It is not uncommon for a minor to run in with the law in California. Minors are individuals under eighteen, and their inability to make sound decisions allows the court to try them differently from adults. Offenses committed by minors range from minor curfew violations to serious crimes like murder or arson. If your child faces an arrest for committing a crime, you must fight to ensure that the law doesn’t punish them more than required.
Although minors are tried in juvenile court, there are circumstances under which your child could be tried as an adult in criminal court. Before the transfer, the court holds a transfer hearing to determine the child’s fitness for trial as an adult. Facing charges as an adult means that your child could face harsh penalties after a conviction. Therefore, the guidance of a skilled attorney to navigate the transfer hearing is critical.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we will help protect your child’s rights and convince the court to try the child in juvenile court. We serve clients battling criminal charges in Los Angeles, CA.
Understanding the Juvenile Justice System in California
Criminal cases are on the rise among minors in California. The law understands that individuals under eighteen do not have the right mental capacity to make the right decisions. Additionally, a child’s behavior can easily affect their home and school environments. For this reason, juvenile delinquency acts are handled in juvenile court.
Instead of punishing minors, the juvenile court aims to rehabilitate, treat, and counsel the delinquent to make them better people for society. Depending on your child’s background, the juvenile court imposes various programs to help in rehabilitation, including:
- Community service
- Social service organizations
The first step in the juvenile justice system is the arrest of the minor for committing a crime. Based on the gravity of the child’s crimes, the police officer could release them to go home with a warning, issue a notice to appear in court, or take the child to the juvenile hall. The probation department is in charge of the juvenile hall and is reluctant to admit a child unless they have committed a violent offense.
If your child’s offense does not mandate admission to the juvenile hall, they can be released. However, if the probation department admits the child, they can choose to take any of the following steps:
- File a juvenile court case against the child
- Transfer the child to an adult court
If your child’s case is handled in the juvenile court, they will undergo several hearings, including detention, adjudication, and disposition hearing. A sustained juvenile petition results in the following court actions:
- Formal or informal probation
- Incarceration at a juvenile hall
- Placement in foster care or a group home
- Deferred entry of judgment
However, if the child is tried in adult court, they could face a conviction and harsh criminal penalties like imprisonment and fines.
What is a Transfer Hearing?
Minors engage in all forms of criminal activities. Sometimes, the juvenile court cannot handle the child. In this case, the prosecutor can suggest that the child be transferred to an adult court. A transfer or fitness hearing is a court proceeding where a judge will assess all the aspects of the child’s case to determine whether they are fit for trial in adult court.
Often, transfers to adult court are reserved for juveniles above sixteen who have committed serious and violent felonies. Additionally, if a person commits a crime at fourteen or fifteen years and is not discovered until eighteen, the district attorney will recommend their transfer to adult court.
You must not take the situation lightly if your child is at risk of a transfer to adult court. Seeking the guidance of a skilled attorney to guide the child is critical. The role of a defense attorney in the transfer hearing is to convince the court and prosecution that the minor is unfit to be tried as an adult.
Often, a transfer hearing will take places place after the detention and pretrial hearings:
A detention hearing is the initial hearing that a juvenile delinquent must attend. Juvenile criminal cases which prompt a transfer to adult court involve serious offenses. Therefore, it is likely that your child will be in detention after an arrest for these crimes. The court will schedule a detention hearing if your child is in detention at the juvenile hall.
When the court schedules this initial hearing for your child, they must notify you of the time and location. Unlike in adult court, where the defendant can secure a temporary release on bail, the decision to release with a pending juvenile criminal case lies on a judge at the detention hearing. Although parents have the right to go home with their children after an arrest, the following factors could prompt a judge to hold your child in custody before their adjudication hearing:
- The child is a habitual offender. If your child has been to the juvenile court for committing another crime, the court may hold them in the juvenile hall awaiting the outcome of their delinquency case.
- Flight risk. If a juvenile is released after a detention hearing, the judge expects that they will return to follow with other juvenile court proceedings. If there is a likelihood that your child will not show up, they may have to remain in custody. A child’s flight risk is determined by their past ability to obey court orders.
- Protection of the minor. The home environment contributes significantly to a child’s conduct. If the judge determines that your home is unsafe for the child, the minor will remain in juvenile hall.
- Safety of other people. When a child commits a serious crime like the one which prompts a transfer hearing, they may be considered a threat to the safety of other society members. The court safeguards other people by allowing the child to remain in the juvenile hall.
Whether or not your child is released after the detention hearing, the court- will hold a pretrial hearing to determine whether the case will go to trial. A crime committed by a minor can go to train in juvenile or adult court, depending on the circumstances.
