Juvenile offenders go through a different justice system when they commit an offense. The legal process your loved one will go through will depend on the underlying offense and their history of juvenile delinquency. However, judges try some criminal cases involving minors in an adult criminal court, where offenders are tried and sentenced as adults. That could happen if your loved one faces charges for a serious or violent felony like murder or rape. It helps to understand the circumstances under which your loved one can face trial as an adult and what to expect.

We have extensive experience handling juvenile delinquency cases at California Criminal Lawyer Group. You can count on our support, guidance, and rights protection if a judge transfers your loved one’s case to an adult criminal court in Anaheim. We can explain your options, streamline the legal process for you, and fight for the best possible outcome for your child’s situation.

The Juvenile Justice System

Children are generally believed to be innocent and incapable of harming anyone. But with the increasing crime rate, minors have not been spared. There are rising cases of juvenile offenders, too. Typically, the law protects children since they are considered incapable of protecting or defending themselves. It explains why a different and more lenient justice system exists for minors who violate the law. However, the juvenile justice system is only designed to handle lenient offenses like infractions, misdemeanors, and nonviolent felonies. Some children commit even more serious felonies, necessitating the transfer of cases from the juvenile justice system to the adult justice system.

When a juvenile violates the law, they face arrest like adults. But the police can return them to their parents with a stern warning against committing a similar or any other offense. However, if the crime is severe, the offender can be booked into the police database and their case transferred to the prosecutor. The prosecutor can order their release or file a petition against them in juvenile court. Cases in juvenile courts are heard and determined by a judge, not a jury. The judge studies the case and evidence and hears the testimonies and statements from the prosecution and defense teams to make the final decision.

However, a juvenile court cannot determine more severe cases involving older juveniles. In that case, the minor goes through a transfer hearing, from which the judge decides whether or not the minor fits in the juvenile justice system. If, from the facts of the case and the offender’s juvenile delinquency record, the judge rules them unfit for the juvenile justice system, they will face trial as adults in an adult criminal justice system. Remember that the goal of the juvenile justice system is treatment and rehabilitation. But if a juvenile offender is determined guilty after a jury trial, they will face punishment according to the law.

Initially, judges in juvenile courts heard and determined all cases involving young offenders. But things have changed so much in recent years, especially with the increasing cases of minors committing serious and violent felonies. Here are the new propositions that have led to these changes:

Proposition 21

California voters passed the Juvenile Justice Initiative, or Proposition 21, in 2000. This proposal was due to the increasing criminal gang offenses committed by juveniles. The rising cases of illegal activities by minors created a media uproar. They pressured lawmakers into adjusting the existing laws to minimize or eliminate issues like those.

The passing of Proposition 21 into law gave district attorneys the discretion to decide whether a particular juvenile offender of at least fourteen years can face trial as an adult in an adult court. The law also provides specific offenses for which young offenders can face prosecution in an adult court. Examples of these crimes are murder, rape, and specific violent felonies.

SB 11391

This Senate Bill, which became law in 2018, allows district attorneys to file a petition in a juvenile court to transfer a juvenile offender aged 16 or older from a juvenile court to an adult court. However, this bill does not allow prosecutors and judges to prosecute minors younger than 16 in regular courts, except in cases where the child was arrested after they became adults.

According to Prop. 21, a prosecutor can evaluate a minor’s suitability for trial in a juvenile court through a transfer hearing if the child is 14 or older and has committed a particularly serious or violent felony. But with SB 11391, judges have total discretion to transfer a minor offender to an adult criminal court for adjudication under specific conditions. Here are some of these conditions:

  • The juvenile offender is at least 16 years old.
  • The juvenile committed a serious or violent felony before turning sixteen but was not arrested until after they turned 18.
  • The prosecutor has enough justification to initiate the transfer.

Note: SB 11391 does not allow juvenile offenders below sixteen to face trial in an adult criminal court, regardless of the seriousness of their offenses and their history of juvenile delinquency, except in specific circumstances. For example, if there is evidence that the juvenile justice system is inadequate to treat or rehabilitate the minor. If the judge reasonably believes the juvenile will not benefit from the juvenile system, they could move their case to an adult court.

Events Leading Up to The Transfer Hearing

The legal process for a juvenile offender starts right after their arrest. Police arrests for all offenders, including juvenile delinquents, happen similarly. After arrest and booking, the police transfer the case to a prosecutor. The prosecutor decides whether to release the minor or file a petition against them in juvenile court. If they make the latter decision, the judge will set a detention hearing within hours of the minor’s arrest.

The essence of the detention hearing is to decide whether to detain the minor pending the determination of their case or release them to their parents. The judge considers several factors in making the final decision, including the minor’s history of delinquency and the details of their case.

