It is not unusual to find a minor in trouble with the law in California. When this happens, the family must try its best to ensure that the law does not punish the offender more than required. However, when the minor’s offense is a felony, the judge could transfer the hearing from a juvenile court to an adult criminal court.
The decision to transfer a hearing from the juvenile court to an adult criminal court lies with the judge. The judge will decide whether the minor in question is fit to stand trial in the juvenile system. If not, he/she will transfer the case. Not all criminal offenses committed by minors are subject to transfer hearings. Therefore, if your loved one faces a transfer hearing, you need the guidance of an experienced criminal attorney to understand your options. If you are in Los Angeles, CA, contact us at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney.
Juvenile Judicial System in California
Criminal cases among minors are common in California, just like in other states across the country. Children commit almost the same offenses as adults, only that the two stand trial in different courts. There is the juvenile justice system in California, whose main goal is public safety, just like the adult justice system. It is not unusual to see a minor facing serious criminal charges in California, such as murder, grand theft, rape, and assault. While the state’s adult justice system aims to punish offenders, the juvenile system aims to treat and rehabilitate minor offenders.
Statistically, California records about 41% of juvenile felony arrests in a year. The state has a wide range of programs and methods used to address juvenile crime. These are applied based on the gravity of the crime committed and the offender’s background. Programs include rehabilitation programs, incarceration, detention, and community work. Since the primary goal is to rehabilitate, other agencies and institutions come into play, including churches, social service agencies, and schools.
California juvenile judicial process starts with an arrest. When a minor commits an offense, they will be arrested, just like any other offender. Based on the gravity of the crime, the officer can choose to release the minor to his/her parents or send him/her to a juvenile hall. The probation department mans the juvenile hall. The department can agree to take the minor in and book him/her to the hall or not. If the juvenile hall does not accept the minor, the minor’s responsibility is left in the police’s hands. The department may not receive the juvenile unless the offense he/she has committed is serious.
Juvenile halls in California are overcrowded most of the time because of the increasing juvenile crime rate, especially violent crimes. If that is the case, then the probation department may not be willing to keep the arrested minor if the offense committed is not violent-related.
If the arrested minor is admitted into the juvenile hall, the department of probation has two choices:
- To file an appeal with a juvenile court against the minor, filing criminal charges against an adult offender is the same.
- To remand the minor to an adult court under the district attorney’s request. It is done if the district attorney feels that the offender is not fit to have their case adjudicated as a minor, mainly because of the gravity of the crime committed.
If the minor is adjudicated in a juvenile court and the petition is sustained, he/she could be:
- Sent to probation and later sent back into the community.
- Incarcerated in a juvenile camp or ranch
- Placed in a group home or foster care
- Sent to the Youth Authority as a state’s ward.
If, on the other hand, the minor offender is tried and sentenced in an adult court, he/she could be imprisoned but could be sent to the Youth Authority until they attain the age of 24.
What are Transfer Hearings?
As mentioned above, not all criminal cases involving minors are determined in a juvenile court in California. Sometimes a judge could transfer some cases to an adult criminal court, whereby the minor is tried and sentenced as a grownup. It is what is referred to as a transfer hearing. It is a particular proceeding in a juvenile court whereby the presiding judge decides to transfer a specific case involving a severe offense from the juvenile court to an adult criminal justice system. Suppose the judge resolves that the minor is unfit for the juvenile justice system, his/her case will be transferred and will stand trial in an adult court.
Note that most offenses committed by minors in the state are adjudicated in the state’s juvenile justice system. However, it could be different for severe cases, in which a judge could try the minor just like a mature offender in an adult criminal court. It starts with the district attorney, who may request the juvenile court to transfer the hearing to an adult court after listening to the facts of the case. Note that even if the prosecutor may decide whether to move the case or not lies with the judge.