Factors Affecting the Judge’s Decision to Transfer a Minor to Adult Court
While the district attorney or the prosecution initiates transfer hearing proceedings, the juvenile court judge makes the final decision on the transfer. Some of the factors that the judge will consider when transferring your child to adult court include the following:
The severity of the Child’s Crime
Minors may engage in all forms of delinquent behavior. From curfew violations to drunk driving and even severe felonies like murder. The judge may order the child to be transferred to adult court if the crime they were arrested for is severe and violent. For example, a child facing robbery can be charged in juvenile or adult court, depending on the specific circumstances.
Often crimes that result in serious injuries or the death of another person will prompt this transfer. Additionally, if the crime is committed to enhance gang activities, trial as an adult may be inevitable.
During the fitness hearing, your child's attorney could convince the court that the crime was not serious or that the death of the alleged victims was not a result of the child’s actions. Downplaying the severity of the crime could help avoid a transfer.
The Minors Age and Social Background
A child can only be tried as an adult if they are sixteen or older. Therefore, if your child commits a crime when they are fifteen or fourteen years and is discovered at sixteen, the district attorney may attempt to initiate a transfer hearing. While a person is under eighteen years, their mind is still developing and may be incapable of making fully informed decisions. Therefore, children cannot be treated the same as adults.
Your child’s attorney can contest the transfer by arguing that when the child committed the crime, they were too young to understand the nature and consequences of their actions. In addition to the child’s age, the judge will consider the child’s social background and home environment.
Studies show that a child’s environment and upbringing can affect their behavior. If a child is brought up in an area with a high crime rate, they could quickly assimilate to the behavior. Especially where the child lacks stable parental guidance, their involvement in crime is common. When deciding to transfer to adult court, the judge may be lenient to a child with a poor home environment and social background.
The Juveniles Delinquency History
California law is stringent on repeat offenders, even in juvenile court. Juvenile dispositions are aimed at treatment and rehabilitation. Therefore, if a child has an extensive criminal record, the judge will assume that the dispositions in juvenile court are not enough to remedy the child’s conduct or discourage them from criminal acts.
Therefore, a child who has been charged with a violent crime in the past could be charged as an adult if they meet the age criteria.
Nature and Effectiveness of Attempts to Rehabilitate the Child
If a child has faced charges in juvenile court before, the court may have imposed different treatment and education programs. Before the judge succumbs to the prosecutors’ request to transfer the child to adult court, they will consider the nature of past treatment records. This is to ensure that these programs were geared towards rectifying delinquent conduct.
Another critical factor in this decision is the child’s attitude toward juvenile treatment programs. A child with a history of violating probation and failing to attend counseling lacks the right attitude to be treated and rehabilitated. Therefore, trying and punishing them as adults may be the only way to help them understand the seriousness of their actions.
A child’s Intellectual Development and Psychological Maturity
Before a child is tried as an adult for their crimes, their ability to make sound decisions should be apparent. Therefore, the judge could employ the expert services of child psychologists and other professionals to determine whether a child is intellectually capable of understanding the gravity of their actions. Some children have slow growth or other mental disorders that make them act on impulse.
If your child is mentally unstable, their attorney can help prove that a transfer to adult court could cause the situation to deteriorate. Instead, the court should formulate programs in juvenile court where the minors can undergo treatment for their condition and counseling for better future decisions.
Degree of Criminal Sophistication
Criminal sophistication entails the specific tactics an offender uses to commit a crime. Additionally, the minors' attempts to ensure that they are not discovered could help indicate their understanding of the nature and consequences of their criminal actions.
Crimes that Mandate a Transfer Hearing in California
Not all serious crimes committed by minors will result in a transfer to adult court. However, the district attorney or the prosecutor can initiate the transfer hearing if your child faces charges for the following offenses under Section 707 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code:
- Torture. Under California Penal Code 206, torture involves inflicting great bodily harm on another person and causing them to suffer for extortion, revenge, or sadistic purposes.
- Murder. A minor can be charged with murder in adult court if the child causes the death of another person with a malice afterthought. Malice afterthought involves premeditation and careful planning.
- Attempted murder. Under PC 187(a), attempted murder is an unsuccessful attempt to kill another person. Although no one loses their life in such a crime, attempted murder is a serious offense that could cause a minor to be transferred to adult court.
- Kidnapping. Kidnapping involves taking another person without consent and moving them a distance away from their home. There are many forms of kidnapping, some more serious than others. If your child committed the kidnapping with an intention for robbery, ransom, or to cause injury to the victim, they may be found unfit to stand trial in a juvenile court.
- Arson causes serious injury. A person could be charged with arson for willfully and maliciously setting fire to a property, structure, or forest land. If a minor sets fire to an inhabited building and causes serious injury or death to another person, their case could be tried in adult court.
