Many incidences of juvenile charges in California forced the state to pass laws to curb the problem. Facing juvenile charges is traumatizing. Minors under the age of 18 years are referred to as juveniles, and the law suggests that their minds are not yet fully developed. Therefore, the justice system has a special court dedicated to trying juvenile cases.

The adult court's primary purpose is to punish offenders, while the juvenile one is to rehabilitate. Note that facing a juvenile charge can affect the sentencing you receive later on in life. According to California law, a juvenile offense does not count as a strike offense unless it meets some parameters.

Juvenile delinquency can have unpleasant consequences on you or your child. At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have assisted many juvenile offenders in achieving a favorable ruling. We have many years’ experience in handling juvenile cases in California since we know the California justice system's ins and outs. If you or your child is facing juvenile charges, do not hesitate to contact us.

What Is Juvenile Three Strikes Law

Juvenile three-strike law is similar to the California three-strike law. The only difference is that the court passes it on juveniles. The three-strikes law extends the prison term of offenders who have two priors of strikes for committing felonies. It also reduces their custody credits.

If the court sentences you to jail, you earn points for good behavior. If you are charged with a non-strike felony, your custody credits can shorten your jail sentence. Strike felonies are felonies which the law considers being serious or violent. Juvenile three-strike law classifies juvenile crimes that fall under strike felonies in California. The juvenile strike felonies are listed in the Welfare and Institutions 707(b). These juvenile felonies include:

  • Rape with force, the threat of great bodily harm or with violence
  • Murder or attempted murders
  • Forced sexual penetration
  • Kidnapping for ransom, sexual assault, robbery
  • Oral copulation using force, violence, or the threat of great bodily harm
  • Discharge of a firearm into an inhabited or occupied building
  • An assault which can result in great bodily harm, or with a destructive object or a firearm
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Carjacking
  • Torture
  • Lascivious or lewd act on a child under 14 with the threat of great bodily harm, violence, or force
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • 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
  • Using a weapon personally as a minor
  • Causing great bodily harm to an employee of a county facility when escaping

The tenets of the juvenile three strikes law determine whether the offense you are charged with counts as a strike offense. If the prosecution successfully proves that the charge is a strike crime, it can lead the court to impose the juvenile three-strikes law on you. The four tenets which qualify the offense as a strike crime include:

  • The crime falls under the serious or violent crime according to California Penal Code 1192.7 or 667.5
  • You were at least 16 years when you committed the crime.
  • The crime is listed in the Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b)
  • You were found fit to undergo a juvenile court trial.

Below are the four tenets in detail.

  1. You Were At Least 16 Years When You Committed the Crime

For your juvenile offense to count as a strike crime, the prosecution must prove that you were at least 16 when you committed the crime. If, for instance, you were caught when you were 21, the court should charge the offense as a juvenile crime since you committed it when you were a juvenile. If you committed the offense when you were younger than 16, the court could not use the offense to enact the juvenile three-strike law since you were younger than the statutory age requirement.

  1. The Crime Falls Under the Serious or Violent Crime According to California Penal Code 1192.7 Or 667.5

Serious and violent crimes fall under California Penal Code 1192.7 or 667.5. These crimes include rape, murder, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, among other serious and violent crimes. The court will charge your offense as a strike crime if it falls under this category.

  1. You Were Found Fit to Undergo A Juvenile Court Trial

The prosecution must prove that you are fit to undergo a juvenile court trial. Under Section 602 of the California and Institutions Code, you must be 18 and below and award of the court to be judged under juvenile court. If the court determines you are not fit for undergoing juvenile trial and will not fare well under the juvenile treatment or training programs, you will not undergo the juvenile trial. You will be tried as an adult.

  1. The Crime Is Listed in The Welfare and Institutions Code 707(B)

Various crimes are listed under California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b). These crimes are similar to those found in California Penal Code 1192.7 or 667.5 and are violent or serious. The court can impose the three-strike rule if your third crime falls under this category. It can also charge the juvenile crime as a strike crime if you have two prior serious or violent crimes even if the current offense is not serious or violent.

Legal Terms Juvenile Court Uses When Trying A Juvenile Case

The juvenile court uses different legal terms when you are tried in a juvenile court to determine if the judge will enact the three-strike law against you. In a juvenile court, you are not found guilty or innocent, as is the case with an adult court. Instead, the judge either agrees with the prosecution and “sustains the petition." The term “sustains the petition” is similar to being found guilty in an adult court.

