Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog


Criminal Defense in Los Angeles: Juvenile Offenders in Adult Court Prosecutions

Posted on: July 27, 2007 at 9:17 a.m.

California Criminal Law currently allows prosecutors to directly file on juveniles 14 years old or older in adult court, for "strike" offenses. These offenses are defined as "serious or violent felonies" in the California Penal Code, in Sections 667.5, 1170.12, 1192.7.

Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers realize that these laws contradict the spirit of "juvenile jurisdiction" - to rehabilitate youthful offenders. For crimes as serious as murder, California attorneys understand that the Legislature's policy of locking up murderers trumps society's desire for rehabilitation. But what about if the offender is only 14 years old, at the time of the crime? What about offenders facing non-murder charges, such as assault, robbery, inappropriate touching, drug offenses? What about cases where the juvenile offenders have mental illness, mental defects, autism, or were physically abused while growing up? These minors would clearly be benefited by attempts to rehabilitate and do not deserve substantial prison sentences. Society should not just lock them, and throw away the key, without attempting to rehabilitate them.

Criminal Defense Attorneys in Los Angeles have noticed that the public's fear of juvenile crime has reversed the long-accepted practice of treating young offenders in special juvenile courts.
A recent report from the National Sentencing Project on criminal sentencing in California found that thousands of children annually are now being transferred "automatically," without judicial review, from juvenile court jurisdiction to adult criminal court and into adult corrections. These transfers place children into a court setting in which they are at a disadvantage at every stage of the process. Children who are incarcerated in adult facilities are at great risk. Those who are convicted but not imprisoned may still suffer long lasting negative consequences.

Typically the policy of the Los Angeles County District Attorney is to prosecute most serious cases in juvenile court first, through a "Fitness" motion. Thereafter a juvenile judge makes a determination of whether the child should be subject to adult or juvenile jurisdiction. However, the Criminal Law Blog is aware of at least one case where the DA's Office dismissed the juvenile case, and refiled the case in adult court, because the rulings were going against the prosecutors. The minor never had the benefit of his criminal defense attorney litigating a Fitness Motion in front of a juvenile judge. This type of "forum shopping" violates the fundamentals of U.S. Constitutional Due Process.

The National Sentencing Project further found that the imposition of adult punishments, far from deterring crime, actually seems to produce an increase in criminal activity in comparison to the results obtained for children retained in the juvenile system. Reliance upon the criminal courts and punishment ignores evidence that more effective responses to the problems of crime and violence exist outside the criminal justice system in therapeutic programs. Because there is considerable racial disparity in the assignment of children to adult prosecution, the harshness, ineffectiveness, and punishing aspects of transfer from juvenile to adult court is doubly visited on children of color, the study concluded.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, juvenile law

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M. Carmen Lopez on December 14, 2007 at 9:42 p.m. wrote:

I believe that juveniles should also be given the opportunity to rehabilitate and incorporate in the community. I agree with the opinions that some of these kids have not yet fully developed their critical thinking capabilities. Therefore, they commit offenses that can take them to serve time in custody. While working with juveniles myself, I remember a case where a high school senior student got involved in a car accident. He was driving 7 kids to a 'ditch party.' Two teenagers were inside the trunk, and both died. The high school senior was sentenced to serve time at a juvenile hall and to complete some rehabilitation programs. He eventually earned his freedom back. From the two families who lost their kids, only one forgave the high school senior. Still, I am sure that this boy lives with the regret of the things that happened that day when a bunch of teenagers decided to skip school and make a party at some house. I am sure that none of these kids realized the consequences of their actions. They did not think critically, and the results were fatal. Therefore, I believe that minors should be first treated in juvenile courts and give them a chance to rehabilitate and learn from their mistakes.


David Carde on November 20, 2007 at 3:52 p.m. wrote:

I find it terribly disturbing that the process of judicial review of juveniles who've committed crimes is being circumvented. Given that it is hypothesized that this has been a response to the public's fear of juvenile crime, it is important to note (and to publicize this fact) that treating juvenile offenders in adult criminal courts is not functioning as a deterrent to further crime, but is actually increasing criminal activity. Further, I absolutely agree with Meghan's comment that 'juveniles are often victims themselves.' It would behoove us to deal with the societal and family dysfunctions which are at the root of some (a great deal perhaps) of juvenile crime. Instead, fear is leading to a knee-jerk reaction that is worsening the situation rather than ameliorating it. This means that some juveniles are double victims: victimized by their families then victimized all over again by the criminal justice system. It is also important to remember recent findings about brain development. The last part of the brain to finish developing is the prefrontal cortex - our center of reasoning, judgment, planning, and impulse control. Neuroscientists have now asserted that, particularly in boys, this part of the brain may not finish maturing until into the 20's. Thus, by treating juveniles as adult criminals we are short-circuiting the opportunity for their brains to mature which could optimize the chances of successful rehabilitation.


DaisyS on November 14, 2007 at 7:09 p.m. wrote:

I agree with what Meghan has stated above. I believe that when dealing with a fourteen year olds and with other young children it's important to look beyond the childs crime. In order to fix the core problem and gain a better understanding of why these children do what they do, I think that it is essential for society to attempt to rehabilitate these kids. If these children are forced to serve adult charges without being given a chance in the juvenile court first, I think that there is a high chance that they will be charged incorrectly. Most fourteen year olds committing these crimes and absurd actions most likely have issues and some type of reasoning for their doings. If we as a society ever want to gain a better understanding of what is happening and why, we need to find the reasoning these fourteen year olds have.


Meghan Schoen on October 16, 2007 at 11:22 p.m. wrote:

I think that determining whether or not a juvenile should be tried as an adult is an impossibly hard decision. There is always the case of the child that is so morally deprave that rehabilitation is not a legitimate option; however, those cases are rare, and more often than not I would assume that there is much more grey area, especially with juveniles. In my personal experience, the juveniles I have known who have committed crimes have been abused themselves or have endured hardships that are so life altering that they have merely 'lost their way.' I believe that juveniles are often victims themselves and unlike adults which are assumed to be able to make their own responsible and rational decision, juveniles who commit crimes are not experienced and often have not had positive role models that have taught them wrong from right. Therefore, for me it is unthinkable that a 14 yr old could be tried as an adult before being seen by a juvenile judge. I can see how in certain circumstances it might be necessary to try juveniles as adults if their crime was so morally repugnant that it is almost beyond the capabilities of a child; however, even then I believe that it is absolutely necessary that this determination is made only after the child is seen in a juvenile court. If this essential step is eliminated, we must ask ourselves, what will be eliminated next? Removing essential elements of due process is a very slippery slope, and it seems to me that if certain liberties are allowed to be disregarded then more and more will vanish until maybe one day juveniles and adults will be tried in the same courts and held responsible under the same laws.









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