Statistics show that in 2007 alone, secure confinements received 15,989 minors, and juvenile officers received 39,014 of them. These increasing minor offenders informed the decision by legislators in California to pass laws that allow children to be tried as adults. Depending on the circumstances, your child can be tried in a Juvenile Court or an adult court.
The thought of the latter possibility can be scary for any parent. Still, with the assistance of a seasoned Orange County criminal defense lawyer, you will get all the guidance you need. The process won’t be as terrifying and intimidating as it would be if you went through it alone.
What is the procedure for Trying a Minor as an Adult?
Juvenile courts usually rehabilitate minors, as opposed to punishing them. However, the law allows the prosecution of minors between 14 and 17 under certain circumstances. The decision to prosecute a minor as an adult depends on several factors.
And it can be accomplished in one of the following ways:
- Direct filing in the adult court at the discretion of the prosecutor
- Filing of a “fitness” hearing at the juvenile court by the prosecutor. The accused minor might be tried as an adult, if the juvenile court judge finds them “unfit” for rehabilitation.
- Automatic prosecution as an adult for certain pre-determined aggravated offenses committed by an eligible minor
If none of the above procedures were followed in taking the minor’s case to the adult court, the judge could throw it out. An Orange County juvenile defense lawyer can work with the accused minor and their families to ensure that the proper procedures are followed.
Under Which Circumstances Can the Prosecution Petition for a Fitness Hearing?
A fitness hearing ought not to be petitioned unless it is really necessary. And if it is unnecessary, it is bound to be ruled in favor of the minor. Remember that the laws in California are protective of children, and would not expose them to punitive processes unless it is really necessary.
The prosecutor is required to initiate the proceedings only if:
- The minor is 14 years and above, and has allegedly committed an offense under the Welfare & Institutions Code 707(b).
- The accused is 16 years and above, and is alleged to have committed any crime.
- The minor is 16 years and above, has allegedly committed a felony that has previously made them a ward of the court, and has committed two felonies or more after turning 14.
If the circumstance isn’t any of the three described above, it would be pointless for the prosecution to file for the petition. Coupled with good defense from a juvenile defense attorney in Orange County, the minor can be recommended for rehabilitation rather than punishment.
What Happens in a Juvenile Court Fitness Hearing?
The Juvenile Court fitness hearing determines whether a minor will be prosecuted as an adult or not. Such hearings are usually scheduled after the prosecution has filed a petition on the same. At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide whether the committed crime fits the juvenile system and whether it is agreeable to rehabilitation.
Notably, the judge’s decision is informed by the following factors:
- The minor’s previous delinquent history
- The success of prior efforts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor
- Whether they can be rehabilitated before the expiry of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction on them
- The level of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor
- The gravity and circumstances of the alleged offense in the petition
If the judge finds that the rehabilitative services of the Juvenile Court might not be helpful to the minor, s/he might allow the case to be transferred to the adult court. An Orange County juvenile defense lawyer can represent a minor in the hearing to ensure that their rights are safeguarded throughout the process.
What Criminal Allegations Qualify for the Prosecution of a Minor as an Adult?
Not all offenses qualify for a trial in an adult court. the crime has to fall under the following category:
- Assault with a destructive device or firearm
- Attempted murder
- Kidnapping with bodily harm
- Kidnapping for purposes of robbery
- Kidnapping for ransom
- Forcible sexual penetration
- Oral copulation with force, the threat of great physical harm, violence, or force
- Lascivious or lewd act on a child below 14 years with the threat of great bodily harm, violence, or force
- Sodomy by the threat of bodily harm, violence, or force
- Rape with the threat of bodily harm, violence, or force
- Arson on inhabited structures or causing significant bodily injury
- Assault using force that can cause great bodily injury
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Exploding an explosive device with intentions to cause death
- Kidnapping during a carjacking
- Kidnapping for purposes of sexual assault
- Aggravated mayhem
- Escaping using violence or force, and injuring a juvenile officer
- Violent felony
- Selling, compounding, or manufacturing one-half ounce or more of a controlled substance
- Bribing or dissuading a witness
- Personally using a weapon listed in Penal Code Section 16590(a)
- Certain offenses against persons over 60 years
- Discharging a firearm towards an occupied or inhabited building
If a minor is found guilty for any of the above offenses, they might be sentenced like an adult after being tried in an adult court. The sentencing includes life imprisonment without parole, depending on how serious the crime is. However, a minor can never get a death sentence in any circumstances.
An Attorney Defending Minors in Southern California
Parents with children accused of a criminal offense go through a whirlwind of emotions in California. And it can be even harder for you, if the offense is serious enough for the prosecution to want it tried in an adult court. The right attorney for such a case is one that is equipped to defend your minor child’s life.
Our Southern California criminal justice attorneys can handle criminal defense cases throughout Orange County and the Laguna Hills area. We will do whatever it takes to protect your child’s rights. Talk to us and let us hear your concerns.