The greatest fear for you as a parent is having your child apprehended for criminal activity. Crimes committed by minors are known as delinquent acts and are adjudicated in juvenile courts to rehabilitate and not punish. Although these cases are adjudicated differently from those of adults, they can have a significant impact on your child’s life. In the worst-case scenario, the minor could be tried in an adult criminal court, making the consequences harsher.

While California statutes prohibit the prosecution of minors 16 years and younger, there are offenses minors can be tried as adults in worst-case scenarios. Although these cases are rare, some crimes, if committed by a juvenile 16 years and up, must be adjudicated in an adult criminal court.

Based on the severity of the case, your child might be subject to automatic transfer or a transfer hearing. The good news is that you can convince the judge through an experienced attorney not to transfer the minor and allow them to be tried in a juvenile court. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are here to help your child avoid an adult court conviction or ensure that we win a reverse transfer hearing so that the case is tried in a juvenile delinquency court.

California Senate Bill 1391

In September 2018, SB 1391 was enacted. As per the statute, a DA can make a motion to transfer a juvenile from juvenile delinquency court to the traditional adult criminal court system if they are 16 years or above. However, the bill is against minors’ prosecution below 16 years in adult courts unless the minor’s crime was not discovered until they turned 18 years.

SB 1391 replaced Prop 21 that was approved by California voters in 2000. The juvenile justice initiative permitted prosecutors to decide if a child 14 years or older should be tried as an adult in particular crimes through a transfer hearing.

However, the new laws under the SB 1391 bill provide that a judge could transfer a minor to the adult criminal court for adjudication. For this transfer to happen, the following criteria must be fulfilled:

  • Your child should be at least sixteen years old.

  • Your minor committed an offense below the age of 16 but was not arrested until they turned eighteen.

  • There are adequate reasons for the transfer.

A fitness, also known as a transfer hearing, is a juvenile court process where the judge decides whether your child who has engaged in a delinquent act is open to rehabilitation. The DA must request the hearing upon registering the petition. When deciding on whether to transfer the minor for trying as an adult, the juvenile delinquency court considers the following:

  • Your child’s maturity, mind, and emotional wellbeing

  • If the juvenile court system is appropriate for your child’s rehabilitation

  • Your minor’s previous criminal history

  • The success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate your kid

  • The severity of the offense perpetrated by the minor

  • Suppose your child has been tried as an adult before. The rule of thumb is once a juvenile is tried as an adult, they will be tried in the same court in the event of a future crime.

Take note that SB 1391 strictly prohibits minors under 16 years from being tried in adult courts unless the juvenile court system is not appropriate for the minor’s rehabilitation. If the court decides that your child is unlikely to benefit from the juvenile delinquency court system, they will be transferred to the conventional court system.

Ways Minors can be Tried as Adults

Minors aged 16 or above can be tried in adult criminal courts through any of the procedures mentioned below:

  • The DA or prosecutor register a petition for a transfer or fitness hearing. Suppose the court finds the minor unfit for rehabilitation, they will rule the minor be tried as an adult.

  • A direct file in the adult court at the DA’s discretion

  • Automatic trial as an adult for particularly serious crimes for eligible juveniles

Offenses that Minors can be Tried as Adults

Society views children as deserving of protection, even when they engage in criminal activity. In California, the juvenile delinquency court system was established to provide options for children who commit delinquent acts. However, particular offenses are so severe that even when your child is below 18 years, they are tried as adults.

Juvenile delinquency courts are civil courts, and the petitions heard in these courts are confidential. The judge adjudicating the case never finds the minor guilty. Instead, they sustain the petition if the prosecutor convinces them beyond reasonable certainty that they took part in criminal activity. The judge then issues several dispositions for the minor.

The dispositions include payment of court fines, reimbursing the victims, community labor, being released on parole, being declared a ward of the court, or being committed to a CYA (California Youth Authority).

Upon completing the program, the charges are dropped, unlike adult criminal courts, where the aim is to punish offenders and not rehabilitate.

