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Learn about formal probation for youths

Find out what happens if your child is charged with a crime and has to go to court.

What the format probation process means

Most cases with youth are handled “informally.” Learn about the informal process (diversion). But sometimes, Juvenile Probation may recommend following the formal process. This means a child or teen may be charged with a crime and have to go to court.

We’re more likely to recommend the formal probation process if:

  • The crime was serious (for example, it involved violence or weapons or a lot of property was
    damaged or lost)
  • The child has been in trouble with the police before

Throughout the formal process, there are always opportunities to shift to the informal process. 

Whenever possible, we want to help youths avoid going to court and having a record.

What happens during the formal probation process

The D.A. decides the next steps

If Juvenile Probation recommends the formal process for a youth, they will tell the District Attorney(D.A.). The D.A. is a lawyer who works for the County of Marin.

The D.A. will look at the evidence and the recommendation from the Probation Department. The D.A. may decide to:

  • Drop (dismiss) the charges

If the charges are dropped, the process is over. Your child goes home and doesn’t need to do anything else.

  • Shift to the informal probation process

The D.A. may decide the child doesn’t need to go to court. Learn about informal probation.

  • Charge your child with a crime and go to court

The D.A. may decide that the alleged crime is serious enough to charge your child with a crime and go to court.

If your child is charged, they will get a lawyer and go to court

Getting a lawyer

You can hire your own lawyer if you want to. If you can’t afford one, the County will provide you with a lawyer for free. Your child’s lawyer will argue their side in court.

Going to court

Your child may need to go to court several different times. Each one of these court dates has a different purpose.

Arraignment or Detention Hearing

  • This is when your child is officially charged with a crime. The judge will:
    Say what the crime is
  • Tell your child their rights
  • Decide if your child can go home during the trial or if they need to stay in Juvenile Hall

Learn what to expect in Juvenile Hall.

Pre-trial hearing

During this meeting, your child may get a chance to take a different path, so they won’t need a court trial.

The D.A. could also decide to dismiss the case or shift to informal probation. If the D.A. decides to go to court, the next step is a jurisdictional hearing.

During this hearing, a judge will listen to the evidence. They will decide whether your child is guilty of the crime.

  • If your child is found not guilty: The process is over. Your child can go home.
  • If your child is found guilty: Your child will need to go to a disposition hearing.

Disposition hearing

If your child was found guilty at the jurisdictional hearing, the judge will decide what happens next. This hearing is similar to a sentencing hearing for adults.

Other hearings

Depending on the situation, your child may need to go to other hearings. Talk to your lawyer about what to expect.


Page updated March 25, 2024