If the decision to transfer the hearing is final and the juvenile is tried in an adult court, he/she could face a longer sentence in an adult prison, together with other adult offenders. That is why transfer hearing is only done for the most severe offenses. It is also another reason for the minor’s parents/guardians facing serious felony charges to need an experienced criminal attorney’s help. An experienced attorney may stop the transfer to avoid the harsh penalty your loved one is likely to face if they are found guilty in an adult criminal case.
What Does the Judge Consider?
The judge considers several factors before deciding to transfer a minor’s hearing to an adult criminal court. The main ones include:
- The gravity of the offense committed.
- The age of the minor and his/her social background.
- The nature and extent of the minor’s prior delinquency record
- The minor’s current psychological maturity and intellectual development
- The nature of his/her past treatments and how well he/she responded to those treatments
- The kinds of programs available to treat the minor’s behavioral problems
The judge will also consider whether the offender will benefit from the juvenile court’s rehabilitative services. If not, the juvenile court will transfer the minor’s case to an adult court.
Here are the circumstances under which the district attorney can start a hearing transfer in California:
- The juvenile is at least 16 years old, and the offense he/she is alleged to commit is a felon or a violation listed under Welfare & Institutions Code 707(b).
- The offender is 18 when they are apprehended for an offense committed when they were 14 or 15. The crime in question must also be listed under Welfare & Institutions Code 707(b)
Note that in most cases, a prosecutor will initiate a hearing transfer when the alleged offense is listed under Welfare & Institutions Code 7070(b). The transfer hearing will happen after the minor is detained and before the adjudication trial. Lastly, the prosecutor is required by law to give the offender notice of five days of the transfer.
Example: Suppose a 17-year old boy is arrested for shoplifting in a local liquor store. The boy has not been arrested before. A petition is filed against the boy in a juvenile court. The prosecutor cannot initiate the transfer hearing on this case since the offense committed isn’t a felony. Again, shoplifting is not listed under Welfare & Institutions Code 7070(b) offenses.
Suppose the police arrested the boy for arson. His actions caused an older adult to sustain serious injuries. Arson resulting in severe physical injuries is a felon, which could subject the boy to a transfer hearing. The boy has committed offenses of the same magnitude in the past. The judge realizes that no amount of rehabilitation has helped straighten his behavior. These are reasonable grounds for the judge to transfer his hearing to an adult court.
Crimes that Minors Can Be Tried in California Adult Courts
Section 707 of the California Welfare & Institutions Code provides a long list of offenses that could subject a minor to transfer hearings. The district attorney can only initiate the transfer if the juvenile is facing charges for violating the crimes specified under this law. Note that alleged offenders at the age of 14 or 15 when these offenses were committed will not have their hearings transferred to an adult criminal court unless they were detained later after becoming adults. These offenses include:
- A murder involving either a person or a fetus
- Attempted murder
- Arson of an occupied structure or arson resulting in significant physical injury
- Robbery- both first and second-degree robbery
- Kidnapping for robbery
- Kidnapping for ransom
- Kidnapping resulting in physical harm
- Rape through use of violence, force, or threat of physical harm
- Sodomy through the use of violence, force, or threat of physical harm
- Lascivious or lewd acts with a minor below 14 through violence, force, or threat of physical harm
- Sexual penetration by force
- Oral Copulation through the use of violence, force, or threat of physical harm
- Assault by use of a firearm or other destructive devices
- Assault by force, which is likely to cause significant physical harm to
- Discharging a firearm in an occupied or inhabited building
- The offense that is provided under California Penal Code Section 1203.9 against a disabled person or an elderly over 60 years
- The offense described under Penal Code Sections 12022.5 or 12022.3 through the use of a firearm
- The felony offense provided under Section 16590(a) of the California Penal Code, whereby the minor offender personally committed the crime with a gun
- Dissuading or bribing a witness, provided under California Penal Law Sections 136.1 and 137.
