Juvenile Court focuses on two different types of cases that involve children under the age of 18 (minors). Juvenile Dependency matters involve cases related to the abuse and/or neglect of a minor, while Juvenile Delinquency matters involve violations of criminal laws by a minor.
Please visit the Court's dedicated COVID-19 webpage for detailed information regarding available court services.
Minors and the Law
Many types of cases involve children, not only juvenile dependency and juvenile delinquency. Child custody and child support cases are addressed in the Family Law section of the website.
Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
The Juvenile Court has exclusive original jurisdiction over:
- All delinquent minors (under 18 years old) wherein the minor is alleged to have committed an act which act would be criminal if s/he were an adult (Section 602 at seq. of the Welfare and Institutions Code);
- All minors who are alleged to have been neglected or abused by their parent or guardian, by either commission or omission (Section 300 et seq. Welfare and Institutions Code),
- All incorrigible minors, e.g., beyond the control of parents, chronic truants, runaways, disobedient to lawful parent rules, etc. (Section 601 Welfare and Institutions code).
- As a matter of law and judicial philosophy, our job in Juvenile Court is to protect the minor from him/herself and from others (both 300’s and 602’s) and protect the community from minors who pose a threat to the persons or property of others. Rehabilitation of the minor is another critically important component of our work. Rehabilitation remains the primary aim, even when the minor receives "therapeutic" detention.
What you can learn here:
- Who participates in Juvenile Dependency Court
- Services available to families and children
- How to get access to juvenile court records
- What legal forms must be used in Juvenile Dependency Court
- Where to file legal papers for Juvenile Dependency Court
What you can do here:
- Get copies of Juvenile Dependency Court forms
What you cannot do here:
- Get legal advice on what to do in dependency court
- Fill out forms and file them with the court electronically
1. What is the Juvenile Dependency Court?
The Alameda County Juvenile Dependency Court is the division of the Superior Court which has the responsibility for hearing cases involving children who have been abused and/or neglected. The legal actions are described in Welfare and Institutions Code sections 300 et seq.
2. What is the purpose of the Juvenile Dependency Court?
As provided in the California Welfare and Institutions Code section 202, the purpose of the Juvenile Dependency Court is to provide for the protection and safety of the public and each minor under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The Court shall act to preserve and strengthen the minor’s family ties whenever possible, removing the minor from the custody of his or her parents only when necessary for his or her welfare or for the safety and protection of the public. When removal of a minor is determined by the juvenile court to be necessary, reunification of the minor with his or her family shall be a primary objective. When the minor is removed from his or her own family, it is the purpose of this chapter to secure for the minor custody, care and discipline as nearly as possible equivalent to that which should have been given by his or her parents. This chapter shall be liberally construed to carry out these purposes.
3. Mission of the Alameda County Juvenile Dependency Court
The Mission of the Juvenile Dependency Court of Alameda County is to protect children, preserve families, and provide permanency for children while treating all with dignity, respecting diversity, and valuing each child as our own.
4. Goals of the Alameda County Juvenile Dependency Court
Acknowledging that Juvenile Court is a court of law and that all parties have certain due process rights based upon the Federal and State Constitutions and statutes, the Juvenile Dependency Court of Alameda County sets the following goals and takes steps to ensure that:
- Child safety shall be the primary consideration in all decisions within the juvenile dependency system.
- Child welfare professionals will design and coordinate all services for the family and ensure that they are practical.
- Families will encounter the same professionals throughout the time their case is before the Court.
- Children will experience a single stable placement within their community until a permanent home can be found.
- All children will have an identified permanent home within one year of removal from the home of their parents.
- All professionals will provide up-front services and interventions, using the court process as a last resort for the resolution of cases.
- All professionals will assist families who come in contact with the child welfare system to be able to solve their own problems.
- All professionals will resolve issues utilizing alternative dispute resolution techniques while keeping foremost the best interests of the child.
- All professionals will encourage and support the use of trained volunteers within the juvenile dependency system.
- All professionals will cooperate in immediately gathering information regarding family members, including medical, mental health and educational histories and other facts necessary to assist the child and family members.
- The Court will provide a fair, speedy, economical, and accessible forum for the resolution of matters involving child welfare.
- All children under court jurisdiction have their medical, mental health and educational needs addressed by their caretakers and all professionals working with the child welfare system.
1. What attorneys are available to help in the Juvenile Dependency Court?
There are many attorneys in the Juvenile Dependency Court. Indigent parents are entitled to an attorney at no cost. An indigent parent is one whose income is less than the limits established by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Representation for indigent parents is normally provided by the Juvenile Dependency Counsel. Other attorneys are prepared to represent parents should there be a conflict of interest. Children are normally represented by the East Bay Children's Law Office (EBCLO). The Office of County Counsel represents the Social Services Agency. Parents sometimes secure private lawyers.
A. County Counsel:
The office of the County Counsel represents the Social Services Agency in juvenile dependency cases. The office is located at: 1221 Oak Street, 4th Floor, Oakland, California 94612. The telephone number is (510) 272-6700.