- Rape or sodomy by force or fear. Rape is non-consensual sexual intercourse with another person, while sodomy is non-consensual anal penetration. If a juvenile engages in forcible sexual penetration using force or fear to overcome the victim's will, they can be charged in adult court under California Penal Codes 261 and 286.
- Lewd conduct with a child under 14 years. Minors can still face charges for lewd conduct with a child. This occurs when a minor over sixteen engages in sexual contact with a child under fourteen.
- Firearm discharge in an inhabited building. Any person who discharges a firearm into an inhabited dwelling willfully may be found guilty of violating California Penal Code 246.3.
- Felony offense committed using a firearm. Not all felonies committed by minors will attract a transfer to adult court. A child who uses a firearm to commit a crime may be tried as an adult. You must understand that evidence of firearm discharge is unnecessary to prompt this action.
- Crimes that qualify for gang enhancement. If a person commits a crime for the benefit of a street gang, the court could subject them to gang enhancement in addition to the penalties for their crime. It is not uncommon for juveniles to join street gangs in California. If your child faces an arrest and charges for a gang-related crime in juvenile court, the prosecutor could prompt their transfer to adult court.
- Escape from juvenile hall and cause injury to another person. If your child faces an arrest and detention in juvenile hall, the court expects them to remain there until the outcome of their case is determined. If the juvenile escapes from detention and causes injury to an employee while doing so, they can be transferred to adult court.
Pros and Cons of Transfer to Adult Court
Your child’s attorney will do their best to ensure that the case of the minor remains in juvenile court. However, transfer to adult court has both advantages and disadvantages. The cons of trial in adult court for a minor include:
- Severe penalties. Unlike in juvenile court, where the system aims at rehabilitation, penalties imposed in adult court are aimed at punishing the offender. Therefore, if your child faces charges as an adult, there is a risk of imprisonment after a conviction.
- Stigma. Spending time in jail attracts more stigma than the dispositions offered in juvenile court. Sitting behind bars can affect your child’s mental and emotional state.
- Adult court proceedings and convictions are public. The juvenile court will keep your child’s criminal proceedings private to protect their integrity. Unfortunately, if the child is treated as an adult, the arrest trial and conviction will be a public record that is difficult to shake off.
- There are no treatment programs in adult jails. Unlike in juvenile court, where minors can benefit from counseling and treatment, there are limited treatment programs for minors charged as adults.
While there are many accompanying a minor’s transfer to adult court, the following are some pros to this court action:
- Right to a jury. Juvenile delinquency cases are heard by a judge who sustains or dismisses the petition. However, if your child faces charges as an adult, they have a right to a jury. The jury is more considerate since different members have different opinions. When a child’s case is brought before the jury in adult court, the jury shows more sympathy to the child based on age.
- Right to bail. In adult court, most defendants are entitled to bail. Therefore, a minor facing adult charges in criminal court can post bail and go home with a pending criminal trial.
- Lighter sentences. Since jails and prisons in California are crowded, the adult court may attempt to dispose of the juvenile's case by imposing a lighter sentence.
Appealing the Court's Decision to Transfer a Minor to Adult Court
All offenses that could prompt a transfer hearing are severe. Therefore, if your loved one is convicted, they could serve a long time in prison. If the child loses the transfer hearing, the court transfers their case automatically. Trial as an adult is not in your child’s best interests. Therefore, appealing the court’s decision gives the child another chance to convince the court to keep their case in juvenile court.
A juvenile has up to twenty days to appeal the judge’s decision to transfer their case to an adult court. The appeal process involves filing a petition and attending the hearing. However, winning the appeal is not guaranteed. If your child has a history of violence, they could lose the appeal.
Can my Child Face a Death Penalty?
Attorneys fight hard to keep a minor’s case in juvenile court. This helps the minor avoid the harsh penalties accompanying a conviction in an adult case. However, a child cannot face life without parole or capital punishment.
Find a competent criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me.
If a minor engages in criminal activity, they could be arrested, charged, and tried in juvenile court. The juvenile justice system is more lenient with minor offenders due to the belief that these individuals lack the mental capacity to make reasonable decisions. Therefore, even when your child is found to have violated the law, the law gears more toward rehabilitation and treatment instead of punishment.
Unfortunately, if your child faces charges for a serious offense like rape, sodomy, kidnapping, murder, or arson, they could be transferred to a criminal court to face adult criminal charges. Through a transfer hearing, the judge assesses the nature of your child’s offenses and their likelihood of benefiting from juvenile dispositions before deciding on the transfer.
The punishment imposed in criminal court may be too harsh for a juvenile to bear. Therefore, hiring and retaining a defense attorney is vital when your child faces a transfer hearing. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have the knowledge and legal expertise you need to ensure the best outcome in your child’s juvenile delinquency case. Contact us today at 424-333-0943.