- Selling, compounding, or manufacturing more than an ounce of an illegal substance, described under Health & Safety Code Section 11055(e)
- A violent felony which qualifies for gang sentence enhancement, as described under penal Code Section 186.22(b)
- Escape from juvenile hall, camp, forestry camp, juvenile home, or ranch using violence or force, mostly if it resulted in the employee of either of those facilities suffering significant physical injury.
- Aggravated mayhem
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Carjacking resulting in the kidnapping.
- Drive-by-shooting, described under Section 26100 of California Penal Code
- Kidnapping with the intent of sexual assault
- Exploding destructive devices intending to vomit murder.
Can the Family Appeal the Court’s Ruling?
Each of the offenses listed above is grave, which means that the consequences should be harsh. A harsh sentence is likely not what the minor will receive if they stand trial in a juvenile court. That is why it might serve the interests of justice if the minor was tried in an adult court. This way, he/she would receive a sentence befitting the gravity of the offense committed. These are some of the considerations the judge will make while giving his/her verdict. However, trying the minor in an adult court may not be for his/her best interests. That is why his/her family, with the help of their attorney, is allowed to file an appeal against the court’s decision.
The transfer hearing is usually held to determine whether the minor fits to face trial in a juvenile court. If he/she loses the hearing, the juvenile court will automatically transfer the case. The family will have to live with the possibility of their loved one serving time in a prison with other adult offenders. Appealing the court’s decision gives them another chance to convince the judge that their loved one would benefit more from what the juvenile justice system offers.
If the minor decides to appeal the court’s decision, he/she has twenty days after their first arraignment in a juvenile court to file a writ petition. It means that the family has just a few days to find the best criminal attorney to help them keep the juvenile court case. In this case, an experienced criminal attorney is needed, mainly because of the gravity of the offenses described above. The attorney must be well conversant with California juvenile justice laws. The attorney will also be required to develop a preponderance of proof to demonstrate to the court that the minor is better off adjudicated in the juvenile court.
What if The Minor Loses the Appeal?
If the underlying offense is serious, and the minor has a criminal record, he/she might lose the appeal. It means that the case will be heard and determined in an adult court, where the minor will be subjected to severe penalties, just like an adult offender. However, there may be some advantages the juvenile might derive from this.
Everyone facing charges in a criminal court has a right to a fair trial, including minors. In an adult court, a jury will try the minor, who will listen to both sides of the case to determine the verdict. There is a chance that the adult court may not find the juvenile guilty of the offense, even if the evidence presented in court is compelling. The minor and his/her attorney could take advantage of that to prepare a strong defense against the charges.
Again, juries in most adult courts are more sympathetic to minors than adults. They will consider a lot more than mere evidence to determine the case. Thus, the minor may not receive severe punishment, even if they are found guilty of the offense.
Lastly, the court may sentence the minor to a lighter sentence than the offense deserves in cases where jails are overcrowded. If the jury is unwilling to send the offender to prison, they may quickly determine the case and impose a more favorable sentence.
Life Without Parole and Death Penalties for California Minor Offenders
Through their attorneys, minor offenders fight so hard to have their cases heard and determined in juvenile courts because penalties are not as severe here as they could be in an adult case. In an adult court, judges will not have several sentence and treatment options to choose from as compared to one in a juvenile court. However, no matter how harsh penalties could be for a minor convicted in an adult court, they can never be sentenced to life without parole or be given a death sentence.
The U.S Supreme Court declared this in 2005 in the case of Roper v. Simmons. The much a minor can receive after conviction is several years behind bars.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Near Me
If your loved one is in trouble with the law and is facing a transfer hearing in California, you need the help of an experienced criminal attorney to keep the case in a juvenile court. This way, the minor will receive a fair sentence and a second chance in life. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have competent criminal lawyers conversant with the California juvenile justice system and are willing to help. Therefore, if you are in Los Angeles, CA, call us at 424-333-0943, and let us help you fight for what is right.