In California, minors under 16 years are primarily prosecuted in juvenile courts. The juvenile court’s main goal is rehabilitating minors rather than punishing them. Methods used in juvenile courts to keep the minors from re-offending include supervision, education, and community service.
However, juvenile offenders above 16 years could be prosecuted as adults depending on their cases’ facts. Even if California law requires that minors be prosecuted in juvenile courts, they are tried as adults in particular circumstances. Under W&I Codes 707(b) and 602, the law details various criminal offenses your child could be prosecuted for in an adult court.
You want to hire a reputable defense lawyer if your child is charged with a Section 707(b) offense in San Jose. Your child’s criminal attorney could convince the juror using robust defense strategies not to order a transfer hearing or automatic transfer and try your child in the juvenile court.
At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have fought for many minors’ rights and convinced the judges not to waive the juvenile protections. We could help your child to avoid trial in an adult court by having the transfer hearing reversed.
The Juvenile Justice Initiative/ Proposition 21
Over the years, media outlets reported a surge of criminal street gang activities by teenagers. Due to this, lawmakers had to find a means to curb the menace. In March 2000, California voters approved The Juvenile Justice Initiate ``Proposition 21.” According to Prop 21, the prosecution can decide if to transfer a juvenile delinquency case to an adult court.
The law required juveniles to be 14 years and above to be tried as adult offenders for particular offenses. Prop 21 also details the crimes for which your child could automatically be prosecuted in an adult court, for instance, sex and murder offenses.
According to Prop 21, minors between 14 and 17 years could be tried as adults in a California Superior Court via various procedures, including:
- The District Attorney could file a petition for a juvenile court fitness hearing. If your minor is found unfit for rehabilitation, the minor is transferred to an adult court
- The prosecutor has the jurisdiction to file the case directly in an adult court
- Automatic transfer of your minor’s case to an adult court if they committed certain predetermined aggravated crimes
What California Senate Bill 1391 Entails
Senate Bill 1391 replaced Proposition 21. Enacted in September 2018, California SB 1931 states that a prosecutor can petition your minor’s case to be transferred from a juvenile delinquency court to an adult one. The law requires that the minor must be not below 16 years.
However, the bill states that your child could be tried as an adult if the criminal offense they committed below 16 years is discovered after they turn 18. A judge must have adequate reasons to order your minor’s transfer hearing too.
What a Juvenile Court Fitness Hearing Involves
A fitness hearing entails a legal proceeding where the judge rules whether the minor is fit for rehabilitation. The prosecution could petition for a fitness hearing. The juror’s decision is based on five factors, including:
- If your minor is amenable to rehabilitation or the juvenile court system
- Your minor’s prior delinquency history
- Whether the juvenile court has previously had success rehabilitating the minor
- The seriousness of the crime the minor committed
- The degree of criminal sophistication your minor exhibits
Should the judge determine that the minor is unfit for rehabilitative programs, the juvenile court transfers the case to an adult one. In an adult court, the minor is prosecuted according to traditional criminal proceedings.
Ways Your Minor Can be Tried as Adults
In California, a juvenile offender must be 16 years or older before the court can waive the protection the juvenile court provides. Your minor is eligible for a waiver if they commit a serious crime or have a criminal record.
Even if being prosecuted in an adult court offers your child more constitutional protections, it entails distinct disadvantages discussed in the passages below.
When Can a Prosecutor File a Fitness Petition?
Specific parameters determine if the prosecution could initiate a fitness hearing. These include:
- Your child is 16 years or above and is accused of any crime.
- Your child is at least 16 years old and is accused of a felony offense where they have previously been made a ward of court and guilty of two or more felonies while over 14 years old. Your child is said to be unfit for rehabilitation.
- Your child is 14 years or older and is accused of a 707(b) offense. Your minor’s case is transferred to an adult court for prosecution and trial.
Waiver Petition Procedures
Transfer hearing processes begin in many ways, and the prosecution’s request is the most common. The juvenile court judge can also petition transfer processes. Your minor is entitled to a lawyer’s representation if the prosecution petitions for a case transfer to adult court.
During the fitness, waiver, or certification hearing, the prosecutor should show probable cause that the minor committed the alleged crime. If the prosecution has proved probable cause, the court then decides on the child’s juvenile rehabilitation chances.
If your minor’s case is transferred to the adult court, the case starts from arraignment through trial/ conviction.
Automatic Transfer Laws and Reverse Transfer Hearings
California has automatic transfer laws that require juvenile cases to be transferred to adult court if your minor is at least 16 years and the charges are of serious criminal offenses like homicide or rape. Fortunately for you, your child can petition a reverse transfer hearing in juvenile court.
During the reverse waiver, also known as reverse transfer hearing, your child, through their lawyer, bears the burden of convincing the court to reverse the automatic transfer and have the juvenile court rehabilitate your child.
