Facing the possibility of your child being tried as an adult for a criminal offense can be an overwhelming and distressing experience. As a parent, you want the best for your child. Ensuring they receive the proper legal representation is crucial in protecting their rights and future. At Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we understand the complexities surrounding cases where minors are tried as adults. We are dedicated to providing compassionate and personalized legal assistance to parents and minors in Pasadena facing these challenging circumstances.

Who is Considered a Minor?

The age at which an individual is considered a minor plays a significant role in determining their treatment within the criminal justice system. In California, the juvenile justice system generally applies to individuals who are under the age of 18.

This means that if a minor commits an offense before reaching 18 years of age, their case is typically handled within the juvenile court system. The juvenile courts' primary focus is rehabilitation rather than punishment, acknowledging the unique needs and circumstances of young offenders.

However, there are circumstances where minors can be tried as adults. California law allows for the transfer of a minor's case to an adult court, depending on the nature and severity of the offense.

The decision to transfer a minor to an adult court involves a legal process that takes into account various factors. If a minor is convicted in adult court, they may face more severe penalties compared to the juvenile justice system.

Specific age thresholds exist for certain offenses in California. For instance, some violent crimes, such as murder or certain types of sexual offenses, may automatically trigger adult prosecution for minors aged 16 or older. Additionally, minors who are 14 or 15 years old can also face adult prosecution for particularly heinous or violent offenses.

While age is a crucial factor, it is not the sole determinant in deciding whether a minor will be tried as an adult. Each case is evaluated on an individual basis, taking into account the unique circumstances surrounding the offense and the minor involved.

California Proposition 21

Proposition 21, also known as the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act, holds significant implications for minors who may face adult prosecution. Passed by voters in March 2000, Proposition 21 aimed to address concerns surrounding gang violence and juvenile crime.

This legislation brought about notable changes to the state's criminal justice system, particularly regarding prosecuting minors as adults. One of the most significant impacts of Proposition 21 was the expansion of the list of offenses for which minors could be tried as adults.

The proposition added various crimes, including gang-related offenses, violent felonies, and serious sex offenses, to the existing list. This expansion increased the likelihood of minors being transferred to adult court and facing more severe penalties if convicted.

Proposition 21 also granted prosecutors greater authority by expanding direct filing discretion. This meant that prosecutors could bypass the juvenile court system and directly file charges against minors in adult court. This provision allowed prosecutors to exercise more influence in determining whether a minor should face adult prosecution, potentially increasing the number of cases transferred to adult court.

Regarding sentencing, Proposition 21 had an impact on the options available for minors tried as adults. It eliminated the possibility of parole consideration for minors sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for certain offenses. Additionally, the proposition expanded the range of sentences that minors could receive in adult court, potentially resulting in longer periods of incarceration.

California Senate Bill 1391

California Senate Bill 1391 has had a notable impact on minors who may face adult prosecution. Enacted in 2019, Senate Bill 1391 sought to reverse certain provisions of Proposition 57, specifically related to the transfer of minors aged 14 or 15 to adult court.

The bill prohibits the prosecution of minors who were 14 or 15 years old at the time of the offense as adults, emphasizing the importance of the juvenile justice system in addressing the unique needs of young offenders and promoting their rehabilitation. Senate Bill 1391 recognizes the potential for growth, change, and rehabilitation among young individuals by removing the option of adult prosecution for minors in this age group. It aligns with research on brain development, highlighting the importance of providing appropriate services and support to address the underlying issues that contribute to juvenile offenses.

With Senate Bill 1391 in effect, minors aged 14 or 15 who commit offenses will remain within the juvenile court system. This system emphasizes rehabilitation and provides services tailored to address the underlying factors contributing to the offense.

However, minors aged 14 or 15 accused of violent crimes or serious felonies can still be transferred to an adult court. In such instances, the prosecutor may request a juvenile fitness hearing. In this hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to transfer the minor to an adult court.

California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b)

California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) holds significant importance within the legal landscape when determining whether a minor should be tried as an adult. The Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) establishes a framework for evaluating the appropriateness of transferring minors to adult court.

This provision aims to ensure that the decision-making process considers specific factors vital in determining whether a minor should be tried as an adult. When evaluating a case, the court considers various factors delineated in Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b).

The court carefully weighs each factor individually and collectively to arrive at a decision. The seriousness of the offense carries significant weight in this evaluation, as does the minor's prior delinquency history and the level of involvement in the offense.

Judges have discretion in applying Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) to each case. They carefully consider the unique circumstances, the minor's background, and the potential for rehabilitation when making their decision.

Given the complexities involved in applying Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) to individual cases, it is crucial to seek competent legal representation. Experienced defense attorneys specializing in juvenile law possess the expertise to analyze the specific circumstances of a case, challenge the application of factors, and present compelling arguments to support the minor's placement within the juvenile justice system.