However, if your child commits a serious offense, they will be tried in a superior adult criminal court. Welfare & Institution Code 707b lists the crimes minors can be tried as adults. These are:

  • Murder or homicide

  • Attempted murder or homicide

  • Kidnapping for prize or extortion as per PC 209(a)

  • Arson of an inhabited building or causing great physical harm

  • A lascivious act with a child below 14 years as per PC 288

  • Oral copulation using violence or fear as described under PC 288(a)

  • Kidnapping with the intent to commit robbery

  • California assault using destructive tool or gun

  • Forcible sex while someone is helping you or while assisting someone commits rape

  • Rape as described under PC 261

  • Spousal rape by threat GBI, force, or violence

  • Voluntary manslaughter as per PC 192

  • PC 289 forcible sexual penetration utilizing a foreign item

  • Shooting at an occupied structure as described under PC 246

  • A violent felony against a person who is disabled or an elder as per PC 1203.09

  • A felony crime in which a child personally utilizes a dangerous weapon listed under PC 16590(a).

  • A violent felony constituting a criminal gang engagement under PC 186.22(b)

  • Carjacking as per PC 215

  • Drive-by-shooting as outlined by PC 26100

  • Exploding explosive devices for purposes of committing murder

  • Escape from a juvenile county facility if a county facility’s employee suffers GBI due to the use of force or violence.

  • Producing, compounding, or putting on sale at least half an ounce of salt or solution of a controlled substance as per Health and Safety Code 11055(e).

  • A felony crime dissuading a witness or bribing a witness (as outlined under PC 136.1 and PC 137), respectively.

  • Torture has outlined under PC 206

  • Offenses outlined under PC 12022.5 or PC 12022.53 personal use of a firearm

  • Assault using force that is likely to cause great bodily harm

  • Kidnapping with bodily injury

  • Kidnapping in the process of carjacking

  • Aggravated mayhem

  • Kidnapping with intent to commit sexual assault

  • Sodomy as described under PC 286

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

California WIC 602(b) also defines offenses where minors must be tried as adults. These offenses include murder with distinctive circumstances if the DA alleges that the minor ended the victim's life in person.

Also, particular sex crimes can prompt a juvenile to be tried as an adult if the prosecutor claims the child committed the crimes and other aggravating factors in person. Sex crimes include:

  • Rape as outlined under PC 261(a)(2)

  • Spousal rape as per PC 261(a)(1)

  • Forcible sex acting as per PC 264.1

  • Lewd acts with a minor under 14 involving violence or force under PC 288(b)

  • Forcible sexual penetration under PC 289(a)

  • Sodomy or oral copulation under PC 286 and PC 288a, respectively

California Adult Criminal Court Process for the Above Offenses

If your child is to face charges for any of the above offenses in a California adult court, you simply need to understand the process to know what to expect. The stages of the court process involve the following:

  1. California Realignment

In the realignment stage, the court provides the child with the opportunity to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest in your case. Suppose your child enters a nolo contendere or guilty plea. The judge will proceed directly to the sentencing hearing. However, if they plead not guilty, the court will focus on the bail hearing.

The last thing you want as a parent is to have your child in jail custody awaiting trial. For this reason, you should have a profound criminal defense attorney at your side to present mitigating factors during a bail hearing to ensure the court grants a release on bail before completion of the trial. Note that minors are not released on bail in juvenile delinquency courts, so this is an opportunity that you must maximize.

The court can also opt to release the minor on own recognizance by waiving bail. Anyone facing criminal charges is eligible for O.R. release unless the court determines they will compromise public safety or might not show up in court at a future date.

  1. The Pretrial Process

If your minor enters a not guilty plea and the issue of bail is resolved, the case will proceed to the pretrial stage. In felony cases, there will be a preliminary hearing to ensure the minor is not facing charges for a crime without sufficient evidence. The judge will be looking for answers on whether an offense took place and if it’s your child that committed it. Suppose the judge is affirmative the minor should not answer for the charges, they will dismiss the case.

In case your child is to answer the charges, the charges will proceed to the next step, which is motions. Your child’s defense attorney can file several motions like:

  • The pitchess motion

  • Motion to suppress evidence

  • Motion to set aside information

All these motions aim to weaken the prosecution’s case by obtaining some or full evidence removed from the case. If any of these motions are granted, like setting aside information, it means at least one of the charges the minor is facing will be dismissed.

