Juveniles under the age of 18 are not tried in criminal court except in extreme circumstances. It’s possible for the court to try a minor as an adult only in light of very serious offenses such as murder, rape, and other violent felonies. A minor could also face trial as an adult if their actions caused severe bodily injury or death. However, it is only possible for a California criminal court to try a minor as an adult if the minor is 14 years old or older. These cases typically begin in juvenile delinquency court, and a juvenile court judge will assess several factors in determining whether a juvenile offender should face trial as an adult:
- The judge must assess the juvenile’s degree of criminal sophistication exhibited in the commission of their crime. A planned and premeditated crime will likely sway the judge toward prosecuting the minor as an adult.
- The judge must also determine whether the minor shows potential for rehabilitation before the juvenile court’s jurisdiction expires.
- Judges will also assess a juvenile’s prior history of delinquency. Prior offenses are more likely to spur a judge to seek to try the juvenile as an adult.
- If the juvenile has a criminal history, the judge will examine whether previous attempts to rehabilitate the juvenile were successful.
- Finally, the judge must carefully assess the gravity of the alleged offense in determining whether trial as an adult is legally acceptable and necessary.
If the juvenile court judge determines the minor in question is unlikely to rehabilitate or that prior attempts at rehabilitation have failed, it is likely the minor will transfer to adult court and face the same type of criminal prosecution an adult could expect in the same situation.
Potential Penalties in Juvenile Law
Anyone facing criminal conviction in California could be sentenced to severe penalties depending on the gravity of their alleged offense. However, if a child is convicted of a crime in juvenile court, they may be committed to the California Department of Corrections’ Division of Juvenile Facilities until they are 25. This can severely complicate their adult life in many ways, preventing them from securing certain jobs, qualifying for financial aid for higher education, and other long-term consequences.
If a juvenile is convicted as an adult in criminal court, the juvenile could face the same penalties an adult could expect. For example, premeditated murder in the first degree could mean life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The only exception in sentencing that exists when a minor is prosecuted as an adult is capital punishment; a minor cannot face the death penalty no matter how serious the offense.
Minors facing conviction in California could experience the consequences of their action for the rest of their lives. In all but the most extreme cases, it is typically in the best interests of the child and society to pursue rehabilitation instead of criminal prosecution and hopefully encourage the juvenile to avoid future illegal activity.
Defending Your Child in Juvenile Law
It can be incredibly distressing for any parent to realize their child faces incarceration and other criminal penalties. Defending your child in juvenile court typically boils down to proving the child lacked the self-awareness and judgment of an adult. Your Riverside California juvenile criminal defense lawyer will closely examine the details of the case to help you develop the strongest possible defense on your child’s behalf. Every case is unique, and your family may have several options for defense available in your situation:
- If your child committed a criminal offense in concert with others, your attorney might argue that others unduly influenced your child to commit the crime in question.
- If your child has no prior criminal history, it’s more likely that the court will support seeking rehabilitation instead of prosecution.
- Your attorney can help you establish your child’s good character or gather exculpatory evidence if they have been falsely accused.
- Suppose your child has a cognitive disability or other impairment. In that case, your attorney can help you argue that your child lacked the capacity to commit the crime in question with malicious intent.
Every juvenile criminal case is unique. If your child is arrested for a crime, it is essential to secure legal counsel from an experienced Riverside, California juvenile criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. My SoCal Lawyers understands how emotionally challenging these situations are for families. If you need to discuss your case with a reliable and compassionate Riverside, California juvenile criminal defense attorney, contact My SoCal Lawyers today and schedule a consultation with our team.