Criminal Offenses That Can Subject a Minor to the Adult Court System

In California, there are specific offenses for which minors can be tried as adults, subjecting them to the jurisdiction of the adult court system. The following are examples of offenses for which minors can be tried as adults in California:

  • Murder.
  • Rape and sexual assault.
  • Robbery.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Arson.
  • Carjacking.
  • Assault with a deadly weapon.
  • Attempted murder.
  • Certain drug offenses.
  • Gang-related offenses.
  • Aggravated battery.
  • Voluntary manslaughter.
  • Human trafficking.
  • Hate crimes.
  • Certain weapons offenses.

Note that these examples are not an exhaustive list, and there may be other offenses for which minors can be tried as adults under specific circumstances. It is important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney specializing in juvenile law if your child is facing potential adult prosecution. They can assess the case's specific circumstances, explore potential defenses, and advocate for your child's rights throughout the legal process.

California Juvenile Court Fitness Hearing

In California, a fitness hearing is a crucial component of the juvenile court process that determines whether a minor should be tried as an adult. A fitness hearing aims to evaluate the appropriateness of transferring the case from juvenile court to adult court based on specific factors outlined in the law.

During a fitness hearing, the court examines various aspects of the case and the minor's background to make an informed decision. Here is an overview of the California juvenile court fitness hearing process:

  • Triggering factors — The prosecution may request a fitness hearing when a minor aged 14 or 15 is accused of committing a serious offense, such as murder, robbery, rape, or other qualifying offenses. These triggering offenses often involve significant harm or threat to public safety.
  • Factors considered —The court evaluates several factors when determining whether a minor can be tried as an adult. These factors may include the gravity of the offense, the minor's previous delinquency record, the minor's success or failure with past attempts at rehabilitation, the circumstances surrounding the offense, and the minor's amenability to treatment within the juvenile justice system.
  • Expert assessments — The court may rely on expert assessments, such as psychological evaluations, to assess the minor's level of maturity, cognitive abilities, and potential for rehabilitation. These assessments provide valuable insight into the minor's capacity for change and the likelihood of reoffending.
  • Judicial discretion — The judge presiding over the fitness hearing has discretion in determining whether the minor should be tried as an adult. They weigh the factors presented by both the prosecution and the defense, considering the minor's best interests and the public safety implications of the decision.
  • Defense strategies — Defense attorneys play a crucial role in fitness hearings by presenting arguments and evidence to support keeping the case within the juvenile court system. They may challenge the prosecution's claims, present mitigating factors, highlight the potential for rehabilitation, and emphasize the importance of addressing the underlying causes of the minor's behavior.
  • Outcome — If the court determines that the minor is unfit for juvenile court, the case is transferred to adult court for prosecution. However, if the court finds the minor fit for juvenile court, the case remains within the juvenile justice system, focusing on rehabilitation and the minor's best interests.

Navigating the complexities of a fitness hearing requires the expertise of a skilled defense attorney specializing in juvenile law. They can analyze the case's specific circumstances, challenge the prosecution's arguments, present compelling evidence, and advocate for your child's rights throughout the hearing.

Direct Filing by Prosecutors

Sometimes, prosecutors have the discretion to bypass the juvenile court system and directly file charges against minors in adult court. This process has significant implications for minors facing potential adult prosecution.

Prosecutors have the authority to decide to charge a minor directly in adult court, bypassing the traditional proceedings of the juvenile court system. The decision to directly file charges in adult court is based on several factors, including the severity of the offense, the minor's age and maturity, their criminal history, and potential public safety concerns.

Prosecutors may exercise this discretion when minors aged 16 or 17 are accused of committing serious offenses such as murder, rape, robbery, or other qualifying crimes that significantly threaten public safety. The rationale behind direct filing is to hold minors accountable for their actions and ensure appropriate consequences for serious offenses.

Transferring the case to the adult court system shifts the focus from rehabilitation to punishment, potentially leading to more severe penalties if the minor is convicted. When direct filing occurs, it becomes crucial for the defense team to mount a strong legal defense.

Defense attorneys specializing in juvenile law and adult criminal defense can challenge the decision to file charges in an adult court directly, argue for the case to be remanded to juvenile court, or present mitigating factors that could support a more lenient outcome within the adult court system. Their expertise and experience are essential in navigating the complexities of the legal process and advocating for the rights and best interests of the minor.

Key Differences Between the Juvenile and Adult Court Systems

There are significant differences between the juvenile and adult court systems in California. Recognizing these distinctions is vital for parents whose children are facing potential prosecution and seeking legal representation.