Minors cannot make bail after arrest, like adults. Bail allows defendants to wait for trial and sentencing from home as they go about their lives. Since minors are not allowed bail, they must go through a detention hearing to establish the need to keep them in custody. The judge will return them to their parents if no need exists according to their case’s circumstances.

But suppose the judge reasonably believes the minor is dangerous to the community. In that case, they can order them to be detained in a juvenile hall under the supervision of the probation department.

After the detention hearing, the court must hold a fitness hearing to discuss the juvenile’s suitability to face trial in a juvenile court. A fitness hearing is only necessary in some cases, especially those involving severe offenses that could result in a case transfer to an adult court. The judge can hold a fitness hearing based on your loved one’s case details, or the prosecutor can file a court petition requesting the hearing.

In the hearing, the judge will consider several factors to decide. They will also hear evidence and statements from the prosecution and defense teams. Here are some of the factors the judge will weigh to decide:

  • How sophisticated the minor’s actions were when they committed the offense.
  • If the juvenile can be treated or rehabilitated.
  • Their history of juvenile delinquency.
  • If the minor has been treated or rehabilitated in the past and how successful the juvenile justice system was.
  • The seriousness and other specifics of the juvenile’s case.

If the judge reasonably believes your loved one cannot benefit from the juvenile system, they will transfer their case to an adult court. The prosecutor will file charges against your child in criminal court. But if there are grounds to show that your child fits in the juvenile justice system, the judge will hear and determine their case in a juvenile court.

Juvenile Crimes That Can Be Transferred to a Criminal Court

In most cases, the decision to hold a transfer hearing by the judge is influenced by the details of the underlying issue. It means your minor should be suspected of committing a serious or violent felony to attend a fitness hearing.

Typically, the law considers minors worthy of legal protection, even if they violate it. The juvenile justice system gives them a second chance to start life afresh and move past their criminal behavior. A minor can move past illegal acts and live a crime-free adult life through treatment and rehabilitation. However, some crimes are grave, even when committed by a juvenile. These could necessitate a case transfer to an adult court.

The juvenile justice system protects offenders from social and professional stigma by sealing their criminal records. Also, young offenders are not declared guilty even when the judge sustains the petition against them. The judge only grants a disposition to a minor according to their particular needs. But if your child faces a jury trial and a criminal court finds them guilty, they will have a criminal record that could impact their future.

That is why you need legal representation right after your child is arrested for a crime. A skilled criminal lawyer will explain the advantages and disadvantages of a jury trial, narrow down your options, and help you fight for the best outcome.

The crimes that could result in a juvenile case being transferred to a criminal court are under Welfare & Institutions Act 707(b). They include the following serious and violent felonies:

  • Murder.
  • Attempted murder.
  • Arson, leading to severe harm to someone else.
  • Robbert.
  • Sodomy through force, threats of harm, or coercion.
  • Lewd or lascivious acts with a child aged 14 or younger.
  • Violent sexual assault, or rape through force, threats of harm.
  • Oral copulation through force, violence, coercion, or threats of harm.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Sexual penetration through foreign objects.
  • Kidnapping for a ransom.
  • Kidnapping for or during a robbery.
  • Kidnapping and causing the victim physical harm.
  • Carjacking.
  • Assault through a dangerous weapon or gun.
  • Aggravated assault resulting in actual bodily harm or death of another person.
  • Discharging a firearm in an inhabited or occupied structure or car.
  • Violent crimes against disabled people or the elderly.
  • Using a gun or any other dangerous weapon to commit a felony.
  • Using threats or intimidation to influence a witness against testifying in court or reporting an offense.
  • Manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance, including hydrocodone, morphine, cocaine, and opium.
  • Committing any violent crime under PC 667.5 or committing a felony while affiliated with a criminal street gang.
  • Using force or violence to escape from police custody, causing an employee to suffer a significant injury.
  • Torture.
  • Aggravated mayhem.
  • Ferrying a firearm in a vehicle or allowing someone to carry or fire a gun in your vehicle.
  • Exploding a dangerous device to kill or injure one or more people.
  • Vehicular manslaughter.

If your child is arrested for any of these offenses under WIC 707(b), the prosecutor can file a petition for a transfer hearing. However, the judge makes the final decision based on the evidence and statements presented by the prosecution and defense teams. However, some offenses could automatically result in a juvenile case being transferred to a criminal court. The prosecutor will automatically file charges against your child in an adult criminal court for these offenses. The offenses are under the Welfare & Institutions Act 602(b) and include the following:

Murder Under PC 187

If the prosecutor asserts that your child took someone else’s life, they can file murder charges in a criminal court without taking the case through the juvenile justice system.

Specific Sex Offenses

This statute also provides specific sex offenses that could compel the prosecutor to directly file criminal charges against your child instead of taking the matter to a juvenile court. These offenses include:

  • Rape under PC 261(a).
  • Forceful sex, under PC 264.1.
  • Lewd or lascivious acts with a minor aged 14 or younger using violence or force.
  • Violent sexual penetration, under PC 289(a).
  • Sodomy under PC 286.
  • Oral copulation under PC 288(a).

