Having your child in police custody is undeniably one of the greatest fears of a guardian or parent. The step you will take once you receive the news that your child is in police custody will determine the success rate of countering the charges against him/her.
While the juvenile delinquency courts are responsible for handling crimes that children commit, your child might also be subject to prosecution in an adult court in a worst-case scenario. There are several offenses minors can be tried as adults under the law. If your child's alleged wrongdoing or delinquent act falls under this category of crimes, he/she might be at risk of very severe penalties.
Profound attorneys at Orange County Criminal Lawyer will fight for your child's rights during this challenging moment.
What You Need to Know About Juvenile Delinquency Courts
Unlike an adult court that focuses on punishing lawbreakers above eighteen years of age, a juvenile delinquency court typically focuses on lawbreakers below eighteen years of age (minors). Even if a minor commits an unlawful act (delinquent act) at age 17 and his/her prosecution doesn't happen until he/she is 20 years old, the juvenile court can still take over jurisdiction over his/her case.
However, according to Senate Bill 439, the juvenile court cannot take over the jurisdiction for minors under 12 years of age unless if the minor is facing a charge for a commission of any of the following serious offenses:
- Oral copulation
- Sexual penetration by violence
Juvenile delinquency courts deal with all types of delinquent acts, ranging from "status offenses" to severe delinquency cases that would be a crime even if an adult was in that position, for example, robbery. Status offenses are typically activities or actions that the juvenile court would consider unlawful for a minor because of his/her age but lawful to an adult, for example:
- Purchase of cigarettes
- Possession or consumption of alcohol
Particular serious delinquency cases can also land a minor in the adult criminal justice system if he/she is sixteen years and above. That is probably a turn of events you wouldn't wish for your child's delinquency case because the possible consequences of his/her case trial in an adult criminal justice system could be severe to a child who has so much to learn.
Depending on the gravity and severity of your child's delinquency case, he/she might qualify for a transfer/fitness hearing or an automatic transfer in the adult criminal justice system. A fitness hearing is a part of the juvenile court process where the judge determines if the minor's case should stay in the juvenile court system or proceed to the adult court.
A transfer hearing gives your child's defense attorney a chance to convince the juvenile court judge that your child's case is fit for trial or adjudication in the juvenile court system. A reliable and well-informed juvenile defense attorney can raise mitigating factors to convince the judge that your child is fit for adjudication in the juvenile delinquency court system.
Determining When a Minor is Eligible for a Trial as an Adult
To determine whether a minor qualifies for adjudication or trial in the juvenile court, the prosecutor must file a transfer hearing petition. Your child would be eligible for a fitness hearing if he/she is sixteen years or at least fourteen years and the alleged delinquent act falls under Welfare and Institution Code (WIC) 707(b).
Whether or not a minor should remain in the juvenile justice system will depend on the juvenile court judge's decision during the transfer hearing. Typically, the judge will evaluate and consider the following factors to determine whether he/she should remain in the juvenile delinquency court:
- The child's delinquency history or record
- Whether the past attempts or efforts by the juvenile delinquency court to treat and rehabilitate the child were successful
- The degree of criminal sophistication that the minor exhibits in his/her delinquent act actions
- The severity and gravity of the alleged delinquent act against your child
- Whether your child can benefit from rehabilitation before the expiration of the juvenile court's jurisdiction over his/her case
The judge will consider the above five factors and mitigating arguments from your child defense attorney to determine if the minor should remain in the juvenile delinquency court. Suppose the judge finds that the minor is unlikely to become better or benefit from the rehabilitative services in the juvenile justice system. In that case, he/she will have to proceed to an adult court for normal prosecution as an adult.
Delinquent Acts That Can Land Your Child in an Adult Court After a Transfer Hearing
The juvenile delinquency court will take over jurisdiction of most everyday delinquent acts that minors commit. However, a commission of particular severe delinquent acts qualifies a minor for a jury trial in an adult court. Section (b) of WIC 707 specifies crimes that can make a minor eligible for prosecution in an adult court. These offenses include:
According to Penal Code 207 PC, it is unlawful to move another person any substantial distance without his/her permission or consent by using fear or force. For the sake of this statute, "fear" or "force" could mean:
- Threatening to cause imminent bodily injury
- Inflicting or causing bodily injury on the victim
The prosecutor will charge simple kidnapping as a felony offense, punishable by an imprisonment term of three, five, or eight years and a fine amounting to up to $10,000. If there are other aggravating factors surrounding the offense, your child could be subject to harsher penalties. Here factors that will make your child kidnapping case "aggravated":
- The victim of the offense was below fourteen years of age
- The victim of the offense suffers a bodily injury or death
- The kidnapping involves a demand for ransom from the victim
- The kidnapping was part of a carjacking offense, which is against Penal Code 215 PC
A dedicated and experienced defense attorney will be by your child's side even if his/her case proceeds to an adult court for normal prosecution. Your child's attorney might be able to convince the judge to reduce or dismiss the kidnapping charges against your child by raising several defense arguments such as:
- There was consent to the movement
- The movement was insufficient to count or qualify as kidnapping
Robbery involves the felonious taking of another person's property or asset from his/her immediate presence or in possession of another person. For example, breaking into another person's house and threatening occupants with physical harm using a weapon before taking their property can count as robbery.