Here are the key differences between the two systems and their implications:

  • Purpose and focus — The juvenile court system strongly emphasizes rehabilitation and addressing the underlying causes of delinquent behavior. Its primary objective is to provide minors with the necessary support and interventions to promote their successful reintegration into society. In contrast, the adult court system emphasizes punishment and holding individuals accountable for their actions, with a focus on public safety.
  • Confidentiality — Juvenile court proceedings are generally confidential, protecting the privacy and future prospects of minors. In contrast, adult court proceedings are typically public, providing transparency and access to case information and records.
  • Sentencing and penalties — In the juvenile court system, the focus is on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Penalties often revolve around treatment, counseling, probation, community service, educational programs, or placement in a juvenile facility. The objective is to guide minors toward positive change and reintegration. Conversely, the adult court system emphasizes punishment and the severity of penalties, including incarceration in state prison, fines, probation, or other forms of punishment aligned with the offense committed.
  • Adjudication process — Juvenile court proceedings differ from adult court proceedings in terms of their structure. In the juvenile court system, there is typically no trial by jury. Instead, a judge presides over the case, considering the minor's needs, intervention suitability, and best interests. The proceedings are often less formal, aiming to provide a supportive environment for the minor. In adult court, proceedings involve a trial by jury, with the judge overseeing the process. The prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the accused has the right to legal representation and the presumption of innocence.

Understanding these key differences between the juvenile and adult court systems is paramount for parents seeking legal representation for their children facing potential prosecution. By comprehending the distinct characteristics of each system, parents can make informed decisions and work with experienced defense attorneys specializing in juvenile law. These attorneys navigate the specific procedures and strive to protect the rights and interests of the minor throughout the legal process.

Possible Consequences for Minors Tried as Adults

When minors are tried as adults in California, they may face significant consequences that differ from those typically associated with the juvenile court system. It is important for parents seeking legal representation for their children to understand the potential outcomes and ramifications.

Here are some possible consequences for minors who are tried as adults:

  • Lengthy incarceration — If convicted, minors tried as adults may be subject to longer periods of incarceration in state prison or county jail, depending on the severity of the offense. The sentencing guidelines for the particular offense committed will determine the duration of imprisonment.
  • Criminal record — Minors tried as adults will have a criminal record that could have long-lasting effects on their future prospects. A criminal record may impact educational opportunities, employment prospects, housing options, and other aspects of their personal and professional life.
  • Loss of juvenile court protections — When minors are tried as adults, they lose the protective measures provided by the juvenile court system. These protections include confidentiality, access to rehabilitative services, and a focus on the minor's best interests. Instead, the focus shifts to punishment and adult-oriented consequences.
  • Limited rehabilitation opportunities — While the adult court system may offer some rehabilitative programs and services, the emphasis is primarily on punishment rather than the comprehensive rehabilitative efforts typically found in the juvenile court system. Minors tried as adults may have limited access to educational programs, counseling, and other services designed to address the underlying causes of their behavior.
  • No access to juvenile correctional facilities — In certain cases, minors tried as adults may be housed in adult correctional facilities due to the nature of the offense and their age at the time of conviction. This exposes them to an environment designed for adult offenders, potentially subjecting them to increased risks and challenges.

Navigating the potential consequences of minors being tried as adults requires experienced legal representation. Skilled defense attorneys specializing in juvenile law and adult criminal defense can advocate for the rights and interests of minors, explore alternative sentencing options, challenge the prosecution's case, and strive to mitigate the long-term impacts on their clients.

Can a Minor Appeal the Decision to Be Tried as an Adult?

Yes, a minor can appeal the decision to be tried as an adult. The appeal process offers an opportunity to challenge the court's decision and seek a review from a higher court.

The appeal is typically filed with the appropriate appellate court. Depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the case, this appellate court reviews the decisions made by the trial court.

The grounds for the appeal are based on legal arguments, challenging the trial court's decision to try the minor as an adult. These grounds may include errors in the application or interpretation of the law, violations of the minor's constitutional rights, or procedural errors during the fitness hearing.

Having skilled legal representation throughout the appeal process is crucial. An experienced appellate attorney specializing in juvenile law can thoroughly analyze the trial court proceedings, identify potential grounds for appeal, and present compelling arguments to the appellate court.

The appellate court carefully reviews the trial court's decision and considers the legal arguments presented. It assesses whether errors or legal violations occurred that would justify overturning the decision to try the minor as an adult. The court may review the trial record, study written briefs, and may also hear oral arguments from both parties.

Possible outcomes of the appeal include the appellate court reversing the trial court's decision. In such cases, the case may be remanded to the juvenile court system for further proceedings, where the minor would be subject to the appropriate juvenile court process. However, if the appellate court upholds the trial court's decision, the minor will remain subject to adult prosecution.

The appeal process can be complex and time-sensitive. Therefore, it is crucial for the minor to seek the assistance of an experienced appellate attorney who specializes in juvenile law. This ensures that the appeal is properly filed and the minor's rights are effectively advocated throughout the process.

Find a Pasadena Juvenile Delinquency Lawyer Near Me

When it comes to defending your child's rights and ensuring the best possible outcome, seeking expert legal representation is paramount. At Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we are dedicated to providing exceptional defense representation for minors facing adult prosecution.

We are committed to safeguarding your child's future, advocating for their rights, and pursuing the most favorable resolution. Call us today at 626-628-0564 for a free consultation.