  1. Jury Trials

Unlike juvenile delinquency courts where there are no jurors, adult criminal courts have a jury trial. The child can choose between a bench or a court trial or a jury trial. In California, any person subject to misdemeanor or felony charges will go through a jury trial.

  1. Sentencing Hearing

Once the jury finds your child guilty of a crime, the child is entitled to a sentencing hearing. In this stage, the opposing sides present their thoughts on what should be the right sentence. Your child’s attorney will present mitigating circumstances, while the prosecutor will present aggravating factors.

The mitigating factors presented by the defense attorney can influence the decision by the court, which is why you need experienced representation throughout this adult court criminal proceeding.

The adult criminal court proceedings offer your child some advantages and disadvantages over the juvenile court. Therefore, you should consult with an experienced criminal attorney to understand the criminal court process and find ways to protect your child’s freedom and rights despite them being tried as adults.

Merits of Juveniles Tried as Adults

Your child’s criminal defense attorney will do anything to prevent the case from being transferred to a traditional adult criminal court. The majority of attorneys will recommend that the case remains in the juvenile delinquency court. If the judge decides to move the minor to an adult court, it might appear like your child has lost the case. However, there are several merits for minors being tried as adults. These benefits include:

  • When your child is tried in an adult court, they have the right to a jury trial, which is not available in the juvenile court. This means the case of the minor in the adult court will be heard based on merit.

  • The jury’s decision by the adult court might favor the minor as they may sympathize with the child’s young age.

  • Minors could end up with lighter sentences if tried as adults. However, juvenile court dispositions are less severe compared to those of adult courts.

Disadvantages of Minors Tried as Adults

The main reason attorneys fight a lot to prevent minors from being tried as adults is these trials’ disadvantages. Some of the disadvantages include:

  • Your child might end up with a harsher sentence. The severity of the punishment depends on the particular offense. A minor might even end up with a life sentence without the possibility of parole, although these incidents are rare. On the other end, the juvenile delinquency court’s goal is to rehabilitate the child, making dispositions in these courts less severe than adults’.

  • Several dispositions, treatment, and counseling programs available in juvenile delinquency courts are absent in criminal courts. The most common dispositions in these courts are treatment and rehabilitation. However, in adult courts, the child might be subject to prison or jail incarceration as an adult instead of a commitment to a juvenile facility.

  • If your child ends up with a conviction in an adult court, the criminal record will severely affect your child’s future life as an adult. In juvenile courts, the cases are confidential, and there is limited access to these records. Sometimes the juvenile documents might be automatically erased when they complete the program, meaning they won’t negatively affect the child’s future.

  • The process of sealing or expunging adult criminal records is more complicated compared to juvenile records. In a juvenile court, some cases are eligible for automatic sealing while the process of expunging other records is straightforward. Besides, many juvenile criminal records are not transferred to adult records when the minor turns 18.

Penalties for Minors Tried as Adults

If your child is tried in a juvenile delinquency court, the most severe disposition is the California Youth Authority’s commitment. Other penalties include:

  • Formal probation in a detention camp or home

  • Deferred entry judgment

  • WIC 654 diversion where a minor is diverted to probation before petition hearing

  • Informal probation

  • Commitment to CYA up to 25 years

However, if your child is tried for an adult offense, they will be sentenced like any other adult and subjected to severe penalties, including life incarceration. However, the sentence imposed depends on the severity of the offense. The only exception is that a minor tried as an adult cannot be subject to a death sentence.

Considering the consequences a minor will face when tried as an adult, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney will fight tirelessly to ensure your child's rights are protected and that even if they can’t avoid being tried in an adult court, they get the best defense that will see the case dismissed or charges reduced.

Find the Right Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If your child is facing criminal charges for an offense, you need to get in touch with an experienced attorney right away. You must understand that although the law requires minors to be tried in juvenile courts, sometimes they might be tried in adult courts.

At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are experienced in defending offenses that can result in minors being tried as adults. For this reason, we are willing to protect your child’s rights and invest our time and resources for a favorable outcome. Get in touch with us today at 424-333-0943 for a free consultation.