Typically, in California, minors are persons under 18. The law considers minors too immature to understand the repercussions of their actions. California law considers several factors while determining a suitable punishment for children who commit severe offenses. Often, the law is lenient to children because they deserve a second chance to reform. The California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 707 (b) highlights some grave crimes that carry severe punishment that could affect a child's adult life. If your child faces charges for committing a serious offense, you need to seek the services of a juvenile criminal defense lawyer. The Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm has experience in handling juvenile cases in Pasadena. We will help you to understand the juvenile three strikes law and negotiate for the best outcome for your case.

Understanding Three Strikes Law In California

The Three Strikes Law in California is a sentencing scheme in which the court hands a 25-year-to-life imprisonment sentence to a defendant upon committing three serious felonies or violent crimes. This sentencing is available under the California Penal laws Section 667. If you have a prior conviction of a violent or serious felony and the court convicts you of any other felony offense, then the three-strike laws will double your prison sentence.

The third strike on your record will lead to a prison term of 25 years or life imprisonment. For instance, you could have two prior convictions for carjacking, and a few years later, the court charges you with selling controlled drugs to minors. Generally, selling controlled substances to minors attracts a maximum jail term of nine years. However, since it is the third felony charge in your criminal history, the court will treat it as a third strike. Therefore, you will face a jail term of 25 years to life imprisonment.

In addition to longer jail terms, individuals charged according to the California three strikes law obtain lower custody credits. These credits often cut off the total days you spend in prison. For example, you will receive one day of credit for each day of pre-sentence you have served in jail. If you spend two actual days of imprisonment, that translates to serving four days in prison. Your jail term as an ordinary offender could be reduced by this, but not an offender serving a jail term under the three-strikes law.

The only opportunity an offender facing a third felony charge has to avoid these severe jail terms is by fighting their current charges using a competent criminal attorney. If your attorney successfully convinces the court, your current charges could be reduced or dropped. Another option your defense attorney could have is to persuade the court to drop the previous charges.

Juvenile Strikes In California

Juvenile strikes refer to the offenses regarded as strikes under the Three Strikes Law. Section 707(b) of California's Welfare and Institutions Code highlights these offenses. Most of these offenses are tried and determined in a juvenile court. However, some circumstances could force the judges to charge them in adult criminal courts. The crimes highlighted under section 707(b) include:

  • Bribing and dissuading witnesses
  • Drive-by-shooting
  • Exploding a dangerous device intending to cause murder
  • Discharging a gun into an occupied or inhabited building
  • Violence-related felony committed against a disabled or older person above 60
  • Use of a firearm by a minor in person
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Torture
  • Violent manslaughter
  • Murder and attempted murder
  • Rape through force, violence, or threats to cause significant physical injury
  • Sexual penetration by force
  • Assault by force, and one likely to result in significant physical injury. Also, assault by use of a destructive device or firearm.
  • Commission of a felony offense whereby the juvenile offender personally used a gun
  • Carjacking
  • Escaping from the government detection facility inflicts substantial physical injuries to employees of the facility.
  • Kidnapping for robbery, ransom, or resulting in bodily injury
  • Oral copulation through violence, force, or threats to cause significant physical injury
  • Lascivious or lewd acts with a child below 14 years through violence, intimidation, or threats to cause substantial bodily harm
  • Sodomy through violence or threats to cause significant bodily injury
  • Arson in an occupied structure resulting in actual physical harm
  • Robbery
  • Manufacturing, selling or compounding at least eight ounces of controlled substances

Repercussions Of Juvenile Strikes In California

If the court imposes a juvenile strike on a minor for having committed any above-highlighted offenses, the offender could serve a jail term in the Division for Juvenile Justice Facility. In California, the facility is meant to detain and rehabilitate the most serious juvenile offenders. It is also a section of California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. This is the only juvenile system close to an adult prison that young offenders will find in California.

The sentence in the Division for Juvenile Justice Facility is often severe and prolonged. A minor in this facility must go to school full-time, and upon completing high school, college and vocational programs are available where the child must register. Most youths get jobs within the facilities once they finish college or vocational programs. The jobs they are mainly offered include janitorial work, food preparation, and landscaping.

Apart from the main programs offered in Division for Juvenile Justice Facility, minor offenders are also provided additional programs per their specific needs. The other programs available include mental health treatment and intensive behavior treatment.

The sentencing of a minor in a Juvenile Justice Facility does not end there. The minor could face more punishment if the child commits another crime as a grown-up. More sentences could result in enhanced jail terms and even heftier penalties.

A prior juvenile charge to an adult offender could be treated as a previous strike if it meets the following threshold:

  • When the minor committed the crime, at least sixteen years of age
  • The court had already made a minor a juvenile court's ward when charged with the said crime
  • The crime is among those highlighted under 707(b) of the California Welfare, and Institutions Code as a serious felony or a violence-related felony, and the court sustained the crime in that same petition.

