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The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office provides zealous representation of children who appear in juvenile delinquency court and truancy court, from their first court appearance until the case has been dismissed. Our role is to defend the child against all allegations that have been made against them by evaluating the charges, conducting proper investigation, exploring all possible defenses and vigorously advocating on behalf of the child in all court proceedings. Our advocacy extends to insure that the needs of the child are met through education, guidance, and treatment consistent with the child’s best interest.

What Is Juvenile Court?

Juvenile courts deal with three types of cases: juvenile dependency, juvenile delinquency, and truancy. Regardless of the type of case, the general question in all juvenile cases is whether it would be in the child’s best interest for the juvenile court to intervene in his or her life to provide maintenance, support, supervision and services.

Juvenile dependency cases involve charges against the child’s parent(s) or guardian(s) that they have abused or neglected the child. Juvenile delinquency cases involve charges that the child has committed a crime. Truancy cases involve charges that the child is habitually truant from school.

What Happens When a Child is Arrested?

When a child is arrested for allegedly committing a crime, the arresting officer may decide whether or not to send the child to the probation department. If the child is not sent to probation, the child may be released with just a warning, or referred to some type of diversion program. If the child is sent to probation, the officer must also decide whether to release the child with a promise to appear or whether to physically take the child to juvenile hall.

What Happens When a Child is Referred To Probation?

When the probation department receives a child’s case from the police, the probation officer will decide whether or not to send the case to the District Attorney’s Office. If the case is not sent to the District Attorney, the child may be released with a warning or referred to a diversion program. If the case is sent to the District Attorney, it will be up to the District Attorney to file formal charges against the child. When a child is brought to juvenile hall by the police, the probation officer must also decide whether or not to continue to hold the child in custody.

When the District Attorney decides to file formal charges against a child, those charges are contained in a document called a juvenile delinquency petition. Whenever a petition is filed against a child, the child has the absolute right to be represented by an attorney (usually an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office). In some cases, the District Attorney also must decide whether to prosecute the child in adult court instead of juvenile court.

What Happens at a Detention Hearing?

If a juvenile delinquency petition is filed against a child who is in custody at juvenile hall, a detention hearing will be held soon after the petition is filed. At the detention hearing, the judge must decide whether to continue to hold the child in custody or to release them. When a child is released from custody, they may be given a straight release, placed on home supervision, or placed on electronic monitoring (also known as GPS). A child released on home supervision or electronic monitoring will be closely supervised by probation while their case is pending; not only will the child’s movements be restricted, but they will also be required to check in regularly with a probation officer.

What Happens at a Pretrial Hearing?

The purpose of the pretrial hearing is to see whether the charges contained in the petition can be settled prior to trial or not. It is very common for the prosecuting attorney to allow a child to admit to less serious charges and/or to dismiss charges against the child in exchange for the child giving up his or her right to have a trial. As in adult court, a child is presumed to be innocent of the charges contained in the petition and has the absolute right to require the District Attorney to prove that the charges in the petition are true at a trial.

What Happens at a Jurisdictional Hearing?

A trial in juvenile court is known as a jurisdictional hearing. Unlike in adult court, a jury does not decide the child’s guilt or innocence. Instead, all jurisdictional hearings in juvenile cases are court trials, where the judge alone determines the outcome of the case. As in adult trials, witnesses are questioned in court, evidence is presented, and the burden is on the District Attorney to prove that the child committed the crime(s) charged in the petition beyond a reasonable doubt. If none of the charge(s) in the petition are proved to be true, the petition is dismissed and the case ends.

What Happens at a Disposition Hearing?

If the child admits charge(s) at a pretrial hearing, or the District Attorney proves at least one of the charges in petition to be true following a jurisdictional hearing, a disposition hearing will then be held. The purpose of the disposition hearing is similar to sentencing in adult court. Prior to the disposition hearing, probation will prepare a disposition report, which gives the judge more information about the child, including the child’s family situation, his or her educational background, current mental/physical health, and other pertinent information. At the disposition hearing, the judge generally must decide whether to place the child on some form of probation or whether to send the child to out-of-home placement instead. In some cases, the judge has the additional option of committing the child to DJJ (formerly known as CYA).

