When Can Juveniles be Tried in Adult Courts in California?

In the vast majority of criminal situations involving a minor, the case will be heard in California’s juvenile court. These crimes are adjudicated as delinquency matters in juvenile courts, which exist to rehabilitate rather than punish minor offenders. However, some exceptions may lead to a juvenile aged 16 and up being transferred to the adult criminal court. This generally occurs in two scenarios: when children commit severe and violent crimes or if they have an extensive history of committing felonies and seem incapable of being rehabilitated by the juvenile justice system.

If your child has been arrested for a criminal offense and you’re worried they may be tried as an adult in California, it’s crucial that you get in touch with an experienced juvenile defense lawyer who can help. At the Aron Law Firm, our attorneys have years of experience successfully representing our juvenile clients facing the consequences of a criminal conviction. Contact us today to learn more about your options.

When Can Teens be Tried as Adults in California?

The following factors must be true for a teen to be tried as an adult in California:

  • They were 16 or 17 years old at the time the crime was committed
  • They’re charged with one or more felony offenses
  • The prosecutor asks the court to transfer the case to an adult court

There used to be an exception to the above rule in which a child aged 14 or 15 could be tried as an adult if the following crimes were committed:

However, in 2019, a California appellate court ruled that juveniles under 16 couldn’t be tried as adults or face life sentences. However, 16- and 17-year old’s may still be tried as adults for any crime listed in California Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b).

Why Are Some Youth Tried as Adults?

Most 16- and 17-year-olds who come into court facing felony charges will remain in juvenile court unless the District Attorney makes an exceptional motion asking the court to transfer a qualifying case into adult court. But why are exceptions made? In most cases, this happens for one of two reasons. One, the child committed a serious or violent crime such as rape, robbery, assault with a firearm, or murder. Two, the child has an extensive history of committing felonies and seems incapable of being rehabilitated by the juvenile justice system.

Fortunately, a knowledgeable juvenile lawyer may be able to help you avoid adult court. For example, an attorney may be able to find expert testimony, which is often a critical factor in persuading a judge to keep a child in juvenile court. These experts—which often include psychologists or psychiatrists—typically provide written reports that can be submitted with a defense brief. They may also be able to testify at the transfer hearing.

Contact an Experienced Juvenile Defense Attorney Today

If your child has been arrested for a crime in California, they’re often entitled to avoid criminal prosecution as an adult. However, this isn’t always the case. No matter the situation, it’s essential to learn more about the legal implications and options in front of you. Your family is important to us, and we’ll do everything in our power to help you and your child attain the best result possible in their case.

At the Aron Law Firm, we have experience safeguarding clients of any age from a range of criminal charges. We take a unique and compassionate approach that aims to make the legal process as painless as possible. To talk with a criminal defense attorney today, schedule a consultation by calling (805) 500-7745 or completing our online contact form as soon as possible.

William M. Aron


William M. Aron

June 19, 2022

Former Deputy District Attorney William Aron received his Juris Doctorate from the Duke School of Law and has amassed 20 years of experience practicing law. Attorney Aron dedicates his practice to defending the accused, and is devoted to keeping his clients out of prison.