B. East Bay Family Defenders (EBFD):
EBFD represents all indigent parents in juvenile dependency cases in need of court-appointed counsel. EBFD has 3 office locations:
EBFD East, 101 Callan Avenue, Suite 210, San Leandro, CA, 94577;
EBFD South, 101 Callan Avenue, Suite 200A, San Leandro, CA 94577; and
EBFD North, 101 Callan Avenue, Suite 200B, San Leandro, CA 94577.
The central telephone number is (510) 671-0023.
For more information, please visit EBFD's website.
C. East Bay Children's Law Office (EBCLO):
EBCLO normally represents the children involved in juvenile dependency cases. The office has two locations - one in Oakland, and one in Hayward. The Oakland office is located at 1404 Franklin Street Suite 400, Oakland, CA 94612. The telephone is (510) 496-5200, and fax number is (510) 496-5250. The Hayward office is 24301 Southland Drive Suite 504, Hayward, CA 94545. The telephone number is (510) 496-5260, and the fax number is (510) 887-0936. For more information, please visit EBCLO's website.
2. Where do I file papers for Juvenile Dependency Court?
The Superior Court Clerk has an office on the first floor at 24405 Amador Street, Hayward, California, and 1225 Fallon Street, 1st Floor, Oakland, California. The offices are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on all court days. Persons wishing to file papers for matters in the Juvenile Dependency Court, should file them at these offices. The public telephone numbers for the Clerk’s office in Hayward is (510) 670-5393, and in Oakland is (510) 618-1188. (Please contact the Juvenile Court Administrative Office at (510) 618-1130 for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation requests.) All cases are confidential. No information will be given over the telephone. Entitled parties wishing access to court files must come to the office and present a photo identification.
3. Who represents dependent children in court?
EBCLO usually represents children who are hurt or neglected by their parents or caretakers. EBCLO is appointed to represent a child when that child is brought to the attention of the Juvenile Dependency Court. This happens when a petition is filed under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 300.
This code covers the abuse or neglect of a child, usually by a parent or caretaker. Reports of abuse and neglect can come from a family friend, a neighbor, or one who is required to report abuse or neglect such as a therapist, a school official, or other child care provider. When a violation of law is involved, a police officer will also investigate. A social worker decides if the family should go to Court. If a petition is filed to bring the case to Court, EBCLO is appointed as the child’s lawyer. Children are parties in the Dependency Court proceeding.
Juvenile Court is the only court where children have the right to speak on their own behalf. They also have the right to a lawyer. In Dependency Court in Alameda County, all children are given a lawyer. It is the job of the child’s lawyer to make sure the court knows what the child wants. However, when the child is too young to speak, the lawyer will represent the best interest of the child. While the child’s attorney must always tell the Court what the child wishes, the lawyer is not allowed to recommend returning the child to his/her home unless it is safe for the child. The lawyers working with EBCLO are involved in seeing that the children they represent have appropriate placements, that they are in the right schools, and that they are receiving appropriate services from the social worker.
If you have general questions about the Juvenile Dependency Court, or the law that requires certain people to report abuse and neglect, please contact us in Hayward at (510) 670-690-2710, in Oakland and San Leandro at (510) 618-1188. Court staff is prohibited from giving legal advice. If you need legal assistance, please contact the Alameda County Bar Association.
4. Who are parties in a Juvenile Dependency Proceeding?
A party is a person who has the right to be present, to be heard and to be represented by counsel at a court proceeding. The following are parties in a Juvenile Dependency Proceeding:
- The mother
- The father
- The child
- The social worker
- A legal guardian for the child
- A de facto parent
B. What are Common Legal Issues Regarding Fathers?
The Juvenile Court must determine who the legal father is for each child who appears before the Court. If the child was born to parents who are married, it is presumed that the husband is the father of the child. If the parents were not married when the child was born, the court may have to establish paternity. Paternity can be established by taking blood tests or after a paternity hearing at which questions are asked by the court regarding the relationship between the parents. It is also possible that paternity has been established in other legal proceedings. If the parents have appeared in Family Court or in child support proceedings with the District Attorney, it is possible that paternity was established in those legal proceedings.
The juvenile court will inquire about the paternity (fatherhood) of any child who is the subject of a petition filed pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 300. The law has established different categories of fathers:
- Legal Father - a man who the law finds to be the father of a child. The finding may be based on marriage, voluntary declaration (Family Code sections 7570 et seq) a finding by the court, or other means.
- Alleged Father - a man who is not the legal father of a child but whom someone states is the father of that child.
- Presumed Father - a man who is not the legal father of a child but whom the law finds is a father deserving special legal status. An example is an unmarried man who receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child (Family Code section 7611).
- Biological Father - the man who provided the sperm that produced a child.
D. De Facto Parents:
A de facto parent is a person who the court finds has had day-to-day care of the child who is before the court and who otherwise qualifies for that status. The de facto parent may both (1) be present and (2) present evidence at the hearing, and may be represented by retained counsel, or at the court’s discretion, by appointed counsel. The form for applications for de facto parent status are available by clicking on the rules/ forms, or in the Court Clerk’s Office at any of the Juvenile Dependency Court facilities.
