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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


The purpose of the law regarding dependent children is to provide safety and protection for children who have been neglected or abused and to preserve the family unit whenever possible. There are a variety of services available to help the family and the child in order to prevent further abuse and to reunify the family whenever possible.

Dependency proceedings are commenced when the Department of Youth and Family Services (YFS) files a petition with the juvenile court alleging that a child has been abused or neglected. The social worker must immediately serve a copy of the petition on the parents and notify them of the time, date, and place of the court hearing. If the social worker has removed a child from the family home, a “Detention Hearing” must be held at the juvenile court on the day following the filing of the petition.

At the Detention Hearing, the court will appoint the Private Defender Program to represent each parent and the child(ren). The Managing Attorney will assign a separate attorney for each party. The County Counsel’s office will represent the Department of Youth and Family Services.

At the Detention Hearing, the parent’s attorney may try to convince the court that the child may be safely returned to the parent’s custody immediately, usually with the provisions of services by a social worker. In the alternative, the attorney may request that the child be placed in the home of a relative rather than remain in the custody of YFS in a foster home.

Also at the Detention Hearing, the court will set a date (usually about three weeks later) for a “Jurisdiction Hearing”. A Jurisdictional Hearing is held to determine whether the alleged acts of abuse or neglect are true, and if found to be true, what authority the court will exercise over the parties to prevent further abuse or neglect.

Prior to the Jurisdictional Hearing, the PDP attorney will interview the parent client to prepare for the hearing. If the client wants to admit that the allegations are true, in whole or in part, the attorney will assist the client in preparing for the most appropriate disposition of the matter. If the client says that the alleged facts are not true, the attorney will assist the client in preparation for the hearing. Through the PDP, the attorney has available resources that include investigators, psychiatric and psychological experts, medical experts and other forensic specialists. The PDP attorney representing the child(ren) always advocates for what is in the best interest of the child(ren).

At the conclusion of the Jurisdictional Hearing, the court decides whether the allegations have been proved. If the court finds sufficient evidence that the allegations have been proved, the court will then conduct a “Disposition Hearing” to determine whether the child(ren) can be safely returned home or whether they need to reside outside of the parental home. The court will order the Department of Youth and Family Services to provide a minimum of six months of services to the family with the goal of reunifying the family.

A review hearing will be scheduled six months later to determine whether the child(ren) and parents can live together safely without court involvement. In some cases, the court may order an additional period of time during which more services will be rendered. Upon termination of services, the court may return the child(ren) to their parents, continue the child(ren) in long-term foster care, place the child(ren) with a guardian, or terminate the parental rights and free the child(ren) for adoption.

At all stages in the court process, PDP attorneys participate in court hearings to advocate on behalf of their clients. In addition, PDP attorneys advise parent clients about what to do between hearings to facilitate the return of their child(ren). PDP attorneys are available to their clients to render legal assistance during the entire time that the court has jurisdiction over the matter.

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