Typically, a juvenile can be tried as an adult when they attain the majority age, which is 18 years in most states. Usually, juveniles arrested for committing offenses in California are not treated the same way as adults. Often, the crimes committed by juveniles are adjudicated as delinquency cases in juvenile courts. Juvenile crimes are adjudicated as delinquency matters in juvenile courts because the main aim of the juvenile system is to rehabilitate the juveniles instead of punishing them. A juvenile could face criminal charges in an adult court depending on whether they are a repeat offender if they have been tried as an adult before the case, or the severity of the crime. If your child is facing criminal charges in an adult court, the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can help your child fight the charges.

Trying Juveniles As Adults In California

A juvenile offender in California can face trial as an adult in three ways:

Judicial Waiver

In the United States, some states leave the decision of transferring a juvenile offender to an adult court to the judge handling the case. The judge could initiate the transfer process by ordering that the offender face trial as an adult in such circumstances.

Statutory Exclusion

When specific conditions exist in a juvenile offender’s case, most states impose what is known as ‘’statutory exclusion’’. A state could impose statutory exclusion if:

  • The juvenile has attained the legal age limit to face trial as an adult
  • He/she is a repeat offender, or
  • He/she committed a serious crime like murder.

If the statutory exclusion applies, a juvenile offender can be tried as an adult in adult criminal court.

Direct File

Also referred to as ''prosecutorial decision'', a direct file is another option for a juvenile to be tried as an adult in some states. This is where the prosecutor has the authority to decide if the juvenile offender should be tried as an adult criminal defendant or as a juvenile offender.

Offenses Minors Can Face Trial As Adults In California

If a minor is unfit for rehabilitation in the juvenile court, the offender is transferred to an adult court. The California Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b) highlights the crimes that minors commit, which qualify for an adult court trial. According to section 707(b), the crimes could include:

  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Kidnapping during a carjacking
  • Exploding a destructive device with intent to commit murder
  • Drive-by shooting as described in Penal Code section 26100
  • Carjacking
  • Torture
  • Kidnapping for purposes of sexual assault
  • Escape by the use of violence or force from a county juvenile camp, ranch, home, or forestry camp if significant bodily injury is intentionally inflicted upon an employee of the juvenile facility
  • Compounding, manufacturing, or selling one-half ounce or more of a salt or solution of a controlled substance specified in the Health and Safety Code 11055 (e)
  • A felony offense as described in Penal Code Section 136.1, dissuading a witness or bribing a witness Penal Code section 137
  • A violent felony, which also would constitute a felony violation of Penal Code 186.22 (b), criminal street gang sentencing enhancement
  • A felony offense in which a minor personally used a weapon listed in Penal Code section 16590 (a)
  • Personal use of a firearm, Penal Code 12022.5, California’s ‘’10-20 life’’ or ‘’use of a gun and you are done’’ law, Penal Code Section 12022.53
  • A crime is described in section 1203.09 of the Penal Code against a person over 60 or a disabled person.
  • Discharge of a firearm into an inhabited or occupied building
  • Assault by the use of force likely to produce significant bodily injury
  • Assault with a destructive device or firearm
  • Attempted murder
  • Kidnapping with bodily harm
  • Kidnapping for purposes of robbery
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Oral copulation by violence, force, or threat of great bodily harm
  • A lewd or lascivious act on a child under 14 with violence, force, or threat of significant physical harm
  • Sodomy by violence, force, or threat of great bodily harm
  • Rape with violence, force, or threat of great bodily harm
  • Robbery
  • Murder
  • Arson causing significant bodily injury or to an inhabited structure

Offenses That Could Automatically Trigger Charging Of A juvenile As An Adult – Welfare And Institution Code 602(b)

Under W&I Code 602(b) of the California law, a minor at least 14 years of age or older can face trial as an adult for the following offenses:

  • Lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14 years, Penal Code 288(a), unless the minor is eligible for probation according to Penal Code1203.066
  • Forcible sexual penetration, Penal Code 289(a)
  • Sodomy or oral copulation by violence, force, or threat of significant bodily injury, Penal Code 286 and 288(a)
  • Lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14 years involving violence, force, or threat of significant bodily injury, Penal Code 288 (b)
  • Forcible sex acting in concert with another, Penal Code 264.1
  • Spousal rape with violence, force, or threat of significant bodily injury, Penal Code 262 (a)(1)
  • Rape with violence, force, or threat of substantial physical harm, Penal Code 261 (a)(2)
  • Murder with particular circumstances if the prosecutor alleges that the minor personally killed the victim

Lewd And Lascivious On A Child Under The Age Of 14 Years — Penal Code 288(a)

Under Penal Code 288(a) in California, it is a crime for anyone to commit any lewd/lascivious acts with a minor less than 14 years of age. This crime is a sexual nature act ‘’with the intent of arousing, gratifying the lust, sexual desires, or passions’’ of the minor. It is also commonly known as child molestation. If the prosecutor accuses you of violating PC 288(a), this statute requires that they prove the following elements:

  • You intentionally touched the child's body or had the child touch your body.
  • You willfully acted intending to arouse, appeal to, or gratify the sexual desires of the minor.
  • The minor was under the age of 14 years.

