While children may want to grow up, and presume they know what it means to be an adult, society understands they need additional protections due to their immature stage of cognitive development. This includes the recognition that children may not understand the consequences of their actions, and thus should not be held to the same level of responsibility or subject to the same punishments as adults. However, though stakes may seem smaller, an experienced criminal defense attorney should still be contacted if potential legal issues arise, and especially if criminal charges are pending. The vast majority of criminal offenses committed by juveniles are handled in the juvenile justice system, which seeks to rehabilitate young offenders instead of the retribution extracted in the adult criminal justice system. However, for serious offenses, a minor can be, and sometimes is required to be, tried in the adult system. A teenager recently arrested in Riverside claims to have molested up to 50 children over the past eight years, starting at age 10. Certainly, this case represents an extreme example of a young offender potentially facing serious consequences, but still raises the question of when a court would consider transferring a minor to the adult system. A discussion of the analysis used to make this decision follows below.
Situations Minors Can Be Tried as Adults
The law does not want to hold minors to the same standard as adults, and specifically prohibits prosecuting any minor under the age of 14 as an adult. However, for those that fall within the window of 14 to 17, it is possible to be prosecuted as an adult in the following circumstances:
- the prosecutor exercises his/her discretion to directly file criminal charges in the adult court;
- the prosecutor petitions the juvenile court for a fitness hearing, and if found unfit for juvenile rehabilitation, the minor may be transferred to the adult system; or
- the minor is alleged to have committed an offense that automatically requires adult prosecution.
Once a minor reaches the age of 14, a prosecutor has the option, in certain circumstances, of petitioning the juvenile court for a fitness hearing to determine if the minor would benefit from the rehabilitation offered by the juvenile justice system. Specifically, this legal option is available to a prosecutor if:
- the minor is 16 or older and accused of any crime;
- the minor is 16 or older and is alleged to have committed a felony previously used to make him/her a ward of the court, and was found to have committed two or more felonies since the age of 14. A presumption of unfitness arises in these cases that must be rebutted to avoid transfer to the adult system; or
- the minor is 14 or older and accused of certain violent offenses, such as murder, rape, kidnapping or robbery, that specifically applies a presumption of unfitness for the juvenile process.
When courts assess whether to find a minor fit or unfit, the judge examines five criteria:
- the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor;
- whether the minor can be rehabilitated in the juvenile system before juvenile court’s jurisdiction expires (age 25);
- the minor’s previous history in the juvenile system;
- the success of any earlier attempts to rehabilitate the minor; and
- the circumstances and seriousness of the alleged crime against the minor.
The court is also permitted to consider mitigating or extenuating factors, like the minor’s mental state at the time of the alleged offense, when evaluating fitness. Basically, the minor needs to show that he/she and society would be better served by rehabilitation in the juvenile system versus punishment in the adult system.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal proceedings as a minor may seem relatively benign compared with the adult system, but they can have long-term consequences that should not be taken lightly. An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide the counsel and representation needed to protect your child’s rights and fight for disposition in the juvenile justice system, where children belong. Manshoory Law Group, APC represents clients in juvenile cases, and will work to get the best possible outcome. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact the Los Angeles law firm for a free consultation.