E. What Other Persons May Be Involved In Juvenile Dependency Proceedings?
Relatives are normally welcome to attend hearings at Juvenile Dependency Court. The Juvenile Court needs to know the names, addresses, and other identifying information for all relatives as they may be possible placements and support for the child and other family members. Relatives are preferred placements for children who have been removed from their parents. (Relative/Kinship forms will be supplied by the appropriate court-appointed attorneys.)
- Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA):
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (also known as CASA or Child Advocate) is a person authorized by the court to provide advocacy and mentoring services to children in Dependency court. Each Child Advocate is recruited, screened, trained, and supervised in his or her activities. The Child Advocate is appointed by the Juvenile Court to visit the child regularly and to help define the best interests of the child in juvenile dependency court proceedings. A Child Advocate may appear at all hearings and have access to records relating to the child. A Child Advocate may also be heard at all hearings.
To learn more about CASA, please visit their website at http://www.casaofalamedacounty.org/.
The information below describes the types of hearings commonly scheduled in Juvenile Dependency Court.
1. What happens at the initial hearing (Detention Hearing)?
At the initial hearing, parents are given notice of the proceedings, presented with a copy of the petition, and any supporting documents relating to the proceedings. Attorneys are identified for all parties. Relatives and paternity may be identified at this hearing as well.
The Court decides whether the child should remain with a parent or be placed outside of home on an emergency basis. If the child is removed from a parent, the Court makes visitation orders and refers the parents to appropriate services. The Court also makes a finding whether the Department of Family and Children’s Services has made reasonable efforts to prevent removal of the child from parental care.
2. What happens at a Jurisdictional Hearing?
At the jurisdictional hearing, the Court determines whether the statements in the petition are true. This can be accomplished in three ways:
- An admission by the parents or guardians
- A submission by the parents or guardians
- A finding by the court after a contested hearing at which evidence is received.
At either an admission or a submission, the Court must be satisfied that the parents have waived their rights to have a trial; to see, hear and question any witnesses who might testify; to use the Court’s power to bring their own witnesses to the trial; and to testify or remain silent.
3. What happens at a Dispositional Hearing?
If the Court finds that the statements in the petition or petitions are true, the Court will then decide what should happen with the child as a result of those findings. The options are to:
- Dismiss all proceedings;
- Place the child with a parent on family maintenance (social worker and court supervision);
- Remove the child from the parents and place with a relative, foster parent, or in a group setting and offer the parents family reunification services.
- Remove the child from the parents and not offer the parents family reunification services. In this instance, the Court will set a hearing within 120 days to determine a permanent plan for the child.
For option (D), the Court may not offer family reunification services to parents for a number of reasons:
- The child or a sibling may have been seriously abused or killed
- The parent may have had another child removed by the juvenile court
- Family reunification services may have been terminated
- The parent may have a serious substance abuse problem that has not been effectively addressed.
For these and other reasons, the Court may bypass family reunification services and order a permanency planning hearing.
4. What is a Six Month Review Hearing?
This hearing gives the Court an opportunity to review both (1) the child's progress in his/her current placement and (2) the parents' progress in response to the court ordered services.
There are a number of options for the Court at this hearing. If the child is living with a parent, the Court could (1) continue to provide court supervision under family maintenance, or (2) dismiss the case. If the child is in out-of-home care, the Court could (1) continue to maintain the child in out-of-home care and continue family reunification services, or (2) return the child to a parent on family maintenance. However, if the child was under three years of age when initially removed from parental care, the court may terminate reunification services at this hearing if the parent has not participated regularly and made substantive progress in court-ordered treatment programs.
5. What happens at a Twelve Month Review Hearing?
This is the hearing when the Court will decide whether the child will be returned to the parents or if services will be terminated so that a permanency plan can be created for the child. The Court will extend services for an additional six months only if it makes a finding that there is a substantial probability of family reunification within the additional six months. Otherwise, if the child is not returned to a parent, family reunification services will be terminated and the Court will set a hearing to determine a permanency plan for the child.
6. What happens at an Eighteen Month Review Hearing?
At this hearing, the Court will determine whether the child will be returned to the care of the parents or whether services will be terminated and the case be set for a hearing to determine the permanent plan for the child.
7. What happens at other Review Hearings?
The Court may set other review hearings at any time to evaluate the welfare of the child, to review the provision of social services, or to monitor the parents' progress on their case plan.
8. What happens at an Implementational Hearing? (W&I 366.26)
At this hearing, the Court will determine the permanent plan for the child. The possible plans are (1) termination of parental rights so that the child may be adopted; (2) legal guardianship; and (3) long term placement with a relative, foster parent, or in a group setting. The statutory preference is for termination of parental rights and adoption because that is the most permanent plan for the child. The second preference is for legal guardianship. The least preferred permanent plan is long term placement because that option is the least likely to provide the child with a permanent home.
9. What are the possible outcomes?
When a child is living with a parent and the juvenile court no longer needs to supervise the child, the Court can dismiss the case and create juvenile court custody orders. These are custody and visitation orders which are similar to those made by family court judges. If there is a disagreement in the future about these orders, the parties can go to the Hayward Hall of Justice or Rene C. Davidson and either mediate the disagreement or have a judge hear the matter.
