The thought of you or your child facing criminal charges is scary. It is more alarming when the child could be tried as an adult. According to statistics, in 2007, 39,014 offenders under the age of 18 were placed on probation. 15, 989 were placed in secure confinement. In 2009, 204,696 offenders under the age of 18 were arrested in California. Over 1,115 juvenile offenders were tried in adult courts.
As a result of increased juvenile offenses, California has passed many laws to try minors as adults. In normal circumstances, if you are under the age of 18, you are tried in a juvenile court. In special circumstances, though, you can be tried as an adult.
If you or your child is facing criminal charges, it is advisable to use an experienced criminal lawyer’s services. At Leah Legal, we have an excellent rating, are affordable, and are highly trusted. We have been representing clients facing charges in Van Nuys and the larger California for a long time, and we have a track record of success. If your child is facing a trial as an adult, do not hesitate to contact us.
Who Does the Law Consider A Minor in California?
In California, the law considers you a minor if you are under 18. As such, when you commit a crime, you are tried in juvenile court. However, you can be tried as an adult under certain circumstances. The main difference between an adult court and a juvenile court is how the criminal case is handled.
The main aim of a juvenile court is to rehabilitate you as a juvenile offender. In contrast, the primary purpose of an adult court is to punish the offender. As a juvenile offender, the law gives you a chance to mend your ways and become a law-abiding citizen. California law prohibits juveniles from being tried as adults. But you can be tried as an adult when you commit certain offenses.
When you commit a crime in California as a minor, you are tried in juvenile court. The juvenile court’s primary mandate is to adjudicate or try cases committed by offenders 18 years and below. A juvenile court has jurisdiction over minors who are 12 to 17 years. However, in some cases, the juvenile court can have jurisdiction over a child who is less than 12, depending on the offense’s nature.
In California, judges hear juvenile cases or cases involving minors. Unlike adult cases, no juries are present during the case hearing. Juvenile court cases are mostly confidential. You cannot be released on bail in a juvenile case as it happens with an adult case. According to California law SB 439, the juvenile court can only adjudicate your case if you are 12 or below under special circumstances.
The court has jurisdiction over you when you are under 12 if you are accused of committing serious crimes, including rape, murder, sexual penetration by force, oral copulation, the threat of great bodily harm, or violence. In normal circumstances, you cannot be adjudicated in a juvenile court when you are younger than 12.
The juvenile court, as earlier stated, adjudicates minors who are less than 18. But some offenses may warrant you to be tried as an adult.
In 2000, voters in California passed what is known as Proposition 21 or The Juvenile Justice Initiative. The initiative was meant to curb the high incidents of juvenile crimes, especially related to gang activities. Under the law, a prosecutor can decide to try you as an adult even if you are under 18. The law also specifies certain crimes where juvenile offenders are automatically tried as adults. In California, you will be tried as an adult when you are accused of murder, certain sex crimes, and other serious and violent crimes.
Senate Bill 1391
In 2018, Governor Brown signed into law senate bill 1391 which replaced Proposition 21. Under the previous law, a juvenile as young as 14 years could be tried as an adult. According to Bill 1391, the court can only charge you as an adult as long as you are 16 and above.
According to Senate Bill 1391, you cannot be prosecuted as an adult for any crimes you committed while under 16 years. previously, you could be tried as an adult for some serious and violent crimes you committed when you were 14 or older. According to the bill, you can only be tried as an adult when:
- You are 16 years and older
- You committed the crime when you were under the age of 16 but you were not caught until you were over 18.
- The prosecutor deems it necessary to request the court to transfer your case to an adult court provided you are older than 16.
Previously, you could be tried as an adult if you were 16 or older and you committed a felony. You could also be tried as an adult if you committed serious crimes when 14 or 15 years.
What Is Juvenile Crime?
A juvenile crime is any crime you commit when you are under the age of 18. A crime is any act which the law prohibits, and you can receive punishment for carrying out the act. A crime can also be the failure to carry out an act which the law requires you to perform. Whether carried out by a juvenile or an adult, the law classifies crimes as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
A felony is the most serious offense. You can be charged with a felony if you murder a person, commit some sex offenses, or are accused of drug-related charges. If the court finds you guilty of a felony, you can be tried as an adult and sent to adult prison even if you are a minor.