When an adult is found guilty of a crime, the courts sentence them either to a jail term, place them on probation, or orders them to pay a fine. In a juvenile court, the sentences are referred to as "dispositions." If your charge does not fall under the WIC 707(b) crimes, the court can dismiss your charges if you complete a program set out for juvenile offenders who are charged with minor crimes.

On the other hand, if your crime is serious, you could end up in the California Youth Authority, equivalent to an adult prison.

The court can also make you a ward of the court. Award of the court means that the court appoints a guardian who will take full responsibility for you. You can be a ward of the court but still, serve your probation at home. In some instances, the court decides to send you to a county probation camp, a foster home, or a group home.

If you are made a ward of the court, the court supervision or jurisdiction ends when you reach 21. In case you are sent to the CYA, the jurisdiction can extend to the age of 25.

You Can Be Tried as An Adult Even If You Are A Minor

Some circumstances can lead the court to try you as an adult, even if you are a minor. If you are tried as an adult, the three-strikes rule can apply in your sentencing.

Under the three-strikes rule, if you are guilty of two previous serious or violent crimes and your current charge is a serious crime, you can face a 25 year to life imprisonment sentence. If the current charge against you is not a serious or violent crime, but you have two prior charges of violent crimes, you will face double the current offense's maximum jail sentence.

In some cases, though, you can receive twenty-five to life imprisonment even if your current charge is not a serious or violent crime.

The three-strikes rule can apply if:

  • The current crime is drug-related, which involves certain drugs like cocaine, heroin, or other drugs in a similar class.
  • The crime you are found guilty of is a felony sex crime.
  • You were armed with a deadly weapon or a firearm or used a gun to commit the felony.
  • You intended to cause great bodily harm as you committed the third offense.
  • If you have a prior conviction of a serious offense like murder or manslaughter, sexually violent crimes and sex crimes involving children under 14 years.

What Factors Determine If You Will Be Charged as An Adult?

For the court to enact the juvenile three strikes law against you and charge you as an adult, the court considers certain factors. The court will consider these factors after the prosecutors request a transfer hearing. The factors that the court will put into consideration at the transfer hearing include:

  • The degree of the crime sophistication you showed in carrying out the crime.
  • The circumstances surrounding the crime and the seriousness of the crime you are accused of committing.
  • If there is a chance that you can be rehabilitated before your time as a ward of the court is over.
  • The level of success in previous attempts to rehabilitate you
  • Your delinquency history

According to California law, you cannot be tried in court if you are under 15. However, as earlier stated, if the court finds you at the transfer hearing to be unfit to be tried at the juvenile court, you will be tried in the adult court.

Penalties for Juvenile Strike Charges

Although the juvenile court aims to rehabilitate the juvenile, you will face punishment depending on your offense's seriousness. The main aim of the disposition is to instill discipline in you as a minor.

If you have been a ward of the court, the charge against you is listed in WIC 707(b), or it is a serious offense, the strike against you will lead to sentencing to Division of Juvenile Facilities either be confined or serve your probation. You are sent to the DJF if you are charged with a strike crime, and you are not tried as an adult.

The penalties for juvenile crimes include:

Informal probation

If your charge is not violent or serious, the court can sentence you to informal probation under WIC code 654. The court can also place you on probation under WIC code Section 725. If you are a first offender of a non-violent crime like trespass or vandalism, you can receive this disposition.

Deferred entry of judgment

The entry of judgment means that you admit to the charges, but the charges will be dismissed once you complete the DEJ program. The DEJ program is only available if you are a first-time offender of serious crimes, and the crime is not listed under the WIC 707(b) offenses. The program runs for twelve to thirty-six months.

The court places you on probation either at home or in a camp.

If the court declares you a ward of the court, it can sentence you to probation either at home or a camp. At other times, the court can place you on probation at a relative’s house or in a group home. The court places emotionally disturbed minors in level 14 group homes. Level 14 group homes are facilities that provide psychiatric help to children who are emotionally disturbed.

The probation terms include:

  • It is mandatory to attend school.
  • You must observe curfew restrictions.
  • You receive substance abuse counseling.
  • You are banned from hanging out with people who negatively influence you.
  • You are subjected to community service.
  • You can remove graffiti.
  • Restitution

If the court determines you need a more structured lifestyle for effective rehabilitation, it will send you to a probation camp. You can stay at the camp for three months to one year. Most probation camps have a structured routine that involves education and treatment programs.

