Child Charged with Crime

A child who is charged with committing a crime, with habitual truancy, or with incorrigibility, comes within the jurisdiction of the juvenile delinquency court. After a child is arrested, the child may be released to a parent and cited into court at some future date -- or transported to a juvenile hall. The police then submit their reports to the District Attorney's Office. If the District Attorney's Office decides to charge the child with a crime, the matter is set for arraignment in juvenile court.


At the arraignment an attorney is appointed to represent the child. If the minor is in custody, the attorney will try to secure the release of the child. This can sometimes be accomplished by having the minor agree to a “home supervision agreement”. Conditions of this release might include imposing a curfew, requiring the minor to attend school, and following the directives of his parents. The case is usually calendared for trial or adjudication. Minors, unlike adults, are not entitled to a jury trial to determine guilt. They are entitled to a trial before a judge, and in some cases a Commissioner. The retain all other adult rights such as the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, to remain silent, to call witnesses on their own behalf, etc.

Disposition Hearing

If the charges are admitted or found true at trial, another hearing, called a disposition hearing is held, at which the judge decides what must be done to rehabilitate the minor. The judge could order the child to be returned home on probation, sent to a group home, sent to a residential drug and alcohol treatment program, or in extreme cases, sent to the California Youth Authority. In all juvenile cases, the courts try to consider the unique needs of the child and find ways to turn his or her life around -- before it is too late.

Appointing Other Counsel

Throughout the proceedings, a minor is represented by counsel appointed by the court. As in the adult court, if there is a conflict of interest between the minor and some other minor or an adult, which makes it improper for the Public Defender to represent the minor, the court will appoint other counsel.

Serious Offense

If the offense with which the minor is charged is serious, the District Attorney might seek an order to have the minor treated as an adult. The court makes the ultimate decision whether the minor is "fit" to be treated within the juvenile court, or will be transferred to the adult criminal court for prosecution.

Juvenile Dependency Court

The Juvenile Dependency Court has jurisdiction over cases involving abused, neglected or abandoned children. The Public Defender is not appointed on dependency cases, but rather, such matters are handled by attorneys who specialize in this area of law. For information on dependency cases and attorneys who handle them, contact the Child Protective Services at the Napa Department of Health and Social Services.

Parent Involvement

The Public Defender represents the minor in the pending case. Parents may hire private counsel to represent their interests, however, are not entitled to a court appointed attorney if they are unable to hire counsel. The attorney will first ask to meet with the child alone. This is not intended to exclude parents, but rather to allow the minor to develop a confidential relationship with his or her attorney and together to decide at what time the parents will be involved.