A misdemeanor is a less serious offense than a felony. You can be charged with a misdemeanor for public drunkenness, petty theft or battery. The punishment for a misdemeanor includes fines, probation, or juvenile detention. In most cases, the court does not try you as an adult when you are charged with a misdemeanor.
In California, the prosecutor can charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. Offenses that can either be charged as a felony, a misdemeanor, or an infraction are called wobbler charges.
In California, three broad categories exist under which these offenses fall. The offense can be violent, property, or a drug-related crime. Violent or serious crimes often include murder, sexual crimes like rape and aggravated assault, which result in great bodily harm. If you are accused of such crimes, you can be tried as an adult.
Property crimes involve the use of violence or deceit to gain property without the owner’s consent. Theft and burglary are examples of property crimes. The last category of offenses is drug-related. Possessing or trafficking certain drugs is an offense in California.
The Juvenile Justice System in California
In California, the juvenile justice system has undergone continuous change over the years. The premise of the juvenile justice system is that the law should give juveniles a chance to change. The juvenile justice system has different procedures, courts, laws, procedures, and rules from the adult court.
If you are tried as an adult when you are a minor, the trial can either occur in an adult court or a juvenile court. If you are found guilty or adjudicated for the crime, you can either serve time in a juvenile detention facility or an adult prison, or county jail. On the other hand, if an adult is charged with a similar offense, the case’s hearing will happen in an adult court. They will also be sent to an adult prison.
The Process Which Might Lead You to Be Tried as An Adult in California
The juvenile court process starts with an arrest. Depending on the offense’s seriousness, the arresting officer might set you free with a simple reprimand. The arresting officer might let you go but instruct you to appear before a court at a later date. If your offense is serious, the arresting officer will take you to the juvenile hall.
Once you are at the juvenile hall, you will meet probation officers who run the juvenile halls. The intake officer at the juvenile hall will interview you and take some actions, which include:
- Sending you home with the instruction to appear in court at a later date
- The probation officer can send you home with a probation program. In this case, you will not be required to appear in court at a later date.
- The probation officer can keep you in the juvenile hall until a judge looks at your case.
To determine if you will be tried as an adult, you must attend your case hearings. These case hearings include detention hearing, transfer hearing, adjudication, and disposition hearing.
The detention hearing is meant to determine if you will stay at the juvenile hall or the court will set you free. In California, a minor cannot place bail as would an adult. At the detention hearing, the judge decides whether or not to let you go as you await the outcome of your case. Therefore, it is paramount to seek an experienced California criminal lawyer’s services to convince the judge to release you from the juvenile hall.
At this stage, the judge decides if you should be tried as an adult. If you are fit for the juvenile court, your case is heard at the juvenile court. If the judge finds you are not fit for juvenile court, you are tried as an adult in an adult court. You will be tried in a juvenile court in most incidences unless you have committed a serious or violent crime and you are older than 16 years.
If you are not sent to an adult court, your case is heard in the juvenile court. Here the judge adjudicates or hears your case. If the judge determines you committed the crime, the court will sustain the prosecution’s petition.
Disposition is the same as sentencing in an adult court. At this stage, the judge determines your punishment.
Offenses You Can Be Tried as An Adult in California Even If You Are A Minor
It is possible for you as a minor in California to be tried as an adult under certain circumstances. If you are 16 to 17 years, you can face adult charges in a California Superior Court. The procedures under which you can be tried as an adult in California include:
- When the prosecutor files for a fitness hearing. The fitness hearing is meant to determine if you are fit for juvenile court. If the court finds out you are unfit to be tried in a juvenile court, you will be tried as an adult.
