OVERVIEW

Unlike most other counties in California that have a Public Defender’s Office, San Mateo County has a Private Defender Program comprised of a panel of dedicated private attorneys committed to handling criminal cases.  If you have been charged with a crime and cannot afford an attorney, you can apply for court-appointed counsel at your first appearance.  Once the court determines you qualify, they will appoint the Private Defender Program to represent you.  You will then be assigned an experienced criminal lawyer to help you defend your case.  

The Private Defender Program defends adults and juveniles charged with crimes ranging from misdemeanors to capital murders.  We also defend individuals subject to involuntary psychiatric civil commitments and conservatorships.

Each Private Defender Program attorney has a private office within the County of San Mateo. If you are not in custody, you can call your attorney and set up a time to meet and discuss your case and the court process prior to your next scheduled court date.  If you are in custody, your attorney will visit you in the jail before your next court date. 

There is an assigned Officer of the Day present at the Private Defender Program offices available to handle calls or drop-ins regarding any questions or concerns you may have during the pendency of your case.  Our offices are located across the street from the Hall of Justice, at 333 Bradford Street, Suite 200 in Redwood City.  Our phone number is (650)298-4000.

Felonies

A felony is a crime that can be punished by up to one year in the county jail, if probation is granted, or a longer term in state or local prison.

 

The timeline for a felony case is:

1. Arrest

2. Arraignment on the Complaint

Your first appearance in court after an arrest is called an arraignment. At the arraignment, you will appear before a judge and be advised of your constitutional rights. You will be given a copy of the complaint, a document that lists the charges against you. You can apply for a court-appointed lawyer by filling out a form to determine if you qualify for the services of the Private Defender Program. If you qualify, a lawyer from the Program will appear with you and enter a plea of not guilty. If you are in custody, your lawyer will attempt to secure your release, either through the setting of bail or by a release on your own recognizance. Future court dates will then be set.

3. Superior Court Review

Only certain cases will qualify for a Superior Court Review. This is a court date set to conference your case with your lawyer, the deputy district attorney and a judge to attempt an early settlement. Cases are eligible based on a combination of factors; such as the nature of the charges and an individual’s prior record. People who are on felony probation, are charged with serious felonies or have a prior conviction for a serious felony will not be eligible for a Superior Court Review.

4. Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing is held before a judge to establish whether there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that the defendant could have been the person that committed it. You have the right to have your hearing within 10 court days of your arraignment. At the hearing, the district attorney will only call the witnesses they believe are necessary to meet this burden. This can be an opportunity for your lawyer to ask questions of the witnesses and test the strength of the case.

5. Arraignment on the Information

Based on the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing, the judge will make findings whether you should be charged with certain offenses. Within 15 days of the judge’s findings, the district attorney must file an information setting forth the charges you will face at trial. The information must be based on the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing.
You will then appear in court with your lawyer and enter new pleas of not guilty to the charges in the information. You will then set future court dates in the case.

6. Pretrial Conference

After preliminary hearing and arraignment in Superior Court, your case will be set for another conference. The conference will include a discussion between your lawyer, a judge, and the deputy district attorney. The goal at this conference is to obtain the best possible offer to resolve the case. Your lawyer will discuss the offer with you as well as what you might expect should your case proceed to a trial. If you decide to reject the offer, the case will proceed to trial.

7. Jury Trial

The right to a trial by jury is guaranteed. Every person charged with a crime is presumed innocent. The burden is on the district attorney to convince a jury with proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the guilt of the defendant for each crime charged. Each juror must individually decide that they have been presented with such proof before returning a guilty verdict.
Most felony trials last more than a week, with serious trials lasting up to several months. If all 12 jurors cannot agree on a verdict at the conclusion of the trial, a “mistrial” will be declared. The district attorney will decide whether to retry the case, make a better offer, or dismiss it.

 

 

Misdemeanors

A misdemeanor is a crime that can be punished by up to one year in the County Jail, other than those subject to imprisonment under the provisions of Penal Code section 1170(h).  

 

The timeline for a misdemeanor case is as follows:

1. Arrest

2. Arraignment

Your first appearance in court after an arrest is called an arraignment.  At the arraignment, you will appear before a judge and be advised of your constitutional rights.  You will be given a copy of the complaint, a document that lists the charges against you.  You can apply for a court-appointed lawyer by filling out a form to determine if you qualify for the services of the Private Defender Program.  If you qualify, a lawyer from the Program will appear with you and enter a plea of not guilty.  If you are in custody, your lawyer will attempt to secure your release, either through the setting of bail or by a release on your own recognizance.  Future court dates will then be set.

3. Pretrial Conference

This conference will include a discussion between your lawyer, a judge, and the deputy district attorney.  The goal at this conference is to obtain the best possible offer to resolve the case.  Your lawyer will discuss the offer with you as well as what you might expect should your case proceed to a trial. If you decide to accept the offer, you will be advised of all the rights you would be giving up, including your right to a jury trial. Typically, you would then be sentenced at the same time as when you enter your plea. If you decide to reject the offer, your case will proceed to trial.

  1. Jury Trial

The right to a trial by jury is guaranteed.  Every person charged with a crime is presumed innocent and the burden is on the district attorney to convince each of 12 jurors that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt

Most misdemeanor trials last about a week.  If all 12 jurors cannot agree on a verdict at the conclusion of the trial, a “mistrial” will be declared.  The district attorney will decide whether to retry the case, make a better offer, or dismiss it.    