How Long Can A Minor Be Sentenced To The Division For Juvenile Justice Facility (DJJF)?

Before the judge sends a minor to DJJF, the judge must set the maximum term of confinement. The period of incarceration cannot exceed the time that an adult could receive for a similar crime. However, there is no minimum term that the judge can impose. During the juvenile disposition hearing, the judge considers factors about the crime and the minor's history. A ward sentenced for a non-WIC 707(b) offense is discharged at 21 years or after two years. A ward sentenced for a WIC 707(b) crime is discharged at 23 years or after two years.

On the other hand, the juvenile court has the power to modify or change the conditions of wardship. For instance, if the minor's needs are not satisfied at the DJJF, a motion to alter or modify the commitment could be filed. Likewise, the court can change its previous orders if it discovers that the minor is not benefitting from the DJJF commitment.

Additionally, the minor could be on parole after release from DJJF. The Board of Juvenile Hearings, a department of the DJJF, does the following:

  • Conducts discharge hearings
  • Creates annual reviews
  • Oversees wards
  • Conducts DJJF parole consideration hearings
  • Conducts initial case reviews

The Board of Juvenile Hearings reviews each new ward's case within 45 days of commitment. The board also sets a date for parole consideration, which is always one year or less for non-serious crimes. For severe crimes like murder, it is usually up to seven years. In addition, the board reviews every case at least once per year to determine if the existing orders should be modified or changed. The board also has the authority to release a minor if the child appears reformed. The probation department and the sentencing court supervise minors released from DJJF.

Penalties For A Juvenile Strike

In California, if the judge imposes a juvenile strike on a minor, there are options in the type of penalty the judge can give the minor. Penalties range from committing to a Juvenile Justice Facility to probation and confinement. In addition, there are several probations children can be subjected to, both informal and formal. A sentence in a Division of Juvenile Justice Facility depends  on the following factors:

  • If the court had made the minor a ward of the court
  • If the current offense is sex-related
  • If the current offense the minor is alleged to have committed is under WIC Section 707(b)'s list.

The minor could face a jail term if the above conditions are correct.

Circumstances That Can Lead To A Minor Being Charged In An Adult Court

Some circumstances can make a juvenile offender be convicted in an adult criminal court instead of a juvenile court. For example, this often happens if the minor is at least sixteen years old and faces juvenile strike charges. However, not all cases are subject to a transfer hearing. If your child moves to an adult court, the child will be charged and face the punishment just like an adult.

When the police in California arrest a minor on suspicion of committing a particular crime, they must take them to a juvenile court within two days. The court could hold a transfer hearing to ascertain whether the minor is fit to face the charges in a juvenile court or go to an adult court. The minor’s issues that could qualify for a transfer hearing include:

  • Charges associated with felony offenses that the minor could have committed at the age of sixteen or older
  • Charges for committing any crime highlighted under California WIC 707(b)

The minor could have committed the crime at fourteen or fifteen, but the arrest was before a juvenile court’s jurisdiction ended. The court will consider several factors at the transfer hearing. Some of the elements could include:

  • Any prior delinquent history
  • The circumstances and gravity of the current offenses
  • The level of criminal sophistication portrayed by the minor
  • The success of previous rehabilitation attempts on the minor
  • Whether it is possible to rehabilitate the minor before the expiration of the juvenile court jurisdiction

The court will refer the minor's case to a prosecutor if the judge decides that the minor is not fit for trial in a juvenile court. However, facing the charges in a juvenile court has its advantages and disadvantages as in adult court. Benefits a minor could reap from facing charges in a juvenile court include:

  • The child will be protected from adult criminals even when they are found guilty of committing the crime
  • The court processes are much quicker than adult justice court processes. They are also not complicated.
  • To have a child’s juvenile conviction removed from their record is easy and fast.
  • The guidance of a juvenile court will always protect the child's best interests and the interests of the victims and the public.

Therefore, the minor’s penalty cannot necessarily match the gravity of the crime committed.

The benefits of facing charges in an adult court include:

  • There is always an opportunity for a plea bargain in an adult court, where the charges against the offender could be dropped or reduced
  • Everyone has a right to a fair trial, which includes a jury's presence during trial. However, it only applies if you face charges in a criminal court.
  • Adult offenders facing a trial of severe felonies could receive a shorter jail term than a minor in similar circumstances, whose charges have been determined by a juvenile court.
  • An adult offender can easily access bail that guarantees a quick release from prison until their case is determined. However, juvenile offenders facing charges in a juvenile court would have to remain in jail until the court decides what will happen to them.

Juvenile Strike And Plea Bargain In California

A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and an offender in which the offender pleads guilty to a less-severe charge for a lesser penalty. At times, the prosecutor could promise to drop the charges against the offender upon accepting a guilty plea.

