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Part of growing up and becoming an adult is trying new things and making mistakes. In fact, everyone has made some mistake along the way or did something they later regretted. Most of the time, the consequences are fairly benign and often consist of a stern warning from a parent or other adult. However, there are instances where the mistake is more serious and the police become involved. In situations where a criminal offense is alleged, the potential outcomes are substantially more concerning, and require the representation of a criminal defense attorney to protect a person’s rights and defend him/her in court. While possibly facing any legal punishment is serious, a minor confronting criminal charges in the adult system has a lot to lose. Minors tried in the adult system are subject to adult sentencing guidelines, which if enforced, can rob them of the prime years of their life. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle discussed Proposition 57, a measure voters will consider in November, which seeks to change the sentencing laws for nonviolent offenders, including a provision that would remove a prosecutor’s independent authority to charge minors with adult crimes and instead transfer it to judges who would decide whether juvenile or adult court is appropriate. Understanding the significant differences between juvenile and adult proceedings is important for anyone dealing with this situation.

Juvenile System

The main difference between the juvenile and adult legal systems lies in the outcomes each aims to achieve. The juvenile system is focused on education and rehabilitation, whereas the adult system is focused on punishing offenders for crimes. Because the outcomes are so different, the processes are not the same. First, minors in the juvenile system are not entitled to jury trial, unlike in adult court. The juvenile court judge or commission decides guilt or innocence, but, just as in the adult system, the prosecutor is required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, there is no bail in juvenile court, so retaining an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial to obtaining the minor’s release.

When it comes to sentencing, the most crucial aspect of any criminal case, the potential options are different for minors. In cases with less serious crimes, probation may be imposed, and the typical conditions include:

  • regular school attendance;
  • following a curfew;
  • working with a counselor;
  • performing community service; or
  • paying restitution to a victim.

More serious offenses could result in a sentence for time in a probation camp, foster or group homes, the California Division of Juvenile Justice (prison for minors), or juvenile hall. Importantly, once a minor turns 18, and assuming the juvenile case is closed, it is possible to petition to for the records to be sealed or destroyed, which is crucial to moving into adulthood with a clean slate.

When Minors Can Be Charged as an Adult

While most juvenile offenses will remain in the juvenile court system, there are certain serious offenses and circumstances that can land a minor in adult court. Decisions about transferring a minor to the adult system usually occur at fitness hearings where the judge will evaluate whether the minor will benefit from the juvenile system, or is best adjudicated in adult court. The judge looks at:

  • the extent the minor displayed criminal sophistication during the alleged offense;
  • whether the minor can be rehabilitated by the juvenile system;
  • the minor’s previous history in the juvenile court system;
  • success at previous attempts to rehabilitate;
  • seriousness of the alleged offense.

However, in some cases, the prosecutor can directly file charges against a minor in adult court. This is permitted if the allegations involve certain offenses, like murder, sexual assault and kidnapping, or involve gang activity, a hate crime or an offense against the elderly or disabled.

Call a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Facing any type of criminal charge, whether as a minor or an adult, is a serious situation that calls for retaining a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. The Los Angeles Manshoory Law Group, APC represents clients in a number of different criminal matters, and will fight to ensure you receive a fair trial and the best possible results. Contact us for a free consultation. Attorneys are available 24/7.

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