You could be committed to CYA.

If you are not sent to adult prison for your strike crime, you can be sent to CYA, equivalent to an adult prison, although it is for juveniles. If your current strike crime is listed in WIC 707(b) or it is a serious sex crime, there is a high probability that you will be sent to CYA.

Once you are convicted of a strike offense, any other two serious offenses can warrant a three-strikes law application, and the court can send you to prison for 25 years to life.

Common Defenses for Juvenile Three Strikes Crimes

In California, you can present several defenses against the strike charge. However, it is paramount to seek the services of an experienced attorney who is well versed in juvenile delinquency law in California.

You can argue that you are not guilty of the charge the prosecutor is charging you with or that the prior crime does not qualify as a serious or violent crime. Therefore, the court cannot use it to enact the juvenile three strikes law against you. Other defenses you can present in your juvenile three strikes case include:

It Was an Accident

One of the defenses you can present in court is that the crime you are accused of resulted from an accident. You did not intend to commit the crime, neither were you negligent. However, it is essential to note that the prosecutors may still fight this defense if they prove you acted with criminal or ordinary negligence.

You will be accused of ordinary negligence if you did not act like a normal or reasonable person would act under similar circumstances. Criminal negligence is where you commit a crime with the attitude that you do not care what happens. Driving while drunk, for example, is considered criminal negligence according to California law because you could cause an accident and kill someone.

You Had an Alibi

The word alibi means “in another place” in Latin. You could present an alibi as a defense if you were somewhere else at the time of the crime. It is impossible to be in two places at the same time. For the alibi defense to stand in court, you have to produce evidence that you were at a different location during the crime.

Some evidence you can present in court to collaborate your alibi defense is surveillance tapes, receipts of a snack you had at a dinner at the time of the crime. You can also present witnesses who saw you at a different location at the time of the crime.

Coerced Confession

Another defense you can present against the juvenile three strikes case is coursed confession. A coursed confession is not admissible in court. Coursed confession can be a result of unlawful interrogation methods. You may have confessed to the crime because the police continued to question you even after asking for a lawyer.

You can state you confessed because the police denied you basic needs like food and water or deprived you of sleep while in custody. If you can show you were coursed into admitting the crime, the judge may drop the case altogether or exempt your confession from evidence.

You Were Under Duress

Another defense you can present against a juvenile three-strike charge is that you were under duress and had no option but to commit the crime. You can only present the defense of duress if another person's actions were menacing towards you or they used threats to compel you to commit the crime. However, according to California law, you should not murder to save your own life. Therefore, duress may not stand as a defense in a three-strikes case if you are charged with murder.

You Were Falsely Accused

It is not uncommon to be falsely accused of a crime you did not commit. Therefore, you can argue that you were falsely accused of the crime.

Self Defense

Another defense you can present in court is self-defense. You can state that you engaged in the criminal act in self-defense. To use self-defense as a defense, you must show that you were in imminent danger of great bodily harm.

What the Prosecutor Needs to Prove in A Juvenile Strike Charge

The prosecutor needs to prove you were 16 and older to charge you with a juvenile crime. If you were under 16 years, you could not be charged with a juvenile crime. Depending on the juvenile crime you are facing, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime.

For instance, if you are being charged for murder, the prosecutor needs to prove that your actions caused the other person's death. The prosecutor also needs to show that you acted with malice. The prosecutor also needs to show that you did not have any justifiable reason to commit the crime. If you are facing the charge of assault, which results in great bodily harm, the prosecutor needs to prove that you had the intent to harm the victim.

Call A Criminal Attorney Near Me

As a juvenile offender, being charged with a three-strike offense is scary. The court might decide to try you as an adult and send you to adult prison even if you are a minor. If your child is tried as an adult, the juvenile three-strike law can double the maximum sentence of their offense. If the third offense is a serious or violent crime and your child has two prior violent or serious, serious criminal charges, the judge can sentence you to 25 years or life in prison.

If your child is facing juvenile three strikes charges, it's imperative to seek the services of an experienced attorney in California juvenile delinquency law. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have represented many juvenile offenders who had their charges dropped or reduced. We have more than 20 years’ experience in California criminal law and understand the California justice system. Do not hesitate to contact us at 408-622-0204 for the best legal representation.