Section 707(b) Offenses Minors Can Be Tried As Adults
As stated above, in certain situations, courts make your minor’s case be transferred to an adult court as long as they are 16 years or above. In California, juvenile crimes that could be in adult courts under W&I Code 707(b) are:
Disfiguring or causing permanent disability to someone under as detailed under Penal Code 205 PC. Disfiguring involves depriving someone else of an organ or a limb. Aggravated mayhem is a felony crime, and its possible sentence is life imprisonment.
California arson laws are classified according to how the defendants committed the crime:
- Your minor violates Penal Code Section 451(a) PC if the arson causes significant bodily injuries to someone else. You could be sentenced to up to nine years in prison.
- Your minor violates PC 451(b) when they maliciously burn an inhabited building. The defendant can be sentenced to up to eight years in prison.
- Your minor violates Penal Code Section 451(c) PC if they maliciously burn a non-inhabited forest or structure. Possible punishment is a prison sentence of up to six years.
- The child violates PC 451(d) if they maliciously burn someone else’s property. A possible penalty is not more than three years in prison.
The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the minor burned, assisted in burning, or setting fire to a structure, property, or forested land. The accused must have recklessly and maliciously caused the fire.
- Assault with a firearm or destructive device - Penal Code 245(a)(2) PC
Your minor would commit this crime if they assaulted the plaintiff using a shotgun, rifle, pistol, machine gun, or semiautomatic firearm. Assault occurs when the child points the device at the victim, striking them using the device, firing the weapon at the victim, or shooting the accuser.
Possible penalties are determined depending on the type of firearm the defendant used. If the weapon is an ordinary one, the case is considered a wobbler. If charged as a misdemeanor, possible penalties are probation, a 6 to 12 months jail-term, and not more than $1,000 in fines.
- Assault using force causing great physical injury - Penal Code 245(a)(4) PC
Your minor commits a wobbler offense if they violate Penal Code 245(a)(4). Possible penalties for a misdemeanor charge are not over $10,000 fines and up to a year in jail. If charged as a felony, your minor should be imprisoned for two, three, or four years.
- Attempted murder - California Penal Code 664-187(a) PC
In California, attempted murder is split into two degrees. First-degree murder is willful and premeditates, while second-degree one includes all other kinds of murder.
- Bribery of a witness - Penal Code Section 137
This status prohibits offering a bribe to a witness to influence their testimony. Per California law, bribery is a felony offense. If found guilty, your minor could be imprisoned for not more than four years or sentenced to felony probation.
- Carjacking - Penal Code 215 PC.
- A violent felony. You violate Penal Code 186.22(b) criminal street gang sentencing enhancement when you commit a violent felony.
- Discharge of a firearm into an inhabited or occupied building - California Penal Code 246 PC.
- Dissuading a witness - California Penal Code 136.1 PC.
- Drive-by-shooting - California Penal Code Section 26100 PC.
- Escape, by the use of force or violence, from a county juvenile hall, home, camp, or ranch, and intentionally cause great physical injury to an employee of the juvenile facility.
- Exploding a destructive device with intent to commit murder.
- Forcible sexual penetration - California PC 289.
- Kidnapping for ransom - California Penal Code 210 PC.
- Kidnapping with the intent of robbery.
- Kidnapping and causing bodily harm.
- Kidnapping for purposes of sexual assault.
- Kidnapping during a carjacking - California Penal Code 209.5 PC.
- Lewd or lascivious act on a child under 14 - Penal Code 288(a) PC. You could serve time in state prison for three, six, or eight years or pay up to a $10,000 fine if found guilty.
- Lewd and lascivious acts with a minor child using force - California Penal Code 288 (b)(1). Possible punishment is serving time in prison for five, eight, or ten years or paying a fine not over $10,000.
- Lewd and lascivious acts on a minor and causing great bodily harm - Penal Code 288(i). The punishment for this felony offense is life imprisonment.
- Manufacturing, compounding, or selling one-half ounce or more of a salt or solution of a controlled substance specified in Health & Safety 11055(e).
- Murder - Penal Code 187 PC.
- Oral copulation by force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm - Penal Code 287 PC.
- Personal use of a firearm during the commission of a felony - Penal Code 12022.5 PC.
- Robbery - Penal Code 211 PC.
- Rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm - California Penal Code 261 PC. Possible punishment includes serving time in prison for not over eight years, paying fines not exceeding $10,000, or both a fine and imprisonment.
- Sodomy by force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm - Penal Code 286 PC.
- Torture - Penal Code 206 PC.
- Voluntary manslaughter - Penal Code 192 PC.
- An offense punished under PC 1203.09 against a person above 60 years old or disabled.
- Committing a felony in which the minor personally used a weapon listed under Penal Code Section 16590(a).
Offenses That Qualify the Direct Prosecution of a Minor as an Adult Under Welfare and Institutions Code 602 WIC
Welfare and Institutions Code 602 WIC defines the jurisdiction of the California juvenile court. The court handles juvenile delinquency cases that minors between 12 and 17 years commit. Additionally, the juvenile court has jurisdiction over some cases involving children below 12 years, especially those facing murder and certain sex crime charges.
