 725 or of a ward of the juvenile court is out of the state and in another state or foreign country, or in a case where such minor is a resident of this state but his parents, relatives, guardian, or person charged with his custody is in another state, the court may order such minor sent to his parents, relatives, or guardian, or to the person charged with his custody, or, if the minor is a resident of a foreign country, to an official of a juvenile court of such foreign country or an agency of such country authorized to accept the minor, and in such case may order transportation and accommodation furnished, with or without an attendant, as the court deems necessary. If the court deems an attendant necessary, the court may order the probation officer or other suitable person to serve as such attendant. The probation officer shall authorize the necessary expenses of such minor and of the attendant and claims therefor shall be audited, allowed and paid in the same manner as other county claims.

  5. In re Christian H. (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 1085 (reversing juvenile court's order returning the minor to his mother in Honduras).

  6. Welfare & Institutions 727(a)(4). (4) It is the responsibility, pursuant to Section 672(a)(2)(B) of Title 42 of the United States Code, of the probation agency to determine the appropriate placement for the ward once the court issues a placement order. In determination of the appropriate placement for the ward, the probation officer shall consider any recommendations of the child and family. The probation agency may place the minor or nonminor in any of the following: (A) The approved home of a relative or the approved home of a nonrelative, extended family member. (B) A foster home, the approved home of a resource family as defined in Section 16519.5, or a home or facility in accordance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. Sec. 1901 et seq.). (C) A suitable licensed community care facility. (D) A foster family agency, in a suitable certified family home or with a resource family. (E) A minor or nonminor dependent may be placed in a group home or short-term residential therapeutic program. For youth 13 years of age and older, the chief probation officer of the county probation department, or his or her designee, shall approve the placement if it is longer than 12 months, and no less frequently than every 12 months thereafter. (F) (i) Every minor adjudged a ward of the juvenile court shall be entitled to participate in age-appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, and social activities.

  7. Welfare & Institutions 602.3. (a) PERSONAL USE OF FIREARM: Notwithstanding any other law and pursuant to the provisions of this section, the juvenile court shall commit any minor adjudicated to be a ward of the court for the personal use of a firearm in the commission of a violent felony, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5 of the Penal Code, to placement in a juvenile hall, ranch, camp, or with the Department of the Youth Authority. (b) A court may impose a treatment-based alternative placement order on any minor subject to this section if the court finds the minor has a mental disorder requiring intensive treatment. Any alternative placement order under this subdivision shall be made on the record, in writing.

  8. Welfare & Institutions Code 202(d).

  9. Penal Code 1464.

  10. Code of Civil Procedure 1714.1 and 1714.3.

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