Under California criminal law and procedure, an accused who is tried as an adult is typically 18 years old or older.
Individuals under 18 typically receive far more lenient treatment in juvenile court and/or a stay in juvenile hall if they are convicted. They usually do not face the risk of county jail, or prison.
However, a severely violent crime, or habitual criminal activity may persuade a judge to try a minor as an adult, which for certain crimes could lead to life in prison. This proceeding is called a "Fitness hearing."
In Oxnard, one such case involving a violent crime, which also qualified as a hate crime, may proceed in that direction. A judge has ruled that a 14-year-old who allegedly killed a classmate who was openly gay can be tried as an adult, and if convicted this individual could receive a life sentence. The alleged killer shot they openly gay student in the head, after which the boy was pronounced brain dead and had his organs donated.
A violent crime such as this is often the kind of case a judge will consider trying a minor as an adult for, in part because there may have been some pre-meditation on the boy's part. The violence coupled with the "hate crime" aspect also puts public pressure to bring about an acceptable solution.
The Los Angeles Daily News reports that hate crimes are up 28%, and a judge/jury aware of that rise may want to punish violent offenders as a message to others. Certain violent gang activity may also cause a judge to charge a minor as an adult.
Alternatively, the DA's Office can also utilize a legislated court procedure which allows it to file directly on a juvenile in adult court, without seeking to first file a Fitness Motion in juvenile. This is referred to as a "Direct Filing." With this new California law in place, a judge's discretion is completely bypassed, and the DA's Office become the arbitrer of whether a juvenile goes to adult court. Accordingly, a juvenile faces the possibility of being housed in state prison if convicted in adult court.
Tagged as: jury trial defense, juvenile law
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