A plea bargain is also possible for a minor with a juvenile strike. The offender’s defense attorney can plead with the District Attorney for lesser charges for the juvenile if the juvenile accepts to take a guilty plea. The district attorney could organize for less-severe charges or drop the charges altogether.

However, in some circumstances, negotiations of this kind would involve the judge. For example, if the juvenile's charges involve a plea bargain, the law permits the child to retain the judge who admitted them so that the same judge can decide the disposition of the juvenile.

Juvenile Strikes And Deferred Entry of Judgment

First-time non-violent juvenile felony offenders can access Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ). Under California law, a deferred entry of judgment happens if the minor pleads guilty to a crime committed but is acquitted after a plea. The court could decide to put the juvenile's case on hold for about one year or more. Often, the period depends on the agreement between the minor's attorney and the prosecutor. The prosecutor sets a date for sentencing the minor; the child meets specific requirements. Once the juvenile offender meets the requisites within the given time, the judge dismisses the charges against them as the date set for conviction approaches.

In California, deferred judgment for juvenile offenders is only given on specific conditions. The minor should not have committed any offense highlighted under section 707(b) of California's Welfare and Institutions Code. The minor offender will also not access a deferment upon contesting their charges at the jurisdiction hearing. This condition would apply even if the prosecutor fails to sustain the minor's charges under section 707(b).

Advantages Of Deferred Entry Of Judgment To A Minor

  • It eliminates the chances that the minor offender will have a conviction on their criminal record. Once the child meets the court's requirements, the court will dismiss the charges, and they will never appear on the minor's record.
  • It allows the minor to benefit from rehabilitation and avoid penalties. The juvenile justice system seeks to rehabilitate and not punish the minor. Under California law, minor offenders deserve a second chance to reform.
  • The minor can argue legally and confidently that they have never been convicted or arrested of any crime if a question about the same arises.
  • It does not subject the minor to probation conditions. As a result, the judge could only give the child a few requirements the child should meet. The requirements could include completing a counseling program or a drug rehabilitation program.

Expunging A Minor From A Juvenile Strike Record

If a minor is convicted for a juvenile strike, this could negatively affect them as an adult since the minor will not be able to secure a suitable job. It could also be hard for them to obtain professional licenses and risk not being admitted into professional organizations. The law permits minors with prior convictions to apply for expungement of their criminal record. Once the record is expunged, it is no longer accessible online and will not be used against a minor offender in the future. Section 781 of the California Welfare and Institutions Act outlines the expungement of juvenile offenses. A minor's juvenile strike can be expunged at any time. The law also permits the sealing of a juvenile criminal history. If a minor fails to petition the court to seal a juvenile criminal record, the previous charge could work against the minor to enhance their jail term if found guilty of another crime.

Assembly Bill 1127

In 2021, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon and California Assemblymember Miguel Santiago unveiled Assembly Bill 1127. The bill sought to exclude juvenile offenses from appearing under the Three Strikes Law in California once the juvenile reaches adulthood. The bill also allows a person who had a juvenile strike counted during an adult felony charge to petition for fresh judgment if the person is currently incarcerated.

Science reveals that the adolescent brain is not mature, and thus it makes different decisions from an adult brain. As a result, minors have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility and lack the maturity that leads to impulsivity and recklessness, especially when committing offenses.

Unfortunately, in California, juvenile strikes disproportionately affect minors of color, particularly black minors. Black adults are also more likely to face longer jail terms, and black youths are more likely to face strike charges because of that past juvenile strike. Therefore, applying the three-strikes law in California to adjudicate minors is inherently unfair.

George Gascon and the Los Angeles County District Attorney felt the need for California to reform its criminal justice system and eliminate the unnecessary mass incarceration of the youth, particularly youths of color. As a result, the Assembly Bill has brought reforms to the Three Strikes law in California by eliminating strikes committed and adjudicated as a minor from counting as enhancements in future adult felonies.

However, the bill does not change the discretion of the judge to reasonably transfer a juvenile to criminal court to be tried as an adult if the offense is egregious. It also does not change the judge's discretion to sentence the juvenile for their crime.

The bill has taken much-required steps to reduce mass incarceration by eliminating juvenile strikes in California. In addition, the bill has addressed the disparate effects of juvenile strike laws on youths of color.

Find A Juvenile Pasadena Criminal Lawyer Near Me

If your child faces a conviction for a juvenile strike offense, you need to understand how the sentence will affect the child's life. A lawyer versed in juvenile three-strike defense can assist your child get the best representation possible. The Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm has helped many minors avoid unfair sentencing guidelines that apply to habitual offenders.

Our Pasadena lawyers will aggressively advocate for your child to receive a fair judgment in the juvenile courts. If your child is an adult who faced the third strike as a child, we will take decisive steps to keep their juvenile record out of the sentencing consideration. Call us at 626-628-0564 and talk to one of our lawyers.