Adoption hearings take place in the Juvenile Court for those children whose parents have lost their parental rights and who have been placed in adoptive homes.
B. Concurrent Planning:
Because finding a permanent home in a timely fashion is important to meeting the best interests of children, the social service agency may be placing children who have been removed from their parents in homes which are prepared to adopt the child if the parents do not reunify within the statutory time lines. Concurrent planning means that two plans are taking place at the same time: family reunification and permanent placement in another home. The Juvenile Court is committed to locating family first.
Court decisions after contested hearings can be appealed. You need to talk to your attorney about how appeals are filed. Additionally, in some situations you may have to file an extraordinary writ to the Court of Appeals. Again, you should discuss this legal option with your attorney.
It is important for parents whose children have been removed by the juvenile court to contact:
- Northern Alameda County: (510) 268-2900
- Southern Alameda County: (510) 670-6697
National Dissemination Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013-1492
CHADD - Children with Attention Deficit Disorder
8181 Professional Place, Suite 201
Landover, MD 20785
Alameda County Social Services
Parents often meet with social workers to discuss the progress on their case plans.
In northern Alameda County:
401 Broadway, 2nd Floor
In southern Alameda County:
24100 Amador Street, 2nd Floor
For additional information, please also see:
Other Useful Resources & Links
- The Judicial Council – List of national sources for free legal services.
- The Equal Justice Network
- Legal Services Corporation – National list of legal services programs and locater.
- Legal Services of Northern California - California's website for poverty law issues includes links to an extensive list of legal referrals
- Find Law - Free legal research on full range of legal issues.
What you can learn here:
This site provides information about the Juvenile Delinquency Division of the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda.
You can obtain information about:
- Juvenile Delinquency Court Process and Proceedings
- Specialized Courts to Help Minors (Children under the age of 18)
- Programs Available to Minors Before and After Case Disposition
- Community Resources Available to Minors who are at Risk
Things you can do here:
- Review a diagram of how a delinquency case flows through the Court.
- Link to other resources available to help minors and their parents.
Things you cannot do here:
- Get legal advice
- Fill out or electronically file documents in the Juvenile Delinquency Court
This section has information about:
- Who we are
- Purpose of the Delinquency Court
- Who Appears in Delinquency Court
1. What is the Juvenile Delinquency Court?
The Juvenile Delinquency Court is a division of the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda, which has been given the responsibility by the state to hear cases involving minors who have committed a crime. The legal actions in this court are described in Welfare and Institutions Code beginning with Section 602.
2. What is the purpose of the Juvenile Delinquency Court?
The purpose of the Juvenile Delinquency Court has been defined by the state legislature in Welfare and Institutions Code Section 202. The legislature stated in this code section that the actions taken by the Delinquency Court must provide for the protection and safety of the public and the minor who has come in contact with the Court. The judges of this Court are expected to balance the interests of public safety and protection, the importance of correcting injuries to a victim, and the best interests of the minor. Once a judge has made that determination, the Court will step in and take control of the minor’s future. The decision of the type of care, treatment, and guidance the minor will receive must take into account the minor’s best interest, hold him/her accountable for the behavior and is appropriate for the circumstances of the offense. The guidance may include punishment that is consistent with rehabilitation to assist the minor to become a law-abiding and productive member of his/her family and the community.
3. Who appears in Juvenile Delinquency Court?
A minor who would appear in Delinquency Court is generally any person who is under the age of 18 years at the time he/she commits a crime as defined by law. In recent years, the law has been modified to designate that a person 14 years or older who has committed certain serious crimes may be prosecuted in an adult criminal court rather than be charged in Delinquency Court.
This section has information about:
- Judicial Officers and staff
- District Attorney
- Attorney for the minor/parents
- Juvenile Probation Officers
- Parents or guardians
- Public access to the proceedings and records
What court personnel are involved in a Juvenile Delinquency Case?
The staff in the courtroom is composed of a:
- Bailiff, who maintains order in the courtroom during the proceedings
- Courtroom clerk, who prepares a written summary of the what has occurred in court and also maintains the paper files
- Court reporter, who reports a word-for-word record of what has been said in court
Who prosecutes Juvenile Delinquency Cases?
In the Delinquency Court, the District Attorney and his/her deputy attorneys represent the people of the State of California. These attorneys present the case against the minor accused of committing a criminal act.
The Delinquency Division of the District Attorney's Office:
2500 Fairmont Drive, 3rd Floor, San Leandro, California 94578
Telephone: (510) 667-4470.
Who represents the minor and his/her family?
The minor and his/her parents have the right to be represented by an attorney. If the minor cannot afford an attorney, then the Court will appoint one. In Alameda County, the Public Defender’s Office is normally appointed to represent the minor. If the Public Defender is unable to represent the minor because of a conflict of interest (for example, more than one minor is being accused of a crime from the same incident), a private attorney will be appointed. If at any time, the Court determines that the minor’s parent can afford to pay for an attorney, the Court may order the parents to pay the fees for the attorney. The Delinquency Division of the Public Defender’s Office is located at the Juvenile Justice Center at 2500 Fairmont Drive, San Leandro 94578.
