While we all hope that our children never face a situation in which they are accused of a crime, if that scenario does arise, parents need to understand the possible outcomes. Some allegations may result in a minor’s case being prosecuted in adult criminal court instead of juvenile court.
All states have provisions which allow courts to treat juveniles as adults under certain circumstances. These cases usually involve serious charges or a minor with a significant criminal history.
One primary difference between juvenile and criminal court is their focus. The juvenile justice system attempts to rehabilitate minors based on the belief that children are not mature enough to be held responsible to the same extent as adults. The adult criminal justice system is focused on punishment.
In California, only minors over the age of 14 may face prosecution in adult court. There are three types of legal provisions that allow minors to be tried as adults. Here, we will cover those three provisions and what you need to know for cases where your child may be tried in adult criminal court.
Waiver or Transfer
California gives judges discretion to transfer a juvenile case to adult court. In this scenario, a judge waives the exclusive jurisdiction of the juvenile court to hear cases involving juvenile offenders. The prosecutor requests a transfer, and the judge may decide whether or not to grant their request. However, judges may also choose to transfer the case without a request from a prosecutor.
Certain factors that influence the judge’s decision include:
- The seriousness of the alleged offenses
- Whether there was harm to another person
- The age of the minor
- Whether the minor has a significant criminal history
- The minor’s amenability to treatment
If the judge or prosecutor seeks a transfer to adult criminal court, the minor is entitled to a hearing and representation by an attorney. The hearing, which is called a fitness or transfer hearing.
At the fitness hearing, the judge must then decide on the minor’s chances of rehabilitation. If they deem them unfit for rehabilitation, the case will be transferred. From there, a case will follow the same procedure that applies for adults.
Statutory or Legislative Exclusion
California allows minor defendants to be charged as adults for certain serious offenses. Crimes identified in the relevant legislation require that the minor be charged in criminal court as adults.
In some cases, both the juvenile and criminal courts have jurisdiction. In these instances, the prosecutor may decide whether or not to charge the defendant as an adult.
Reversing a Transfer
Whether a minor’s case goes to criminal court for adults because of statutory exclusion or concurrent jurisdiction, they may be able to petition for a reverse transfer. If granted, the reverse transfer would send the minor’s case back to juvenile court. However, there are no guarantees that a reverse transfer would be heard or granted.
Criminal court for adults may provide a juvenile with more constitutional protections but it has many disadvantages. If a minor has their case transferred to criminal court then the allegations against them are serious enough to result in a significant sentence, including county jail or state prison.
All criminal defendants, including minors, are entitled to a hearing and representation from an attorney. Additionally, they have the right to a jury trial. While jurors may be more sympathetic to minors, they can also respond more harshly to minors. Depending upon the allegations, jurors may have strong feelings about those they believe should be virtuous by nature, like children.
While there is a small chance that an overloaded court could be inclined to quickly dispose of the case by imposing a lighter sentence, there is also the possibility that a minor would receive a harsh sentence. California allows minors to be sentenced like adults, excluding the death sentence but including life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Juvenile court offers a wider range of punishment and treatment options for minors, like curfews. The sentences are lighter, and juveniles can only be sentenced to juvenile facilities until the age of twenty-five. Juvenile criminal records are automatically sealed, as well. Overall, it is much easier for a minor in a juvenile court to be ordered rehabilitated rather than incarcerated.
California Juvenile Court
California requires that minors be fourteen or older to be prosecuted as adults. If they are charged with a qualifying crime, they may be taken to county jail and adult criminal court. Certain circumstances require that minors be charged as adults, while in others, the prosecutor can file a petition for a fitness hearing or the judge may find the minor unfit for rehabilitation.
Prosecutors can file a fitness petition in three scenarios:
- The minor is at least sixteen and is alleged to have committed any crime.
- The minor is at least sixteen, has a history of two or more felony offenses while over the age of fourteen, and is alleged to have committed another felony.
- The minor is over the age of fourteen and is alleged to have committed certain identified offenses.
California’s Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) describes the crimes that qualify juveniles for prosecution as adults in criminal court if the minor is found to be unfit for rehabilitation at their fitness hearing.
- Arson of an inhabited structure or arson that causes great bodily injury
- Rape with force, violence, or threat of bodily harm
- Sodomy with force, violence, or threat of bodily harm
- Oral copulation with force, violence, or threat of bodily harm
- Lewd or lascivious act on a child under the age of fourteen with force, violence, or threat of bodily harm
- Forcible sexual penetration
- Attempted murder
- Assault with a firearm or destructive device
- Assault by means of a force likely to produce great bodily injury
- Discharge of a firearm in an inhabited or occupied building
- Felony offense in which the minor personally used a weapon
- Dissuading or bribing a witness
- Manufacturing, compounding, or selling one-half ounce or more of a controlled substance
- Violent felony
- Escape from a county juvenile hall, home, ranch, or camp if great bodily injury was intentionally inflicted upon an employee
- Aggravated mayhem
- Exploding a destructive device with the intent of committing murder
- Voluntary manslaughter
The same legislation requires minors automatically be charged as adults for:
- Murder with special circumstances
- Specified sex offenses
If your child has been charged as an adult, it’s essential for you to obtain the services of an experienced attorney. At Shawky Law, we represent your minor child and fight for the best outcome for your family. Without a great lawyer by your side, your child faces serious punishments and potential lifelong consequences
Learn your options by speaking with an attorney at Shawky Law today, with offices in Pasadena and Riverside, CA the legal team can provide help across Southern California. Managing Attorney Tarek Shawky is an award-winning criminal defense lawyer, call today for a free consultation.