Generally, this statute applies when the minor is anyone under 16 years of age. However, since most prosecutions under this section involve juveniles under 14 years, this offense is often referred to as:

  • Lewd acts with a child under 14
  • Lewd acts on a minor under 14
  • Acts of lewd and lascivious conduct

The court could punish you for violating PC 288(a) depending on the following factors:

  • If the minor is 14 or 15 years younger than you
  • Whether there was a pattern of lewd acts
  • The age of the minor
  • Whether the lewd act was accomplished by force, violence, threats, or coercion

Violation of PC 288(a) is a felony crime under California law, and you could face a jail term of three, six, or eight years in state prison.

Forcible Sexual Penetration — Penal Code 289(a)

The crime of forcible penetration is defined under Penal Code 289 of California law. Generally, forcible penetration means:

  • Penetrating the anus or vagina of another person
  • Using a foreign object
  • Without their consent
  • Using force or threats of violence

You could also face the charges under Penal Code 289(a) if you commit this crime on the following category of people:

  • Committing sexual penetration on someone who is too intoxicated to resist
  • Committing sexual penetration on a person who is unable to legally consent because of a mental disorder or developmental or physical disability
  • Committing sexual penetration on a person who is unconscious of the nature of the act

The forcible act of sexual penetration is a felony crime under Penal Code 289(a) of California law. Often, this crime carries the following penalties:

  • A fine that does not exceed $10,000
  • A jail term of up to three, six, or eight years in a California state prison

The court could often order you to register as California's lifelong sex offender. However, at the judge's discretion, you will not need to register if the minor was at least 14 years old and within ten years of your age. If the court convicts you under PC 289(a) as a three-tier offender, you must register with the state at least each year for the whole of your life. Failure to do so, you risk facing additional felony charges for failure to register as a sex offender.

Sodomy Or Oral Copulation By Force, Fear, Violence, or Threat —Penal Code 286

Penal Code 286 of the California law makes sodomy an offense in certain situations. For example, you will face charges under PC 286 if you commit sodomy with a minor or use force, fear, or threats. Sodomy is defined as sexual contact between the penis of someone and the anus of another person. In California, anal-copulation between consenting adults is legal, and in the entire United States. Some of the unlawful acts of sodomy in California include:

  • Engaging in anal intercourse with a person while he/she is unconscious
  • Having anal sex with another person after threatening to stab them
  • Engaging in the act of sodomy with a person of 16 years

Violating Penal Code 286 is a severe crime that can lead to many years of sentence in state prison. The prosecutor can charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of your case. If the court charges you with misdemeanor sodomy, you could face a jail term that does not exceed one year in county jail. If the court charges you with felony sodomy, you could face a state prison imprisonment of over a decade.

The Repercussions A Minor Could Face For Being Transferred To An Adult Court

A minor could face severe consequences if they are transferred to an adult court. Some of the repercussions include:

  • The juvenile will lose some of the alternative sentencing options that he/she could have accessed in a juvenile court
  • Experience the loss of some legal rights given to adults like owning firearms, applying for loans, and voting in elections, among others
  • It could be hard for the offender to get their criminal record expunged or sealed.
  • The offender could receive more severe sentencing than they would if tried as a minor offender in a juvenile court. For example, the child could be subject to a prison sentence of life without parole.
  • The minor could acquire an adult criminal record that could affect their education and employment opportunities.

The Challenges A Minor Could Face In Adult Court

The penalties imposed on a minor criminal convicted in the juvenile court system are less severe than the sentencing guidelines of an adult criminal convicted in a standard adult criminal court. A minor offender could also encounter less obvious challenges in an adult criminal court. For example, most minors cannot comprehend what a criminal court expects because of their age. Even when a juvenile knows what the court expects of them, he/she could still lack the ability and maturity to apply those requirements properly. Adults experience challenges when going through a trial in the criminal justice system. The challenges are worse for minors.

The other obvious hurdles that a minor offender will face in an adult criminal court include:

  • Wrongly assuming that just because they were arrested means that the jury or the court will find them guilty of the charges
  • Making remarks or speaking out in court, often self-incriminating themselves
  • Refusing to heed the advice of their criminal defense attorney
  • Agreeing to a deal offered by the police or the district attorney without understanding the agreement or its consequences
  • Waiving their right to a public defender due to a minor's distrust of authority figures

Why A Juvenile Needs An Attorney When Facing Trial In An Adult Court

Handling juvenile offenses is a unique area of the law, requiring special knowledge to distinguish between juvenile and adult criminal proceedings. Attorneys with experience in handling juvenile cases are already familiar with legal rights and protections for juvenile offenders. They also understand the penalties a juvenile could face upon a conviction in an adult court.

