Most of the time, when a minor is arrested and charged with a crime in San Diego, he or she is tried in the juvenile delinquency system. When there are more serious criminal charges, however, a minor can be tried as an adult, in adult criminal court. If you have a child who is being threatened with adjudication as an adult, you need to know how the process works, and we recommend you consult an experienced San Diego juvenile criminal attorney who will protect the rights of your child.
You Want to Keep Your Child in Juvenile Court if Possible
When a prosecutor decides that an alleged crime is serious enough, then he or she will seek to try the alleged perpetrator as an adult. The judge will then hold a fitness hearing, after which time the court will decide if the minor will stay in juvenile court or if the case against the minor will proceed in adult court. This makes a big difference, as a juvenile convicted of a crime in the juvenile system will be committed to the California Youth Authority and released no later than the age of 25, but if the conviction for the same crime occurs in adult court, then a lengthy prison sentence could be issued.
How Does the State Decide Whether to Seek Transfer to Adult Court?
The juvenile section of Proposition 21 allows the transfer of juvenile offenders to adult court to be tried as an adult for certain violent felonies, like murder. Sometimes transfer to adult court is automatic, but in most cases a judge will decide whether or not a transfer to the adult system is appropriate at a fitness hearing. There are also some circumstances under which the prosecution can “direct-file” criminal charges in adult court. Generally speaking, however, a prosecutor can seek a fitness hearing:
–when a minor that is at least 16 years old is alleged to have committed any crime;
–when a minor is at least 16 years or older, is accused of committing a felony, and has previously been made a ward of the court for committing two or more felonies while 14 years old or more; or
–when a minor is over the age of 14 and is alleged to have committed a so-called 707(b) offense (which includes but is not limited to murder, rape, arson, robbery)
In the second and third scenario above, the child is presumed “unfit” for the juvenile system.
The Fitness Hearing and Beyond
The purpose of the fitness hearing is to decide whether or not a minor accused of committing a crime is “fit” for the juvenile court system. Fitness hearings are held after the detention hearing and before the adjudication hearing. In determining fitness, the judge will evaluate:
–the criminal sophistication displayed by the child;
–whether the juvenile can be rehabilitated before the expiration of the jurisdiction of the juvenile court;
–any previous history of juvenile delinquency;
–the success of previous rehabilitation attempts by the juvenile court; and
–the seriousness and circumstances of the crime the minor is accused of
The judge may also consider factors that mitigate the child’s guilt, and any other extenuating circumstances, while making this evaluation. There is considerably more complex information surrounding transfer hearings and the juvenile delinquency system. If your child is facing criminal charges and might be charged as an adult, and you would like to discuss the options he or she has available, call Alex Ozols, owner of the Ozols Law Firm today for a free consultation. The Ozols Law Firm has a proven record of success defending all types of criminal cases, and will help protect the rights of your child in a fitness hearing and beyond.