Children under 12 are not eligible to become wards of the court. However, the criminal offenses that make them become wards of the court are:
- Murder crime
- Rape by violence, force, menace, coercion, or fear of causing bodily harm
- Sodomy by menace, duress, violence, force, or fear of inflicting bodily harm
- Oral copulation by violence, menace, duress, force, or fear of bodily injury
- Sexual penetration by violence, menace, duress, force, or fear of bodily harm
Since juvenile court could be traumatic and carry a stigma, WIC 602 ensures juvenile offenders receive more constructive treatment methods.
California Adult Criminal Court Process when Prosecuting Minors
You want to learn what to expect if your minor is facing prosecution in a California adult court. Stages of the court proceedings include:
Realignment per California Laws
At this stage, your child has the liberty to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. If your minor pleads guilty or enters a nolo contendere, the juror proceeds to sentence hearing. In case the minor enters a not guilty plea, the judge zeroes in on the bail hearing.
You don’t want to leave your child in jail while they wait for trial. You should hire a reputable criminal defense lawyer to help with petitioning for bail. Fortunately for you, juvenile offenders are not released on bail in California. You want to use this fact to your advantage.
If your minor enters a no guilty plea and the court determines the bail amount, the case goes to the pretrial stage. In felony lawsuits, there is a preliminary hearing to make sure the minor faces prosecution for an offense without enough evidence.
The juror will be looking for answers on whether the crime took place and your minor is the culprit. The juror could dismiss the case if they find out your child has no case to answer. If the juvenile offender has a case to answer, it proceeds to the next step called motions. With the help of their criminal lawyer, your minor could petition various motions like:
- The pitchess motion
- Motion to suppress evidence
- Motion to set aside information
The motions stated above aim to weaken your minor’s case and have as much as possible evidence removed. If the court grants one or more motions, then some of the charges are dropped.
Like adult misdemeanor or felony offenders, your minor faces a jury trial or a court trial in an adult criminal court.
If the court finds your minor guilty, the case proceeds to the sentencing hearing. At this stage, both the prosecutor’s and your side argue what penalty the court should prefer to the child. You want to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to represent your child and avoid harsh convictions.
The arguments your defense lawyer present could influence the judge’s orders. The court’s decision to have your child prosecuted in an adult criminal court could have varying benefits and disadvantages over the juvenile court. Your attorney should have a deep understanding of the criminal court process and strategize on protecting your child’s rights.
Pros and Cons of Transfer to Adult Criminal Court
Typically, juvenile offenders and their lawyers fight to have the case remain in the juvenile court. However, there are advantages to being tried in adult criminal court. Following are the advantages and disadvantages for minors whose lawsuits are transferred to adult court.
Merits Of Juveniles Tried As Adults
Many attorneys recommend that a juvenile case remains in the juvenile court. However, your minor could enjoy various benefits if their case is waived to adult court. These advantages include:
- In an adult court, your minor has the right to a jury trial.
- The adult court judge could be lenient and show sympathy to a minor.
- If the court is handling many cases or the jail hosts excess inmates, the judge quickly and imposes a lighter penalty.
Disadvantages Of Minors Tried As Adults
The disadvantages of your child facing prosecution in an adult court are:
- Being convicted in an adult criminal court instigates social stigma more than than a juvenile court.
- When compared to juvenile delinquency records, adult criminal records are harder to seal/ expunge.
- If convicted, your minor could go to an adult prison/ jail instead of a juvenile detention center.
- The adult court could impose harsher punishment.
- Adult court judges have fewer sentencing options than juvenile court judges. For instance, the judge could post the minor to a counseling program in place of serving time in prison or imposing curfew restrictions.
Penalties For Minors Tried As Adults
Unlike penalties that juvenile court judges impose, sentencing in adult criminal court is usually severe. The most severe penalty a juvenile court judge could order is to post your minor to the California Youth Authority. Other sentences ordered in juvenile courts are:
- Informal probation
- Formal probation in a detention camp
- WIC 614 diversion. The court diverts the minor to probation before the petition hearing.
- Deferred entry judgment
- Commitment to CYA up to 25 years
If the juvenile offender is tried as an adult, the judge sentences them like an adult offender. Therefore, you should talk to a competent criminal defense to represent your minor. The lawyer will do everything in their power to protect your child’s rights and avoid their case being transferred to an adult court.
Find The Right Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If your minor faces charges in San Jose, CA, for a serious criminal offense, it is vital that they be represented by a reputable lawyer who has experience navigating California juvenile justice system. You want to contact your child’s lawyer the instance you learn of their charges.
Even before the prosecutor files the charges, talk to your criminal attorney before allowing the investigative police to question or interview your child about the criminal matter. When you contact the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we swing into action and aggressively build strong defenses.
We will fight for your child’s rights and do everything in our jurisdiction to avoid a transfer hearing, harsh convictions, and even push to have your child’s criminal record sealed. Call us today at 408-622-0204 to discuss your child’s case with our experienced criminal defense lawyers.