 

 

JUVENILE

There are two types of cases handled by our Juvenile branch. Delinquency cases involve children (up to the age of eighteen) accused of a criminal offense. Our office represents the children in these actions. Dependency cases arise where the child/children’s parents or guardians are accused of neglecting and/or abusing their children. Our office represents both the parents and the children in these actions.

1. Delinquency Cases

Arrest

When a child is arrested for an alleged crime, the police officer has three options. The first option is to treat the case informally and work out an informal diversions contract with the parents, keeping the matter out of the Juvenile Justice system.

The second option is to release the child to his/her parents with a promise to appear for an arraignment at a later date. The case would then be referred to the San Mateo County Probation Department for processing.

The third option is to transport him/her to the Youth Services Center (commonly known as Juvenile Hall)

When your child is arrested should you have any questions as to what happens next please call our office at (650) 312-5396 for further information.

Juvenile Hall

After a child is booked into Juvenile Hall, the San Mateo County Probation Department will conduct an assessment to determine whether or not they will be released with a promise to appear or detained. If they are released they will be give a court date for a future court appearance.

If your child is detained the district Attorney’s office must file a petition against them within 48 hours of their arrest or they must be released. This does not count days when the court is not in session. NO BAIL is allowed in Juvenile Court. Once a petition is filed, the minor has a detention hearing where a Judge will determine whether or not he/she will be released.

Detention Hearing

At the detention hearing, the Judge must decide whether or not to continue to hold the child in custody or release them. If you have not hired an attorney to represent your child the Private Defender Program will be appointed at this time to represent him/her. You will be notified by the Probation department of the time and place of the hearing. You may call our office at (650) 312-5396 to find out the name of the attorney representing your child and their contact information. At the detention hearing the Court will advise the child of his/her rights and set the matter for a pretrial conference and/or a jurisdictional hearing.

Jurisdictional Hearing

A jurisdictional hearing is to determine the truth or falsity of the charges alleged in the petition. It is conducted in the same way that a trial is conducted in the adult court except that in juvenile court there is no right to a jury trial so the case is decided solely by a judge. If the allegations are found not true, the petition is dismissed and the minor is eligible to have his records sealed immediately. If the allegations are found true, the case is continued for a dispositional hearing.

Dispositional Hearing

A dispositional hearing is a hearing to determine what consequences the judge will impose. It is similar to a sentencing in adult court. The probation department will prepare a report and recommendation to the Court. The minor’s attorney will have the opportunity to present mitigating information as well. The types of disposition are dependent on the seriousness of the charges, the prior record of the minor as well as performance in school, outside activities, and other considerations.

Confidentiality

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. This of course includes the child and his/her parents.

Records of juvenile 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 files, most other people must file a motion with the juvenile court in order to inspect and 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.

Juvenile vs. Adult Convictions

A juvenile adjudication is not a conviction. Therefore, the youth generally does not have to disclose a juvenile adjudication when asked if they have ever been convicted of a crime.

Juvenile Adjudications 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 find themselves with a crime in adult court. Significantly, not all charges that constitute “strikes” in adult court are considered to be potential strikes in juvenile court. 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 of the commission of the offense and then only for specific serious offenses.

Sealing Records

If the minor was terminated from probation prior to January 1, 2016, an application for record sealing can be obtained from the probation department. The minor must be 18 years of age before filing the application. If assistance is needed, call the Private Defender Program offices at (650)312-5396. The processing of the record sealing can take up to six months. If the minor was terminated from probation after January 1, 2016, the sealing process is much quicker and easier. For further information and assistance, call the Private Defender Program offices at (650)312-5396.

Juveniles charged as Adults

A juvenile cannot de charged directly as an adult. Before a child can be tried in the adult court they are entitled to have a hearing before a Juvenile Judge to determine whether or not their case will be transferred to the adult court or remain in juvenile court. These hearings are only done in the most serious of cases and in general for children over the age of 16.

Drug treatment, Mental Health treatment and Specialized Education

The Private Defender is involved in a number of collaborative efforts to assist in addressing many of the issues facing our youth today. There are also programs available to minor clients to deal with problems involving drug abuse, mental health issues and specialized educational needs. These programs are provided through various state and county agencies and can be accessed by parents themselves or with the help of private advocates. If your child is represented by the Private Defender’s Office, please alert the lawyer of your child’s drug, school or mental health needs so that our office can begin the referral process at the earliest possible time. Also any records that you have which relate to these problems should be shown to the lawyer. If the Juvenile Court is not made aware of the problems, the source of a behavioral problem might go undiscovered and untreated, and the youth may not receive the full benefit of the resources available.

Dependency Cases

Investigations

The Private Defender Program understands that, in a wide variety of cases, the help of
an investigator is crucial to the high-quality representation to which our clients are entitled. The Program’s commitment to providing this valuable service is clear and investigators are available for every case.

The investigative services available to every PDP client include, but are not limited to, locating and interviewing witnesses, serving subpoenas on witnesses for trial, photographing and documenting crime scenes. Investigators can also help obtain evidence, such as medical records, cell phone records, camera footage and business records. Our investigators work closely with the assigned attorney to develop the most effective strategy for each case. They are a part of the defense team and will maintain the confidentiality of every aspect of the case.

For assistance during regular business hours:

please call (650) 298-4000

​Monday-Friday 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM

"If there is no equal justice,
there is no justice at all."

Chief Justice Warren Burger