Are interpreters available in Juvenile Delinquency Court?
The Court is required by law to provide an interpreter for a non-English speaking or hearing impaired minor. The Court needs to know as soon as possible if an interpreter is required.
What role do Juvenile Probation Officers play?
The juvenile probation officers play many roles in Delinquency Court. When a law enforcement officer takes a minor into custody, a probation officer makes the decision whether a minor will be released. Based on the report of the police or on a crime report, the probation officer also recommends whether charges of a crime (called a petition) will be filed in the court.
A probation officer is present at all hearings to assist the court with information about a case as the court requests. If the minor is found to have committed a crime, the probation officer must prepare a social study of the minor, including recommendations for the care, treatment and guidance of the minor.
A probation officer supervises all minors who are placed on probation, either at home, in a group home, a ranch or other residential facilities. The probation department also runs and manages all local detention facilities for minors. As part of this role, the Alameda County juvenile probation department has developed many programs to help in the care, treatment and guidance of minor under their control.
The juvenile probation department is located in the Juvenile Hall, 2500 Fairmont Drive in San Leandro. The general telephone number of the juvenile probation department is (510) 667-4970. There you can find additional information including the name of the probation officer assigned to supervise a specific minor. For more information about Alameda County Probation, please click here.
Do parents or guardians attend Juvenile Delinquency Court Hearings?
Parents or guardians are required to be at juvenile delinquency court hearings. The Court may use appropriate means to ensure parents or guardians are present. However, if the judge believes it is in the minor's best interest to not have parents/guardians in attendance or a significant hardship for the parents or guardians exists and is discussed with the Court, they may be excused from attending some or all of the court hearings.
Does the public have access to Juvenile Delinquency Hearings and a Minor's Court Record?
Generally, the public is excluded from juvenile hearings. However, the Court may make exceptions, if the parties have direct and justifiable interest in a particular case. If a minor is charged with certain serious felony crimes in Delinquency Court, the public may be allowed in the courtroom. Please see WIC 707(b) for more specific information.
Although the law does allow public access in the above instance, the minor may request that the exclusion of the public and press if there is a reasonable likelihood that access would prevent the minor from receiving a fair and impartial trial. A victim may also request that the exclusion of the public and press when he/she is testifying, especially if the person was a victim of a sexual crime and under the age of 16. On the other hand, a witness can request that individuals be allowed access to the hearing to offer support during the time the witness is testifying.
The law on access to the minor’s court records strictly lists the people who have the right to look at certain documents. Others not specifically named in the list may ask to view the records; however a request must show the benefit to the public outweighs the harm caused to the minor, victims, witnesses, or the public as a whole. For certain serious felony crimes, the police may disclose the minor’s name if the minor is 14 or older.
This section has information about:
- How a minor proceeds through Delinquency Court
- The various proceedings
- What dispositions are available to court in the care, treatment and guidance of a minor
- How Delinquency Court differs from adult criminal court
- The instances when a minor can be treated as an adult
1. How does a Juvenile Delinquency Case go through the justice system?
Below is a flow chart of how a minor proceeds through the Delinquency system. You will see several decision points and the options available at these points.
2. How does a Juvenile Delinquency Case start?
When a police officer comes in contact with a minor who he/she believes has committed a crime, the officer has several choices on how to handle the minor depending on what the officer thinks is in the best interest of the minor and the community:
- Release with a reprimand on site, at the station or at the Juvenile Hall Intake Unit
- Take the minor to a community program or the Children’s Shelter for abused and neglected children
- Write a citation and have the minor or his/her parent sign a promise to appear before a probation officer at the Juvenile Hall
- Take the minor to the Juvenile Hall Intake Unit
3. Intake and investigation
If the minor has been taken to the Juvenile Hall Intake Unit, the assigned probation officer must investigate the circumstances and the facts surrounding the minor's contact with the officer. Except in instances when there is a mandatory referral for the filing of formal charges, the probation officer also has several options available concerning what action to take with the minor. The probation officer may:
- Settle the matter at Intake -- release and reprimand. If the probation officer decides to take no further action other than reprimanding the minor or referring the minor to other agencies and programs in the community, the officer has taken into consideration several factors about the incident and the minor and whether the Delinquency system is the appropriate solution for the minor.
- Place the minor on informal supervision. Another option at Intake is to place the minor on informal probation. Upon agreement with the minor and his/her parents, the probation officer can place conditions on the minor’s activities. The conditions might include attendance in school, involvement in community programs to help improve attitude, behavior and relationships, restrictions on social activities and counseling. Informal probation generally runs for 6 months. If by the end of that time the minor has successfully completed all the requirements, informal probation will end. If the minor is not successful during the 6 months, the probation officer can move forward in the filing of a petition.
- Refer the matter for filing of formal charges. The final option is to proceed with the filing of formal charges, known as a "petition." The matter is referred to the District Attorney’s Office to file a petition with the court.