When an attorney has substantial experience in dealing with juvenile criminal law, they ensure that the juvenile offender receives a fair trial. The attorneys know when a minor can be tried as an adult. They also know how a child can avoid facing trial in an adult court.

Therefore, it is advisable to hire an attorney with experience in handling juvenile cases as soon as possible if you are a juvenile offender facing charges for an offense that could lead to a trial in an adult court. The criminal defense attorney will review your case and conduct legal investigations to determine the applicable legal defenses against your charges. Effective defenses can help you avoid facing trial in an adult court.

Your attorney will also guide you on your county's local and state laws. He/she will also assist you in navigating the required procedures of the adult criminal justice system or the juvenile court system. Additionally, the attorney will offer legal representation in an adult court on your behalf.

Your attorney will help you file a petition to the court for an optional sentencing method if you are charged. Then, they can argue in court on your behalf, showing the court why they should adopt the proposed optional sentencing.

Why Your Attorney Could Prefer To Have Your Case Transferred To An Adult Court

Often, an attorney will reject transferring a juvenile offender’s case to an adult court because the legal repercussions issued for persons charged in adult courts are more severe than the sentencing in juvenile courts. However, there are situations whereby an attorney will prefer to have your juvenile criminal case transferred to an adult criminal court. One of the obvious reasons could be so that you can access equal constitutional rights as an adult defendant.

Typically, in California, the juvenile court systems have limits on the constitutional rights of young offenders. Your attorney could seek to uphold the constitutional rights accorded to adult offenders according to the Sixth Amendment to the U.S constitution. The amendment includes the right to an impartial jury and the right to a speedy public trial. In California, juvenile court systems only provide bench trials but not jury trials. This is a disadvantage to juvenile offenders because jurors tend to be more sympathetic than judges.

Other rights that a juvenile enjoys while facing trial in an adult court include the right to have an attorney represent them. If the child cannot afford to hire an attorney, the court appoints an attorney (public defender) for them. In an adult court, juveniles also have a right to cross-examine witnesses.

Senate Bill 1391

In September 2018, Governor Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1391. The bill gave district attorneys the power to make a motion to transfer a minor from juvenile court to an adult court if the offender is 16 years or older. In addition, the bill discourages the charging of juveniles in adult court for crimes committed while they were below 16 years unless they were not arrested until after attaining 18 years of age. Therefore, Senate Bill 1391 marks a change in California statute regarding juvenile criminals. Before signing the bill, juveniles 14 years and older could be tried in adult court for certain serious crimes through a transfer hearing.

The Bill’s New Laws

According to SB1391, a judge can order a juvenile offender to undergo trial in an adult court. The judge can only do so under the following conditions:

  • If there is a substantial reason to transfer the case
  • If the juvenile is 16 years of age or older
  • If the child committed a crime while under 16 years but was not arrested until after attaining 18 years

The juvenile court will consider the following factors while determining if there is a substantial reason to transfer the case:

  • The severity of the crime committed by the juvenile
  • The juvenile’s past criminal history
  • The juvenile's maturity and their mental and emotional health
  • Whether the child can be rehabilitated in the juvenile court system
  • The success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor

The Laws Before The Bill

The enactment of SB1391 altered the old California laws on transferring juvenile cases to adult court. The old statutes allowed the transfer of a minor from juvenile court to an adult court of criminal jurisdiction if:

  • The juvenile was 14 or 15 years of age and committed a serious crime
  • The offender was 16 years of age or older and committed a felony

Serious crimes include:

  • A violent felony
  • Murder
  • Rape with violence, force, or threat of great bodily harm

The Reasons Behind The Bill

The following are the reasons why the proponents of the new law supported it:

  • It would lower the jail populations
  • It would better rehabilitate 14 and 15-year-old offenders
  • It protects minors from the behaviors and personalities in adult prison
  • The law is in line with the recent science that shows children who commit offenses can change for the better
  • Offenders charged under the adult court system are more likely to commit additional offenses as adults
  • Most juvenile offenders have a problematic past, usually victims of abuse. Therefore, rehabilitating the offenders under the juvenile justice system is more beneficial than subjecting them to harsh treatment in the adult court system.

Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If your child faces criminal charges that could lead to a trial in an adult court, you need a competent criminal defense attorney to represent them. An attorney will do everything possible to ensure that the offender is not transferred to an adult court. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, our attorneys have decades of experience in successfully representing minor offenders facing severe consequences of criminal a conviction. Your family is important to us, and we will do everything to assist your child in having favorable sentencing. You can count on us no matter how complicated a juvenile case is. Call us at 951-946-6366 and speak to one of our attorneys.