What is Informal Probation under W&I Code § 654

The program of Informal Probation outlined by Welfare & Institutions Code (WIC) § 654 is likely the most effective second chance program in the juvenile system. This program offers juvenile defendants an opportunity to have all pending charges dismissed upon the successful completion of a period of supervision through a probation officer.

How Does It Work?

The way the Informal Probation program works is that the charging document, or petition, is officially filed but rather than immediately proceeding with adjudication (a plea of guilty or a trial) the proceedings are paused. If both the accused minor and the minor’s parent(s) or guardian(s) agree to participate in the program the court will specify specific programs of supervision for the minor to participate in for a period of up to six months.

Supervisions programs require the parents or guardians to participate along with the minor in counseling or education programs which include, but aren’t limited to, parent education and parenting programs operated by community colleges, school districts, or other appropriate agencies designated by the court. The court may require the minor undergo care and treatment for the misuse of or addiction to controlled substances from either a county mental health service or other community agency.

The probation officer assigned to the case also has the discretion to advise the minor be placed for a period of up to 90 days in a sheltered-care facility or in a crisis resolution home for a period of up to 20 days during which time the minor and their family would receive individual and family counseling. If the crisis which initiates the recommendation is not resolved in that 20 day period the probation officer can then recommend that the minor go on to complete a 90 day sheltered-care facility stay. The probation officer also has discretion to recommend the minor attend and participate in vocational training or skills programs offered by counseling or education centers run either independently or in conjunction with crisis resolution homes.

If the accused minor successfully completes the programs the court outlined for them in the time allotted the probation officer will prepare and maintain a followup report of the actual program measures taken. When the court receives evidence of the minor’s successful completion no conviction or judgment is ever entered and the petition is dismissed.

Who is Eligible?

As is clear, there are tremendous benefits to participating in this program. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone will be eligible to participate. Eligibility for the program is decided largely by the severity of the charges the minor is facing. There is an extensive list of charges that automatically disqualify a minor from participating in the program unless the court decides that despite the nature of the charges it would be in the interest of justice for the minor to participate. The interest of justice standard gives the presiding judge complete discretion and is very unlikely to be used to enroll a minor in this particular second chance program if they have been accused of a serious and/or violent crime.

Disqualifying offenses include:

  1. Offenses listed in WIC section 707(b). The offenses listed in 707(b) are all violent crimes and include (among other charges) murder, arson, robbery, rape or sodomy by force, kidnapping, and attempted murder. The full list can be read here.
  2. Minors charged with the sale or possession for sale of a controlled substance as defined in Chapter 2, Division 10 of the Health and Safety (H&S) Code (starting with section 11053.) You can read the relevant section of the H&S Code here.
  3. Allegations the minor violated H&S section 111350 or 11377 (violations of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act) while on either public or private school grounds below the collegiate level.
  4. Also considered disqualifying are Penal Code sections 245.5 allegations of assault on a school employee; 626.9 violation of the Gun-Free School Zone Act; or 626.10 possession of a weapon on school grounds.
  5. Participation in street gang activity in violation of Penal Code section 186.22.
  6. Prior participation in a program of supervision pursuant to WIC section 654.
  7. Prior adjudication of the minor as a ward of the court pursuant to WIC section 602.
  8. Any petition wherein the alleged offense includes restitution owed to the victim in excess of one thousand dollars ($1,000.)
  9. The alleged offense is classified as a felony and the minor was at least 14 years old.

Although not disqualifying, minors who are alleged to have committed substance violations not included in the above sections are required to participate in and successfully complete an alcohol or drug education program from a county mental health agency or other appropriate community program.

If you don’t qualify for the Informal Probation program there are other options. You can read about the DEJ program here. Please contact us if you have specific questions about charges you or your child are facing.