4. Why is the minor being detained at the Juvenile Center?
While considering which step to take, the probation officer has to also make the decision whether to release the minor or keep him/her at the Juvenile Center. The law directs the probation officer to immediately release the minor to the custody of the his/her parents, a guardian or a responsible relative except for one or more of the following reasons:
- The minor does not have a parent, guardian or responsible adult who is capable or willing to take care or control of the minor
- The minor has no home or means of support
- The minor’s home is unfit and the minor is subject to neglect or abuse
- Continuing custody is necessary to protect the minor or to protect another person or property
- The minor will flee
- The minor has violated a juvenile court order
- The minor is physically dangerous to the public
Even in the instance when the probation officer decides to refer the matter to the District Attorney, the officer still has an option to release or detain the minor. If the probation officer has decided to release the minor to home supervision, the minor and the parents, guardian or responsible adult must sign a written promise to appear and will follow any conditions for release. These conditions are similar to those of informal supervision, but can be more restrictive. The home supervision agreement could allow the probation officer to visit, search the minor’s home and bedroom and seize property as evidence in the case.
If the decision has been made to not release, the minor can be held no longer than 48 hours, excluding days the court is not in session (weekends and holidays). However, a minor may be held longer if a petition has been filed in Delinquency Court or if charges (a complaint) have been filed in adult court.
5. What is a Juvenile Delinquency Petition?
As was previously stated, if the probation officer determines that charges should be filed against the minor, a recommendation is made to the District Attorney’s Office, who would file the formal charges. The petition is a document that generally contains the name, age and address of the minor, the code sections violated, whether the charges are felonies or misdemeanors, the names and address of the parents or guardians, a short statement of the facts, and whether the minor is in custody or has been released.
If the minor is detained the petition must be filed within 48 hours of the detention.
6. What is a Detention Hearing?
A hearing on the issue whether the minor should be removed from the home must be held once the petition is filed. For those minors already detained the hearing is generally scheduled the next court day after the petition is filed.
The court may begin the hearing by informing the minor of the reasons why he/she was taken into custody, the nature and results of the Delinquency Court proceedings and the right to be represented by an attorney. If the minor does not already have an attorney, the court will appoint one whether or not the minor can afford to pay the attorney. If the parents are determined later to have the money to pay for an attorney, the parents may be required to reimburse the county for representation.
The minor has the right to contest the reasons for detention in several ways. The minor may question the individuals who prepared the evidence to support the initial detention and those that provided information during the detention hearing. The minor may also call supporting witnesses and present relevant evidence of his/her own. For the purposes of this hearing only, the court must assume the charges of the petition are true.
The court must consider the most suitable placement for the minor, which could mean that the minor is either placed on home supervision or in the Juvenile Center. If the court makes the decision to remove the minor from the home, the determination must be based on the following grounds:
- The minor violated a previous court order
- The minor escaped from a detention facility
- The minor would flee if released
- The minor needs to be protected because the home environment is not safe, the minor is addicted or in danger of addiction, the minor is mentally or physically impaired and the circumstances surrounding the alleged offense warrants detention.
- The need to protect another person and property.
- A minor or his/her attorney may request a rehearing. This is allowed if a request has been made to present new evidence concerning the reasons for the detention.
7. What is a Jurisdiction Hearing?
A hearing on the alleged charges must be scheduled within 15 court days of the detention hearing if the minor has been detained or within 30 calendar days after the detention hearing if the minor is released, unless the time is extended by waiving this requirement. A hearing can be continued; however, the party asking for the continuance must provide a good reason for the continuance. In general, continuances are discouraged and if allowed, the next hearing date is set within a short period of time. In making this decision, the judge takes into consideration the need for the minor and his/her parents to have sufficient time to be prepared to present their side of the case.
At the beginning of the jurisdiction hearing, the judge may read the contents of the petition and explain them. Again the judge will describe the nature of the hearing, its procedures and possible results. The parents or guardians are notified that they can be held responsible for the payment of any restitution and fines if the minor is ordered to do so. The judge will then ask the minor if he/she admits or denies the truth of the charges.
The minor may decide to not contest the alleged charges. If this were the decision, the minor would then enter a plea to the charges, which is termed an admission to the truth of the charges. In doing so, the judge must determine whether the minor fully understands the nature of the charges and the consequences if he/she admits to the charges.
If the minor denies the charges, then the minor may contest the facts entered into evidence by the District Attorney. As in the detention hearing, the District Attorney will present evidence in support of his/her case, and the minor through his/her attorney may cross-examine the witnesses, may present his/her own witnesses and evidence and argue the case to the court. As in adult court, the minor has the right to remain silent.
The judge makes the determination of whether the allegations in the petition are true. Jury trials are not part of the delinquency system. If the charges are found true (sustained), the court will then set a hearing to determine the appropriate actions to take for the care, treatment and guidance of the minor. If the judge determines that the charges are not true, the petition is dismissed.
8. What is a Disposition Hearing?
This hearing is set if the charges are sustained and may be held immediately. Or a hearing may be set for 10 days if the minor is detained or 30 days from the filing of the petition, unless extended by agreement.