- If you commit a premeditated aggravated offense, which warrants an automatic trial as an adult
The Process of a Juvenile Court Fitness Hearing in California
A juvenile court fitness hearing’s purpose is to determine if you are fit to face trial in a juvenile court. The prosecutor might request the court for a fitness hearing. The judge will decide if you’re fit for a juvenile court hearing based on the following criteria:
- The degree of criminal sophistication you exhibited when you carried out the offense
- If you can rehabilitate before the time you have been sentenced to juvenile camp or juvenile detention center is over.
- Your delinquent history
- Previous success in efforts to rehabilitate you
- The seriousness of the offense you are accused of committing
If the court determines that you cannot be rehabilitated or unfit for juvenile court, you will be tried as an adult.
Incidences Where Prosecutor Can File A Fitness Petition
The prosecution can request a fitness hearing under the following circumstances:
- You are at least 16 years old and you are accused of committing a felony.
- You are accused of committing a felony when you have previously been made a ward of the court.
- If you have been convicted of two previous felony offenses when you were above 16. With such a record, the court deems you unfit for rehabilitation.
- If you have committed any offenses under the California Welfare & Institutions Code 707(b)
If you commit any of these offenses, the court presumes you cannot be rehabilitated. The offenses under WIC 707(b) include:
- Lascivious or lewd act on a child under 14 with the threat of great bodily harm, violence or force
- Causing great bodily harm to an employee of a county facility when escaping
- Rape with force, the threat of great bodily harm or with violence
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Aggravated mayhem
- Oral copulation using force, violence or the threat of great bodily harm
- Selling, manufacturing or compounding eight ounces or more of a controlled substance
- Committing a violent felony to a disabled person or a person who is over 60
- Forced sexual penetration
- Kidnapping for ransom, sexual assault, robbery
- Using a weapon personally as a minor
- Murder or attempted murders
- Assault resulting in great bodily harm, or with a destructive object or a firearm
- Discharge of a firearm into an inhabited or occupied building
- Exploding a device to commit
Crimes That Will Automatically Lead the Court to Try You as An Adult in California
Under California Welfare & Institution Code Section 602(b), certain crimes warrant you to be tried automatically as an adult if you are at least 16. You will be tried as an adult If you are accused of personally murdering under certain special circumstances. You will also be charged as an adult if you are accused of personally committing specific sex offenses. These sexual offenses include:
- Rape with force and if you caused great bodily harm or threat during the commission of the rape offense.
- If you are accused of committing spousal rape with great bodily harm or threat during the commission of the rape offense.
- Forcefully committing a sexual act with another person.
- If you are accused of committing lascivious and lewd acts on a child under 14 years. If you cause great bodily harm or violence when committing the offense.
- If you are accused of forceful sexual penetration
- If you are accused of oral copulation or sodomy by force, violence or the threat of great bodily harm.
Can You Appeal the Court’s Decision to Try You as An Adult?
If the court finds you unfit for juvenile court, you will be transferred to an adult court where you will be tried as an adult. At the adult court, the rules that apply to adults will apply to you too as a minor.
In California, you can appeal the decision to transfer you to an adult court by filing a writ petition. You should file the petition within 20 days from when you were arraigned in court for the offense you are accused of committing.
Can You Face the Death Penalty When You Are Tried as An Adult in California?
Even if you are tried as an adult in California, you cannot face the death penalty as a minor. Additionally, you cannot be sentenced to life without parole as a minor if your offense is not a homicide crime.
Call A Juvenile Delinquency Lawyer Near Me
Facing a criminal charge as a minor is a harrowing experience. The situation becomes worse if you are tried as an adult. In California, a minor is a person under the age of 18. Usually, as a minor, you are tried in juvenile court. The purpose of the juvenile court is to rehabilitate rather than punish you for your crime. The aim of the adult court, on the other hand, is to punish the offender. But in some instances, you can be tried as an adult if you commit certain crimes.
If you are accused of murder, rape, kidnapping for ransom and other serious and violent crimes, you can be charged as an adult. If you or your child is facing criminal charges, it is prudent to seek the services of a well-experienced criminal lawyer.
At Leah Legal, we have represented many minors who have been tried as adults and achieved a favorable outcome for them. You can reach us at 818-484-1100 any time of the day or night. Make an appointment with us to receive the best legal representation in Van Nuys, California.