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When Can a Juvenile Be Tried in Adult Court?

Posted by William Aron | Mar 16, 2022

For over a decade, 14- to 17-year-olds could face adult charges in the state of California through Proposition 21 of “The Juvenile Justice Initiative.”  However, in February 2021, a unanimous decision by the California Supreme Court put an end to the harsh measures, which led to overcrowded prisons and developmental issues for juvenile offenders. The law allowed minors to face adult consequences for crimes and possibly transfer a 14- to 17-year-old into an adult criminal court. Many found that these laws were too harsh and led to significant social, developmental, and economic problems for the minors charged as adults.

The new change makes it so 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds cannot be charged as adults for most crimes. However, the severity of the crime can still determine whether a young minor is charged as an adult. Regardless of the crime, minors facing criminal charges can encounter severe consequences that affect the rest of their life. If your child is being charged with a crime, speak with a juvenile defense lawyer to determine the best possible options for your case.

When Can Juveniles Be Tried As Adults in California?

Generally, most minors are arrested for smaller crimes and don't face the same punishments for their actions. Most California juvenile cases often adjudicate as delinquency matters in juvenile court, and minors encounter rehabilitation instead of punishments. California allows 16- to 17-year-olds to be tried as adults in California in the California Superior Court through the following procedures:

  • Filing a fitness hearing
  • Filing directly in an adult criminal court at the prosecutor's discretion
  • Through certain predetermined aggravated offenses that allow for an automatic trial

Even while California's law now prohibits children under 16 from being prosecuted as adults, some situations can lead to an adult trial. The following are some crimes that a minor can still encounter adult charges according to the California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 707(b):

  • Murder
  • Certain sex crimes
  • Kidnapping
  • Assault with a firearm or destructive device
  • Torture
  • Voluntary manslaughter

If your child is facing harsh legal consequences, contact a juvenile defense lawyer as soon as possible. Every case is unique and requires extensive amounts of evidence and documentation. With the help of an experienced lawyer, you'll have someone on your side to guide you through the process.

What Is A Juvenile Court Fitness Hearing?

Fitness hearings are legal proceedings that decide whether juveniles who have committed a serious crime can amend themselves through rehabilitation. If they are deemed “unfit” for rehabilitation or educational consequences, they can be charged as adults. When filing a fitness petition, a prosecutor can request a fitness hearing. Once in the hearing, a juvenile court judge will determine whether the minor is fit for juvenile rehabilitation consequences by evaluating the following:

  • Prior delinquent history
  • Degree of criminal sophistication and intent
  • Expiration of the juvenile court's jurisdiction for the minor
  • Success of previous rehabilitation attempts
  • Circumstances and severity of the alleged offenses

Suppose the California judge decides that the minor is unlikely to change from rehabilitation by the juvenile delinquency court. In that case, their case will be transferred to adult court, and the minor can face traditional prosecution and consequences.

Contact a Dependable California Juvenile Defense Lawyer at Aron Law Firm

Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes they have harsher consequences than our children imagine. When your child faces severe punishment and the possibility of adult charges, their freedoms, future, and life are at risk. It's essential that you speak with an experienced juvenile defense lawyer.

Our lawyers at Aron Law Firm have years of experience protecting our clients from severe legal penalties. We understand that every case is unique and will provide you with legal services tailored to your case and needs. With our resources and tools, you can count on our team for representation you can trust.

Call (805) 618-1768 or fill out our contact form to learn how our team can help you.

About the Author

William Aron

Our firm is managed by William M. Aron. William M. Aron is a graduate from the Duke University School of Law and an active member of the California State Bar Association. While at Duke University, Mr. Aron also earned an M.A. in Psychology, authoring a paper examining the efficacy of polygraph e...

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