What Happens When a Child is Placed on Probation?

When a child is placed on probation, they are generally allowed to continue residing with their families under the supervision of a probation officer. A variety of probation conditions may be imposed, including community service hours, counseling/therapy, payment of restitution, and drug testing, among many others. Periodic progress report hearings are scheduled for the judge to review and monitor the child’s performance on probation. When the judge is satisfied that the child has been rehabilitated, the child’s probation will be dismissed. Although probation is typically dismissed much sooner, a youth may legally remain on juvenile probation until age 21.

What Happens When a Child is Sent to Out-of-Home Placement?

When a child is sent to out-of-home placement, the child is removed from home and ordered to complete a program before being allowed to return to his or her family. Programs vary in size, location, and objectives. Out-of-home placements include juvenile camps, group homes, and residential treatment facilities, among others. Although programs vary in length, the average placement will take between 6 and 12 months to complete.

The facility that the court chooses for a particular youth must address any rehabilitative goals and the particular issues with which the child is dealing.

The Public Defender’s Office appears at all court dates for children who are sent to placement. If there are any concerns about a particular child, the child’s placement, treatment in placement, or the length of time that the child will be in placement, the attorney will address these concerns with the court.

What Happens When A Child Is Committed To The Department Of Juvenile Justice?

In certain cases, the judge also has the authority to commit the minor to the Department of Juvenile Justice (formerly known as the California Youth Authority). A DJJ commitment is similar to a state prison commitment for adults. The length of commitment to DJJ will vary depending upon the specific offense(s) that the child has committed and how well the child performs while at DJJ. Except in very rare cases, a youth may only be confined at DJJ until age 25.

What Happens When A Child Returns From The Department Of Juvenile Justice?

When a youth is discharged from DJJ, he is brought before the juvenile court for reentry to the community. The juvenile court typically modifies previous orders and places the youth on standard probation. An attorney with the Public Defender’s Office is assigned to handle all such cases. The attorney appears at each progress report hearing to assist the youth with school, obtaining employment and to insure that they successfully complete their reentry plan.

Can a Child Be Directly Charged as an Adult?

Yes. As a result of changes in the law, the District Attorney can now bypass the juvenile system entirely and directly file charges in adult court if the child is 14 years or older and other certain criteria are met.

What Is Collaborative Court?

The Alameda County Collaborative Court is premised on the recognition that many youth become involved in the justice system as a result of their unmet mental health needs. The Collaborative Court is a therapeutic model designed to provide these youth with an array of wrap around services designed to keep them home with their families by addressing their civil and legal needs. The services provided to the youth can include intensive case management, mental health treatment, medication, support from educational specialists, and social workers advice on accessing government benefits.

The Public Defender’s Office identifies and refers clients who can benefit from these services and advocates for them to be accepted to the program. Once the child is accepted into the program, the Public Defender’s Office will continue to work in collaboration to develop an individualized plan for the youth and his or her family, appear with the youth at all court appearances and continue to advocate for the best interest of the youth until completion. The collaboration between the Public Defender’s Office, Court, Behavioral Health Care Services, District Attorney, Probation, and civil advocates is an excellent program for children who have found themselves in the delinquent system and are at risk of being removed from their families.

What is Girls’ Court?

The Girls’ Court was created in 2011, upon recognition by key stakeholders that young women in Alameda County had unique circumstances that brought them into the juvenile justice system. The Girls’ Court is a collaborative effort between the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney, the bench, Social Services, Probation, and a number of community-based agencies. The mission of the Girls’ Court is to provide a non-adversarial, trauma-informed courtroom that is focused on addressing the trauma, healing, and empowerment of young women through comprehensive case plans that address each young woman’s unique challenges.

In addition to Girls’ Court, the Young Women’s Saturday Program, the Gender-Responsive Task Force, and Safety Net are all initiatives that have been created to determine how to best serve our young women.

The Public Defender’s Office plays a unique role in ensuring that the individual rights of these young women are protected and that their voices, wishes, wants and concerns are heard.

What is Truancy Court?

