When a minor is arrested in California for perpetrating an offense, they typically are not held to the same standards as adults. The juvenile justice system, which is intended for the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents, most often rules on offenses committed by juveniles as delinquency matters.

A minor, nevertheless, could be subject to standard criminal proceedings if they are 16 years or older, based on the severity of the offense. If your loved one is being investigated for committing a crime, the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can assist you in building a defense regardless of whether the child is prosecuted in an adult or juvenile court.

California's Proposition 21

Voters in California approved Prop 21, also known as "The Juvenile Justice Initiative," in March of 2000 following the heavily publicized media accounts of street gang crimes executed by minors.

This law gave prosecutors the discretion to determine whether a child who was at least 14 to be prosecuted as a regular adult offender for certain offenses.

Proposition 21 also lists specific crimes for which juveniles will face trial in adult court instantaneously. These include crimes such as murder and certain sex crimes.

California Senate Bill 1391

Senate Bill 1391 was passed into law in September 2018. According to the law, a District Attorney may file a motion to move a juvenile who is 16 years old or older from the juvenile justice system to the regular adult criminal justice system.

Nonetheless, this bill prohibits the prosecution of minors under the age of 16 in adult criminal courts, except if the crime committed by the minor wasn't unearthed until they were 18 years old.

Senate bill 1391 replaced Proposition 21, which was enacted in 2000. Proposition 21 allowed prosecutors to evaluate using a transfer hearing whether a minor 14 years of age or older can face prosecution as an adult for certain crimes.

The new regulations established by Senate Bill 1391, nevertheless, allow a judge to send a child to the adult criminal justice system for adjudication. The following requirements need to be satisfied for the transfer to take effect:

  • The juvenile has to be a minimum of sixteen years of age
  • The child perpetrated a crime before turning 16 but wasn't apprehended until they were 18
  • There are sufficient justifications for their transfer

Be aware that Senate Bill 1391 expressly prohibits the prosecution of children under the age of 16 in adult criminal court except if the juvenile system is insufficient for the rehabilitation of the minor. When the court determines that the child will not gain from the juvenile justice system, he or she will be moved to the adult court.

What is a Fitness Hearing in a Juvenile Court?

Fitness hearings are legal proceedings in which the juvenile court judge determines if a child charged with an offense is "fit" to stand trial in the juvenile court. After submitting the fitness petition, a prosecutor could request a hearing. A juvenile court judge evaluates the following factors before deciding if a minor is suited for the juvenile court:

  • The child's level of sophistication while committing crimes.
  • If the child can be rehabilitated before the jurisdiction of the juvenile court ends.
  • The juvenile's prior history of delinquency.
  • If the juvenile court's prior efforts to rehabilitate the child were successful.
  • The specifics and seriousness of the crime that the minor is believed to have perpetrated

When a judge determines that a juvenile delinquent won't likely profit from the court's rehabilitative services, he or she will be moved to adult criminal court where they can be tried under regular criminal laws.

Offenses for which Minors Can Be Tried in the Adult Criminal Court System

The public view minors as worthy of safeguarding, even if they commit crimes. The juvenile court was intended to give options to minors who perpetrate crimes. Certain offenses, nevertheless, are so serious that even if a child is under 18, they can be tried as an adult.

Juvenile courts shield minors from professional and social stigma by keeping their records confidential. Also, the minor is never found guilty by the judge presiding over the case. Instead, if the prosecution can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the petitioner engaged in illegal activities, they will uphold it. Following that, the judge grants multiple dispositions to the child.

They might include paying court fines, compensating the victims, completing community service, receiving a parole discharge, being designated a court's ward, or being admitted to the California Division of Juvenile Justice. Unlike the adult court system, where the goal is to penalize the convicts rather than rehabilitate them, their charges are withdrawn after the program has been completed.

However, if a minor does commit a serious or violent crime, they'll be prosecuted in adult court. The Welfare and Institutions Code 707 (b) specifies the offenses for which juveniles can face trial as adults. They include:

  • Murder or attempted murder: Deliberate killing or attempting to kill another person.
  • Arson resulting in serious physical harm on another person: Deliberately setting fire to a building, piece of property, or forest land and while doing so causing serious physical harm to another person.
  • Robbery: Taking something from someone using threats or force
  • Violent sexual assault: This is rape using violence, force, or threats of serious physical injury
  • Sodomy involving violence, force, coercion, or threats of serious physical harm
  • Any lewd acts against a minor under 14
  • Oral sex performed through duress, violence, force, or threats of serious bodily injury
  • Sexual penetration using foreign objects
  • Kidnapping: using force to steal, take, hold, detain or arrest an individual and moving them to a different location either for:
    • Ransom: This is kidnapping to ask for money in exchange for the safe release of the person
    • Robbery: kidnapping someone to rob them
    • Physical harm: kidnapping where the victim sustains physical harm
    • Kidnapping a person to commit sexual assault
    • Carjacking: kidnapping someone to steal their vehicle
  • Assault using a harmful device or firearm: intentionally shooting somebody or setting off an explosive machine to cause physical harm
  • Any violent assault that is likely to result in significant physical harm, such as striking someone using a baseball bat
  • Discharging a gun into an occupied or inhabited structure: firing into a structure where there are people inside
  • Crimes against certain elderly and disabled people: Murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, carjacking, and breaking into an elderly or disabled person's home
  • Utilizing a firearm during the execution of a crime: for instance, using a handgun to rob a store
  • Utilizing a weapon during the execution of a crime, such as robbing a store using a knife or baseball bat
  • Threats or physical intimidation used to dissuade a witness from reporting a crime or testifying before the court
  • Compounding, manufacturing, or distributing a half ounce or even more of a solution or salt of a controlled substance classified as a "depressant": morphine, hydrocodone, opium, cocaine, and so on
  • A violent crime, as specified by California PEN 667.5, perpetrated by a person while they are a member of a gang or while helping other gang members conduct a violent criminal act, including murder, carjacking, or robbery
  • Escaping from custody using violence or force and a juvenile institution employee suffers serious bodily harm in the process: purposefully injuring staff members while attempting to flee from juvenile camp or detention
  • Torture: Deliberately inflicting serious injuries on another person with the intent of causing significant suffering and pain
  • Aggravated mayhem which includes intentionally removing a limb, member, or organs from another person's body or rendering them permanently disabled or disfigured
  • Carjacking: The act of taking another person's car using a lethal or dangerous weapon while they're inside it
  • Bringing a weapon into your vehicle or one you are operating: permitting someone to carry a firearm into your vehicle or discharge it while you are or aren't there
  • Exploding a device with intent to kill: detonating a bomb or any other weapon to kill somebody
  • Voluntary manslaughter: operating the vehicle with gross negligence which results in the death of another person

Offenses that Automatically Cause a Minor to be Tried as an Adult

Additionally, California WIC 602(b) lists the offenses for which minors can automatically qualify for trial in adult court. These crimes include murder under distinctive conditions if the district attorney asserts that the juvenile took another person's life

Additionally, if the prosecution believes a minor committed a specific sex crime as well as other aggravating circumstances in person, he or she could face trial as an adult. Sex offenses consist of:

  • Rape as defined in Penal Code 261(a) (ii)
  • Penal Code 261(a)(i) spousal
  • Forceful sex in violation of Penal Code 264.1
  • Penal Code 288 (b), lewd acts that involve force or violence with a child under 14
  • Penal Code 289 (a) forced sexual penetration
  • Sodomy under Penal Code 286
  • Oral Copulation under Penal Code 288 (a)

Transfer to the Adult Court

The California adult court system differs from the juvenile judicial system. The article below explains what you would expect if your minor is sent to an adult court and what the California adult criminal court system entails.

The Arraignment Process

The arraignment is the first official court hearing following an apprehension for a crime. During the court hearing, the juvenile would have the chance to enter a plea deal to the alleged offense. The three most common pleas are no contest, guilty, and not guilty. If the juvenile enters a no-contest or guilty plea, they will proceed to the second trial. If your loved one pleads not guilty, which is the most common at this point, the court would consider bail.

Under the adult criminal justice system, the accused must post bail to be discharged from custody. Bail is meant to guarantee that the accused will appear in court for all of their scheduled hearings. The amount of bail is determined by the local county's bail schedule.

While setting the bond amount, the offender and their counsel would have the option to provide many mitigating considerations to bolster their petition to lessen or remove the set bail. When determining the amount of bail, the court will take into account several considerations, including:

  • The accused's criminal past
  • The gravity of the offense.
  • Facts surrounding the case
  • The defendant's likelihood of appearing before the court
  • Whether the accused will endanger public safety

In some cases, the judge may opt to forego bail and grant the accused release on his or her recognizance. However, if the juvenile has perpetrated a violent criminal offense, this would be highly impossible.

Pretrial Process

Once a not-guilty plea deal is entered and the bond issue has been addressed, the juvenile begins the pretrial phase of the case. The pretrial stage is where most crimes are resolved. This phase comprises all legal proceedings that take place before the sentencing trial. These proceedings include the following:

  • Making an appearance in court
  • Filing the appropriate motions
  • Issues concerning discovery and the exchange of pertinent evidence
  • Plea bargains and negotiations

Preliminary hearings are one of the initial hearings in the case of felony crimes. It's often referred to as the prelim hearing or the probable cause. The goal of this court hearing is to prevent an accused from testifying about an offense for which there is insufficient proof.

Before deciding on a criminal case, the court needs to establish that there is strong evidence that the accused committed the offense. The defendant would only be sent to trial for additional pretrial proceedings when the judge has confirmed that the accused did perpetrate the specified crime.