Use of fear or force before taking another person's property distinguishes robbery under Penal Code 211 PC from other theft crimes. For the sake of robbery law under PC 211, if a property is in "possession of another," it means he/she has control or authority over it.
Note, your child might be guilty of this charge even if the property in question did not belong to the victim as long as he/she had control over it during the time of the incident. For instance, that would be possible if the victim of the incident was an employee of a business, meaning the property in question was not his/hers.
The penalties your child will be subject to when the judge finds robbery allegations against him/her to be true depends on the classification of his/her robbery offense. A first-degree robbery can make your child subject to an imprisonment term of three, four, or six years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
On the other hand, a second-degree robbery is punishable by the same amount of fine but a shorter imprisonment term of two, three, or five years. A robbery conviction can also lead to other sentencing enhancement if there was a significant bodily injury or the use of a gun during the commission of the offense.
Robbery is not an uncommon delinquent act with minors, and it can land your child in an adult court where he/she might be subject to very harsh and life-changing penalties. You will rely on your child's defense attorney even in an adult court to fight for his/her best interest through every court process to achieve a desirable outcome.
Assault With a Deadly Weapon (ADW)
As it sounds, assault with a deadly weapon (ADW), also commonly known as aggravated assault, occurs when you attempt to attack or attack another person with a deadly weapon with disregard to his/her health or life. Penal Code 245 PC makes it a crime to attack another person with a deadly weapon, and the prosecutor will charge this offense as a wobbler.
If your child's ADW case is a wobbler, the prosecutor can file it as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances and facts of the case. Typically, prosecutors have the discretion to seek the most severe charge for an offense that shows disregard for human life, like an aggravated assault.
An experienced criminal defense attorney with significant knowledge of the criminal justice system will know which legal defense strategies will work in your child's favor even if the juvenile court cannot take over the jurisdiction of his/her case. A misdemeanor conviction in an adult court for violating PC 245 carries the following types of punishment:
- Summary probation
- A fine amounting to up to $1,000
- A confinement term in the county jail for a maximum of one year
If the prosecutor files your child's ADW case as a felony, a conviction will result in the following consequences:
- Formal probation
- A fine amounting to up to $10,000
- Incarceration term in the state prison for a maximum of four years
Below are applicable and reasonable legal defense arguments your attorney can raise to counter criminal charges against your child for violating PC 245:
- The child was acting in self-defense
- The alleged deadly actions were non-willful or unintentional
- The child didn't use a deadly weapon
Typically, carjacking is the felonious taking of another person's motor vehicle from his/her immediate presence or his/her person by use of fear, force, or threats with intent or motive to deprive the owner of his/her possession either permanently or temporarily. The judge can consider your child guilty of the charge even if he/she intended to return the vehicle.
During the trial in an adult court, the prosecutor carries the evidentiary burden to prove that the taking of the vehicle was against the owner's will. Therefore, if the vehicle owner consents to your child taking his/her vehicle for whichever reason, he/she should not be guilty of the charge.
The sentencing and penalties resulting from a carjacking charge are severe. A conviction for violation of PC 215 carries a maximum prison term of nine years and an additional term if other aggravating facts like using a firearm are evident in the case.
Consulting a reliable criminal defense attorney during the early stages of your child's case investigation is critical to building the necessary evidence to help him/her fight the carjacking case.
Delinquent Acts That Require Immediate Transfer to an Adult Court
Section (b) of the WIC 707 also specifies particular delinquents acts where a child must undergo the adult criminal process in an adult court. Some of these crimes or delinquent acts include murder under particular circumstances and specific sex crimes such as:
- Oral copulation
- Spousal rape with violence
- Forcible sexual penetration
An Overview of Adult Court Processes/Proceedings for Offenses Mentioned Above
It is crucial to understand the adult court process if your son or daughter is subject to a jury trial in an adult court for an alleged commission of any of the offenses mentioned above. Understanding the adult court process is vital to know what to expect as your child's case continues. Typically, the prosecution in adult court consists of the following stages:
During the arraignment stage, the judge with jurisdiction over the case will give your child a chance to enter a plea. Your child has an option to enter any of the following pleas:
- "Not guilty"
- "No contest" to the case
The judge must inform your child of his/her constitutional rights before he/she enters a plea. For instance, your child has the following rights:
- Right to remain silent
- Right to subpoena or summon a witness(s)
If the minor enters a guilty or no contest plea, the court will proceed to the next stage, the sentencing phase. However, if the minor chooses to enter a not guilty plea, which is a wise idea, the judge will begin determining whether he/she is eligible for bail or not.