Secondary school children whom habitually miss school are initially handled by the school district, including being brought before several school attendance review boards. If those efforts fail, after repeated warnings, the child is then referred to the District Attorney’s mediation program for further counseling, referrals, and the threat of possible prosecution for truancy. When mediation fails, a petition is filed alleging that the child is truant. The child has a right to a court trial on whether they have been a truant. A child can be deemed a truant by having three or more unexcused absences/tardys in a school year or failure to comply with various attendance demands of the school.

If a youth is placed on truancy probation, conditions of that probation might include: community service, a fine, a driving license privilege suspension, participation in counseling and other assistance programs and more. The current court is making liberal use of electronic monitoring and weekend incarceration. However, the legality of those sanctions, absent a legal contempt finding, is currently the subject of numerous appeals. Probationers attend progress reports in 30, 60, or 90 day intervals depending of their levels of compliance. Children who do well can potentially have their cases dismissed in a period of six months.

Are Juvenile Findings the Same as Adult Convictions?

No. A juvenile finding is not a conviction. Therefore, the youth generally does not have to disclose a juvenile finding if asked if he or she has ever been convicted of a crime.

Do Juvenile Findings Count as “Strikes”?

Although juvenile adjudications generally are not considered criminal convictions, under current law, certain juvenile adjudications may nevertheless constitute a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law, if a youth subsequently finds herself charged with a crime in adult court. Significantly, though, not all charges that constitute “strikes” in adult court are considered to be potential “strikes” when charged in juvenile court. Instead, in general, a juvenile adjudication may be considered a “strike” in adult court only if the youth was 16 years of age or older at the time he/she committed the alleged offense and certain other criteria apply.

Are Juvenile Proceedings Confidential?

Generally, juvenile proceedings are strictly confidential. In most cases, court proceedings are closed to the general public and only people with a sufficient interest in the case may be present in court (such as the child and the child’s family, for example). In addition, records of juvenile court proceedings are also confidential. Although the child, the child’s parents, the child’s attorneys, and representatives from certain agencies have the right to inspect juvenile case files, most other people must file a motion with the juvenile court in order to inspect and/or disclose such records. Juvenile case files remain strictly confidential, unless the court finds a good reason for the file (or parts of the file) to be disclosed to certain individuals for a certain specific reason.

Can Juvenile Records Be Sealed?

The Public Defender’s Office strongly urges all eligible youths to pursue getting their juvenile records sealed. This will not happen automatically. Instead, you must file a petition with the juvenile court.

Once you have reached the age of 18, and successfully completed your probation, the Public Defender’s Office will send you a “Record Sealing Packet,” which will include the instructions needed for getting your records sealed, and a referral to a community based organization to assist you with the process.

You can apply to have your records sealed if:

  1. You have reached your 18th birthday or it has been at least 5 years since the probation was terminated or your last arrest;
  2. As an adult you have not been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor involving “moral turpitude.” You are not currently on probation;
  3. You have no juvenile findings against you for felony offenses listed in Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b) after you reached age 14; and
  4. All of your fines and restitution fees from your juvenile matter have been paid.

If you are unsure about your eligibility please contact the Public Defender’s Office.

Once the court has ordered a person’s record sealed, the proceedings in the case shall be deemed to have never occurred and the youth may legally declare that they have never been arrested and no finding has ever been made against them. However, please note that law enforcement agencies and branches of the military continue to have access to criminal history records, including arrests, even after a record has been ordered sealed.

What Are Interagency Groups?

It is the duty of the public defender to zealously represent all youth clients appearing in juvenile delinquency court. Further, it is our responsibility to promote the best interest of the youth by helping facilitate rehabilitation and reunification and to avert youths from adverse consequences. As a collaborative partner, the Public Defender’s Office has joined with other county agencies and community based organizations to address the unique issues presented by our youth. In that regard the Public Defender’s Office serves as an active participant in the following interagency groups: Juvenile Justice Re-entry Partnership; Positive Youth Justice Initiative; Restorative Justice Task Force; Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender (LGBT) Task Force; Interagency Children’s Policy Council (ICPC); Disproportionate Minority Youth Contact Task Force; Gender Responsive Task Force and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children.

DISCLAIMER: This site is meant to provide information of a general nature which you should verify with an attorney before relying upon it. It does not provide legal advice and is not meant to establish an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice you should ALWAYS contact an attorney.

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Alameda County
Public Defender