A minor, with the assistance of a lawyer, can file a petition to put aside the facts as described in PC 995 if he or she believes the magistrate held him or her to address the allegations incorrectly. A petition to sideline the facts seeks the court to throw out one or more of the accused's charges. The trial court would only approve the PC 995 petition if they believe the pretrial magistrate was mistaken in determining probable cause.

If the accused believes that he or she has been subjected to police misconduct, then they would file for a Pitchess motion with the assistance of a lawyer. Pitchess motion requests authorization to view information regarding bias, overuse of force, or other types of police misconduct included in the law enforcement officer's file. If you present the prosecution with such evidence, they might agree to drop or at least reduce the charges you face.

If the officer violated the minor's fourth amendment rights, he or she could also submit a request to suppress the evidence. The petition to suppress the facts aims to have the judge reject any evidence obtained improperly. The allegations against you would be reduced or dropped if your lawyer is successful in submitting the proof to support the motion.

Jury Trial

A jury trial would be held if the case cannot be settled during pretrial proceedings. California trials are classified into two types: bench trials and jury trials. A jury trial is made up of twelve individuals who listen to the proof against the accused and the defenses before deciding whether or not the person is guilty. Bench trials are often referred to as court trials. It is made up of a single judge who serves as both the jury and the judge.

A Request for a New Trial

The accused may request a new trial if he or she believes that the judgment was compromised by the court's legal error, misconduct on the part of the jury or the prosecution, a lack of adequate facts, or if new information comes to light. The accused may submit an appeal on the stated grounds so long as they do so before the court issues the final ruling at the sentencing phase. If the courts agree to the application for a retrial, the accused will start a new trial as if the earlier one never occurred.

Sentencing Hearing

This is the final court proceedings stage in the adult criminal court system. During the hearing, both the prosecution and the offender, along with their attorneys, would have the opportunity to present to the court what they believe is a suitable penalty.

To bargain for mild punishment, the minor's lawyer may present various mitigating circumstances. The prosecution, on the other hand, may show aggravating factors to justify harsh sentencing for the offender.

You must have professional legal counsel on your team throughout the criminal court procedure. An experienced lawyer is aware of the most persuasive arguments that could be used to persuade the court to issue the least stringent punishments.

The Advantages of Trying a Minor as an Adult

A child might risk ending up in an adult criminal court even if their lawyer tries everything possible to keep this from happening. When the judge decides to move a juvenile to the adult criminal court, you could feel as though all is lost. However, you might be shocked to discover that there are some advantages to having a minor charged as an adult:

  • When charged in an adult court, your loved one would have the right to trial by jury, which is not accessible in the juvenile justice system. The offender's case would be heard based on merit
  • The transfer may benefit the child since the jury would sympathize with the minor due to their age
  • A juvenile who is charged as an adult may receive a lesser punishment than one who is tried in juvenile court. However, it's crucial to remember that juvenile court rulings are usually less harsh than those from adult courts.

The Drawbacks of Facing Trial Before an Adult Court

There are various disadvantages to having a minor charged in an adult criminal court. They

  • The gravity of the crime determines the punishments the adult court will apply. Therefore a minor may receive a stiffer punishment. In adult courts, hefty fines, incarceration, and probation are possible sentences. The juvenile court's goal in the justice system is to rehabilitate minors rather than punish them. As a result, juvenile court penalties tend to be less harsh than those issued by adult courts
  • The adult justice system does not offer the counseling services and treatment options that are provided within the juvenile justice system
  • The minor could suffer serious repercussions if they are tried in adult courts and found guilty. Most juvenile offenses are expunged after they have completed the necessary program, thus they have no bearing on the juvenile once they have turned eighteen

Can You Challenge the Court's Choice to Hold Your Trial as an Adult?

Once the court determines that you are unsuited for the juvenile justice system, you'll be moved to the adult court for trial. As a juvenile, the regulations that govern adults will also extend to you once you go to the adult court.

Can You Get the Death Penalty in California If You're Tried as an Adult?

You cannot be sentenced to death as a juvenile in California, regardless of whether you're prosecuted in adult court. Additionally, if the alleged crime isn't a homicide, you can't receive a life imprisonment charge without the possibility of parole when you are a minor.

Find a Juvenile Delinquency Defense Attorney Near Me

If a minor is facing charges, you need to contact a skilled attorney as soon as possible. You need to understand that, while the law demands juveniles to face trial in the juvenile justice system, they can also face trial in adult courts in certain circumstances. By submitting a writ petition, you could contest the judgment to have your case transferred to the adult criminal court. The petition must be submitted within 20 days after the date of your court arraignment for the alleged offense.

The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney has experience defending clients against charges that could lead to juveniles being charged as adults. This is why we are prepared to stand up for your child's rights and put in the time and effort necessary to achieve a favorable result. Contact us today at 424-333-0943.