Depending on the sophistication of the minor's case, the judge has the discretion to grant a release on bail or not. If your child is in custody for an alleged criminal act, the last scenario you could imagine is him/her spending a night in a detention hall with other adult offenders.
That is why you must contact an attorney as soon as possible to prepare mitigating legal defense arguments to convince the judge it is for the child's best interest to be out of custody before his/her case's final verdict.
Since the court cannot release a minor on bail in the juvenile delinquency system, you should use this chance to assist your child stay out of police custody as his/her continues. Sometimes the judge can also choose to release your child from custody on his/her Own Recognizance (OR), meaning he or she doesn’t have to post bail.
When a minor is not a risk to the community, and he/she portrays the likelihood of returning to court for future proceedings, the judge may order his/her release from custody through Own Recognizance.
When the court resolves the bail issue, the minor’s case will move to the subsequent stage, known as the pretrial. For a felony case, the judge will schedule a preliminary proceeding to be confident the child’s alleged charge has sufficient concrete evidence. The court will be seeking answers on whether your child is liable for the alleged charge according to the evidence and facts available.
If the judge is positive that your child should not be accountable for the alleged charges, he/she will drop the case. However, if the judge is persuaded that the minor is to answer for the alleged charges in a trial, the case will move to the subsequent motions stage.
Below are examples of motions that your child criminal defense attorney can petition on behalf of your child:
- Motion to suppress available evidence
- The Pitchess motion
The purpose of filing these motions is to weaken the prosecutor's evidence against your child by requesting the removal of part or the entire evidence from the case.
A Jury Trial
Unlike in the juvenile justice system, where there aren't jurors, there is a jury trial in the adult criminal justice system. Any person facing felony or misdemeanor charges is eligible for a jury trial. During a jury trial for the alleged offense, the prosecutor must demonstrate every piece of evidence against the minor beyond a reasonable doubt to convince the jury the allegations are true.
At this stage, your child's defense attorney should be keen to find weaknesses or loopholes in the prosecutor's evidence against him/her to know the best strategy to use to counter the charges to achieve a desirable outcome.
During a jury trial, you should expect a back and forth type of communication. Therefore, your child defense attorney must have excellent communication skills. That means he/she must be eloquent and keen to grasp crucial points from the prosecutor's evidence for the best viable defense strategies.
When the jury finds the minor guilty of the alleged offense, the case will proceed to the sentencing stage, the last court process in an adult court. A sentencing proceeding or hearing can happen simultaneously as a trial if there is sufficient information to make a sentencing decision.
Your child's defense attorney should be ready to present mitigating factors or arguments to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that he/she deserves the minimum sentence available. Mitigating arguments that your child defense attorney will raise during this hearing can influence the judge's sentencing decision.
Hence, you must have an experienced defense attorney by your child's side through every adult court process or proceeding. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney will aid you in understanding the adult criminal justice system to know the best way to protect your child's rights even if he/she is subject to trial in adult court.
Negative Impacts of Having a Minor Go Through a Trial in Adult Court
Every juvenile defense attorney will strive to prevent a delinquency case from proceeding to an adult court for the normal prosecution because a jury trial comes with several disadvantages. Below are some of these disadvantages:
- The legal process of expunging and sealing an adult criminal record is complex and strict in contrast to juvenile records.
- Possible consequences or penalties of a conviction in adult court are severe and harsher.
- Numerous disposition (sentence) options available in a juvenile delinquency court, like counseling and treatment programs, are unavailable in an adult court.
- Any criminal conviction in the adult criminal justice system can affect a minor's life and future more than a conviction in a juvenile justice system.
The worst kind of disposition a minor can be subject to after a conviction in a juvenile court is confinement in a DJJ detention center until he/she is twenty-five years old. However, in an adult court, your child could be subject to a sentence of the same term as an adult guilty of the same offense and very hefty fines.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
While the law requires delinquency cases to remain under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts, particular offenses minors can be tried as adults in an adult court. We invite you to contact experienced and competent attorneys at Orange County Criminal Lawyer at 714-262-4833 for an outstanding and aggressive legal representation.
We will protect your child's legal rights and interests no matter the circumstances to achieve the best favorable results from his or her case.