In the Disposition Hearing, the judge determines what is the proper disposition or action that should be taken for the minor’s care, treatment and guidance, which includes punishment. Prior to the hearing the probation officer is required to prepare a social study of the minor for the court. This social study will cover any information that is fitting to the disposition, including family and school history, past criminal history, a statement from the victim and recommendations. This social history must be made available to all people involved prior to the Disposition Hearing.
At the hearing, evidence is presented as to the proper disposition. The social study and any other relevant information is offered by either the District Attorney or the minor through his/her attorney to help the judge in making the appropriate decision. The victim may also present either a written or oral statement at the hearing.
In determining the action to take, the judge must take into account:
- Safety and protection of the community
- The importance of correcting the injuries to the victim
- The best interest of the minor
When all of the evidence and information has been presented, the court may choose to:
- Set aside the findings of the Jurisdiction Hearing and dismiss the case, if the judge finds that the interest of justice and the welfare of the minor requires a dismissal, or finds that the minor is not in need of treatment or rehabilitation.
- Place the minor on 6 months informal supervision by the probation department
- Make the minor a ward of the court, which allows the court to replace the parents as decision-makers for the care, treatment and guidance for the minor. In this instance, the judge can take total control of the minor or limit the amount of control the parent or guardian has over the minor.
If the minor becomes a ward of the court, the judge has the following options available as dispositions (listed in order of seriousness):
- Place the minor on probation without supervision of the probation officer
- Send the minor home on probation with supervision
- Place the minor on probation with supervision in the home of a relative
- Place the minor in foster care, a licensed group home or private institution
- Send the minor to a local detention facility, ranch or county boot camp
- Send the minor to the California Youth Authority
If the minor is removed from the home and placed in home of a relative, foster care or group home, the placement is not considered a punishment, and a case plan is developed for the future of the minor and periodic reviews of the placement are required. If the minor is placed in a secured facility, the judge must indicate the maximum time of detention. If a judge sends a minor to the California Youth Authority, the judge has determined that the minor’s mental and physical situation are such that the minor may benefit from the reformatory educational discipline or other programs the Youth Authority offers.
If a minor is placed on probation, the judge can set certain terms and conditions on the minor. These conditions can be restrictive and can also require the minor to give up certain constitutional rights, as long as they are reasonable and geared to meet the needs of the minor. The minor may be ordered to:
- Attend school without an excused absence
- Participate in counseling with his/her parents or guardians
- Maintain a curfew
- Abide by all laws
- Submit to drug and alcohol testing
- Perform community service
- Participate in work program without pay
- Limit the people he/she can see
- Suspend or limit driving privileges
- Pay restitution to the victim or pay a fine
- Submit to a search without a warrant
In the instance when a minor is ordered to pay restitution or a fine, the person who has joint or sole legal and physical custody and control of the minor is presumed to be responsible with the minor for the amount of the restitution and fine.
9. What can happen after the Disposition Hearing?
Several other proceedings can be scheduled for the minor after the conclusion of the case.
If the minor is not satisfied with the results of the process or felt that his/her rights were violated, the minor through his/her attorney may appeal the case to the Court of Appeal. If the minor wishes to proceed, the Notice of Appeal must be filed within 60 days of the order made or the date of the disposition hearing. The District Attorney may also appeal a ruling under specific circumstances.
- Request Court Order Be Set Aside:
The minor may also request the court to modify or set aside an order. This request must be based on a change of circumstances or new evidence.
- More Restrictive Disposition
If the minor is not successful with the ordered disposition, the minor may be returned to court and a more restrictive disposition may be requested. This generally occurs when the minor has not been following the terms and conditions of probation.
- Request to Seal Juvenile Court Records:
The minor may request the court to seal his/her juvenile records. The request can be made after 5 years have passed since the incident or at any time after the person has reached 18 years. Under certain circumstance the minor or a probation officer may petition the court to seal arrest records, the court file, probation records and add records of any other agency that may have records concerning a case.
The request must be made to the probation department. A probation officer determines if the person is eligible to petition the court, prepares and files the petition, prepares a report for the court, sets the matter for hearing and notifies the District Attorney’s Office. The judge will review the petition and the report and then rule on the request based on specific factors, including the type of charge, whether the minor has completed the disposition and been rehabilitated and whether there is any pending civil litigation based on the incident.
10. How does the Juvenile Delinquency Court Differ from the Adult Criminal Court?
To place the process in perspective, the following table gives an overview of how Delinquency Court differs with adult Criminal Court.
|Criminal Court||Delinquency Court|
|Purpose of the proceedings generally||To determine guilt or innocence.
To punish the guilty and protect society.
|To determine the truth of the charges in the petition. The order to declare a minor a ward is not a conviction of a crime.
To preserve and promote the welfare of the minor.