What Follows a Successful Case Transfer?

If the judge transfers your child’s case to an adult criminal court, they will face a jury trial and sentencing like an adult. Since they will be treated like an adult offender under similar circumstances, they can receive a hefty penalty upon conviction. It means that the minor can serve time in an adult prison upon conviction, pay all court fines, and face other penalties the judge will give during sentencing.

However, the trial only happens after the transfer hearing. Businesses in adult criminal courts are conducted differently from those in juvenile courts. The prosecutor can take several days or weeks to prepare the case for trial. Besides, several processes happen before a jury trial, including a case investigation and a pretrial.

Fortunately, your loved one will be eligible for bail this time around. If they post bail, they can return home and continue their lives as they attend trial. The bail period also allows them to prepare for trial to improve their chances of winning the case.

Here are some typical processes they could go through in an adult criminal court:

The First Arraignment

The judge will hold the initial hearing or arraignment once the prosecutor files charges in criminal court. In this hearing, the judge will mention the charges your loved one faces and the evidence gathered by the prosecution team. The judge will ask the defendant to enter a plea. They have three plea options:

  • Guilty.
  • Not guilty, or
  • Plea or no contest.

If the defendant pleads guilty, the case will proceed to sentencing. But the case will go to trial if they plead not guilty or enter a no-contest plea.

In that case, the judge will discuss the bail matter, including the defendant’s eligibility for bail and how much they must pay for a pretrial release. In the criminal justice system, defendants are not presumed guilty until a jury trial concludes they are guilty. That is why the law allows judges to grant bail releases before trial. Bail guarantees their court appearances. Regardless of the case outcome, the court will return the total amount after the trial.

The judge has absolute discretion to grant or deny bail, depending on the facts of the case and your loved one’s criminal history. But an aggressive criminal lawyer can persuade them to grant a bail release or, in some cases, a release on personal recognizance. If the latter is not possible, the judge will set a bail amount depending on the available bail schedule and the defendant’s flight risk.

The Trial

If the prosecutor does not have enough evidence to support your loved one’s charges in court, they can dismiss the case or offer them a plea bargain before trial. However, the case will go to trial if they have compelling evidence. The prosecution team will present evidence, testimonies, and statements to support the case. Your defense team will also be able to present their evidence, testimonies, and statements. The jury will decide the case depending on the evidence presented in court.

If the prosecution evidence is compelling and the prosecutor proves all elements of the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury will deliver a guilty verdict. Your loved one will be sentenced according to the law. But if the prosecutor cannot prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge will dismiss all charges against your child.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Trying a Minor as an Adult

When a child commits an offense, the parents, society, and justice system must work together to rehabilitate them. That reduces the likelihood of the minor reoffending in the future. That is usually the goal of the juvenile justice system. But in cases where the juvenile court cannot handle it, the criminal justice system must take over and offer the recommended penalties for the convicted offender.

While it could seem unfair for your child to face trial as an adult, you should consider some of the benefits they stand to gain if it happens. You must discuss these advantages with your attorney before the transfer hearing.

For example, your loved one will face a jury trial in an adult criminal court, which is not present in a juvenile court. Jury trials are presumed to be more fair than juvenile court hearings. The jury decides a case based on the strength of the evidence presented in court. That increases the minor’s chances of prevailing.

The jury could sympathize with your loved one, seeing that they are minors. That could result in a favorable outcome for the case.

Judges offer a reasonable sentence to convicted juveniles. Your loved one will likely receive a less severe sentence if convicted in criminal court. However, juvenile court judges rule more fairly than criminal court judges.

However, you must consider the consequences of a criminal conviction on your minor’s life. They could be sentenced to prison, serving time in the same confinement as adult criminals. Remember that criminal justice aims to punish offenders, not rehabilitate them like the juvenile justice system. Your loved one will receive punishment and not a second chance to better their life for the future’s sake.

Additionally, your loved one will have a damaging criminal record if convicted in a criminal court. The conviction can impact their life after serving their sentence. It could affect how others treat them, potential employers and landlords.

Find a Skilled Anaheim Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Is your child facing criminal charges in Anaheim?

It helps to understand everything that follows the arrest of a minor. For example, the following legal processes determine whether your child will be treated as a minor or an adult. That will prepare you for the legal journey ahead, help you weigh your options, and enable you to fight for the best outcome for the case.

We can help you through the complex legal processes at California Criminal Lawyer Group. We can also explain your options, use our skills and knowledge to protect your child’s rights, and push for the most favorable outcome in their case. Call us at 714-766-0965 for more details on your options if your child is likely to face trial as an adult.