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The Marker

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know I don’t usually write about my own cases. This is particularly true when the case involves a juvenile. I take it on faith that the reasons probably don’t need to be stated.

Sometimes, though, something happens, and I realize that I have to tell the story.

I don’t, of course, have to give identifying information, and I won’t, of course, give it. The story does not depend upon any of that, at least partly because this story is being lived by more children with each passing day.

In the juvenile justice system in California, a child who gets into a bit of trouble for the first time can be dealt with in a number of ways. By the time they arrive at court, though, the sane way has usually already been forsaken, leaving only a menu of bad and less-bad choices.

Among the “less-bad” is the option of Deferred Entry of Judgment, or DEJ. Let me describe how that works where I practice law.

If a child is eligible for DEJ, the child admits to having committed the crimes with which he or she is charged. The child and family are then referred to the Probation Department, and a Probation Officer assesses the child and the child’s situation — family, school, etc. — to determine whether Probation believes the child is “suitable” for the DEJ program. My understanding is that Probation is assessing the likelihood that the child will succeed on DEJ.

If Probation believes the child is suitable, then a report is prepared, recommending to that the court “find” the child to be suitable. Probation recommendations are usually, though not always, followed by the courts.

If found suitable and the court accepts the recommendation, the child is placed on probation, sometimes given some tasks such as community service, perhaps attending a class on why it’s bad to steal (or whatever class is appropriate), or the child may have to write a three-page essay called “Character Counts.” In addition, the child has to stay out of trouble, attend school (and get acceptable grades), observe a curfew, and so on.

Where I practice, the child is told probation can last up to three years, but a review hearing is set for one year from the date the court accepts the recommendation, and if all is going well, the child’s admission is withdrawn, the Petition is dismissed, and the record is automatically sealed. It’s almost as if nothing had ever happened, and the child was never charged with a crime.