To provide punishment and accountability consistent with rehabilitation.
|Person who is the subject of the proceedings||Defendant||Minor|
|Document initiating the proceeding||Complaint||Petition|
|First hearing||Arraignment (for defendants who are in or out of custody)||Detention hearing (for a minor in custody); first initial hearing for those not in custody.|
|Bail||May be applicable||Not applicable|
|Plea Bargaining||Often done||Often done|
|Right to jury trial||Yes in many instances||No|
|Right to appointed counsel||Yes, for indigent defendant||Yes, for indigent minor or for those whose parents refuse to pay|
|Judgment||Guilty or not guilty verdict||Charge is sustained or not sustained|
|Incarceration||Few resources directed towards rehabilitation||Many more resources directed towards rehabilitation|
|Credit for time served in non-secure or home detention||Yes||Yes|
11. When are minors treated as adults?
The process described above generally outlines how minors progress through Delinquency Court. However, there are two significant exceptions in how the system treats minors who are charged with a crime. In both instances, the minor does not process through the delinquency system, but rather is sent to adult court.
• Direct Filing
In 2000, the state legislature and California voters changed the method by which the system handles certain minors. After intake and screening the probation officer investigates the circumstances around a minor accused of charges and refers the case for filing, the District Attorney’ Office may choose to file charges directly in adult criminal court.
The factors the prosecuting attorney must consider in this decision are whether the minor:
- Has been previously declared a ward of the court for a felony crime
- Was at least 14 when the crime was committed
- Has a previous record and was at least 16 but under 18 at the time of the new incident
- The current charge is:
- A first degree murder
- Attempted, premeditated murder
- Aggravated kidnapping in which the penalty is life in prison
- Certain serious felonies in which the minor discharged a firearm
- Certain forcible sex crimes
If the case is filed in adult court, the minor is subject to all statutes, procedures and rights of an adult. This would include the range of consequences an adult would receive if convicted of the same crime. However, at the conclusion of the case, the judge may decide that the minor should receive a juvenile disposition if such a disposition would best serve the interest of justice, and the minor being sentenced would protect the community.
• Fitness Hearing
After the detention hearing and before the jurisdiction hearing, the District Attorney may request a hearing to determine whether the minor is a fit and proper subject to be handled in Delinquency Court. The request to address this issue is based on the seriousness of the charge and the age of the minor at the time of the offense.
The probation officer must investigate and provide the court with a report on the behavioral patterns and social history of the minor that would be considered in determining whether the minor would be responsive to the care, treatment and programs offered in the delinquency system. The probation officer must also include a recommendation to the court of the minor’s fitness. This report must also be shown to all of the involved parties to the case.
At the hearing, the judge must consider the probation report as well as any additional evidence or information presented by both the District Attorney and the minor’s attorney. The court then must make a decision based on whether the minor would be responsive to the care, treatment and programs offered in the delinquency system. In making this determination the court must consider the following criteria:
- The degree of criminal sophistication
- Whether the minor can be rehabilitated before the end of the Delinquency Court’s jurisdiction
- The minor’s previous criminal history
- The results of previous attempts to rehabilitate the minor
- The circumstances and the seriousness of the current charges
If the judge finds the minor fit for Delinquency Court, then the process moves forward to the Jurisdiction Hearing. If the judge finds the minor to be unfit for Delinquency Court, the court would dismiss the petition and remand the minor to adult court. The District Attorney would begin the process in adult criminal court with the filing of a complaint. The minor would then be subject to all of the statutes, procedures and rights in the adult criminal court. The minor may also receive the same sentence as an adult would receive for the same crime. In some instances, the minor may be eligible to serve a sentence in the California Youth Authority.
• Can an Order From a Fitness Hearing Be Stopped?
An order made from a fitness hearing cannot be appealed. To receive appellate review, the party must request a writ to stop the process from moving forward. To start the writ process, the minor must file an application for a writ no later than 20 days after the minor's first appearance on the complaint. The District Attorney may also apply for a writ to challenge the judge’s ruling that the minor is fit.
How do I find out whether I qualify for free legal services?
Free legal services for qualified people are available from the National Legal Services Corporation (e.g., Legal Aid Society and Legal Services Foundation). People accused of a crime who cannot afford an attorney may request or apply for free help from the Public Defender's Office. If you think you qualify, you may request a referral to the Public Defender's Office when you make your first court appearance. For further information, you may contact the Public Defender's Office in Alameda County at: (510) 670-5086 in South County or (510) 268-7474 in North County.
Local legal aid links
- Bay Area Legal Aid
- Free Volunteer Legal Services
- East Bay Children's Law Offices
- Alameda County Public Defender
Other useful links
- Judicial Council
- California Administrative Office of the Courts - Dogbook
- California Administrative Office of the Courts, Center for Families, Children & the Courts
- Find Law - Free legal research on full range of legal issues.
- Alameda County Office of Education
- CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Alameda County
- Alameda County Independent Living Skills Program
Prop 64: The Adult Use of Marijuana Act
Effective November 9, 2016, Proposition 64 (the Adult Use of Marijuana Act) legalizes specific personal use and cultivation of marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.
Proposition 64 does not decriminalize marijuana-related offenses for minors, but it does amend existing statutes to provide that most marijuana-related offenses for minors are infractions.
In addition, Proposition 64 limits the penalties that can be imposed when a minor commits a marijuana-related offense to drug education or counseling and community service.