Can Juvenile Felonies Count Toward a 3-Strike Violation as an Adult?
In the State of California, the Three Strikes Law is a critical piece of legislation that has profound implications for those charged with felonies. This law, enacted in 1994, mandates that individuals convicted of three or more serious or violent felonies may face significantly enhanced penalties, including life imprisonment.
But what if a juvenile commits a "strike crime"? Does that crime translate to a strike against them once they reach adulthood? In certain instances, though not all, a "juvenile strike" crime can count toward a 3-strike violation.
California is infamous for its harsh “Three Strikes” sentencing scheme. While this law has been updated since its initial passage, the basic scheme is the same. If you are convicted of three violent or serious felonies, you will be sentenced to 25 years to life in California state prison for the third strike.
Anyone who receives a second strike will receive double the sentence for the underlying crime under this law. The goal of this law is to reduce the number of people who commit repeated violent or serious offenses and to keep repeat offenders off the streets.
However, the three strikes law sometimes imposes unfair, severe sentences for individuals. Occasionally, this may include juveniles. Under California law, juveniles who commit crimes are typically sent to California's juvenile court rather than regular criminal court.
There, a juvenile is adjudicated with a sustained petition rather than convicted. However, if you are a juvenile who has committed a serious or violent felony, it may count as a strike for the Three Strikes law purposes. Let's discuss how this works.
Understanding the Three Strikes Law
The Three Strikes Law was instituted to deter repeat offenders and protect public safety. A "strike" under this law is a conviction for a serious or violent felony. When an adult receives a third "strike," they face a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
This is a substantial increase over the typical sentencing guidelines for these crimes. The list of crimes that qualify as strikes is extensive and includes murder, robbery, certain sex offenses, and certain drug offenses, among others.
Juvenile criminal proceedings in California are governed by separate laws and procedures designed to balance the need for punishment to rehabilitate young offenders.
As such, the consequences of juvenile crimes often differ significantly from those of adult crimes. For instance, juveniles are typically not entitled to a jury trial; instead, their cases are decided by a judge.
Additionally, the focus of juvenile proceedings is on rehabilitation rather than punishment. This means juveniles may receive counseling, probation, or placement in a juvenile facility rather than imprisonment. Despite these differences, some juvenile felonies can count toward a 3-strike violation once the juvenile becomes an adult.
What Are Juvenile "Strike" Crimes?
Juvenile "strike crimes" are offenses committed by minors that would be considered serious or violent felonies under the Three Strikes Law if committed by an adult. These offenses are outlined in the Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) 707(b), a California statute that governs juvenile delinquency proceedings.
A juvenile adjudication is considered a strike if the offense is defined as a violent or serious felony in the California Penal Code. Examples of such offenses listed under WIC 707(b) include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Murder or attempted murder;
- Kidnapping for ransom;
- Kidnapping for the purpose of robbery;
- Assault with a deadly weapon;
- Assault with a firearm or destructive device;
- Assault by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury;
- Drive-by shooting;
- Discharge of a firearm into an inhabited or occupied building;
- Lewd or lascivious act;
- Other violent sexual offenses (e.g., forcible sodomy, forcible oral copulation);
- An offense described in Penal Code 12022.5 or 12022.53 PC;
- A felony offense in which the minor personally used a weapon described in any provision listed in Penal Code 16590 PC;
- A felony offense described in Section 136.1 or 137 of the Penal Code;
- Manufacturing, compounding, or selling a controlled substance specified in Health and Safety Code 11055(e) HS;
- A violent felony, as defined in Penal Code 667.5(c) PC and Penal Code 186.22 PC;
- Torture as described in Penal Code Sections 206 and 206.1 PC;
- Aggravated mayhem, as described in Penal Code 205 PC;
- Voluntary manslaughter defined under Penal Code 192(a) PC.
Suppose a juvenile is convicted of a "strike crime" under WIC 707(b). In that case, they may be made a ward of the court and sentenced to confinement in a Division of Juvenile Justice Facility (DJF—also referred to as juvenile detention).
And while most crimes committed by juveniles fall off their record once they reach age 18, a juvenile "strike crime," some may later be counted as an actual strike if the individual later commits a violent crime as an adult.
When Can a Juvenile Strike Crime Be Counted as a Prior Strike Under the Three Strikes Law?
Suppose you were convicted as a juvenile of an offense counting as a felony, or more specifically, a "juvenile strike" crime under WIC 707(b). In that case, prosecutors may attempt to have the court count it as a prior strike once you reach adulthood if you are charged with a "strike" crime as an adult.
Under California law, a juvenile strike can be considered a prior strike for purposes of the Three Strikes law based on the following criteria:
- Your age at the time of the crime: You must have been at least 16 when the offense was committed; otherwise, the crime cannot be a strike.
- Adjudication by the court: The juvenile court must have found you to be a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under the juvenile court law.
- Seriousness of the offense: The offense you committed as a minor must either be listed as a serious or violent felony under the Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b), or it must be an otherwise serious/violent felony that the court counts as equivalent to a 707(b) offense on a petition by the prosecution.
- Ward of the court: You must have been named a ward of the court due to your crime.
This is why your child must have an experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyer on their side if they are charged with a serious or violent felony such as homicide.
While the case is handled through the juvenile criminal justice system, it has the potential for lifelong consequences. If a juvenile receives a strike, the conviction or plea for any serious felony as an adult will automatically result in a double sentence. A third strike will lead to a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Contact our California criminal defense attorneys for a case review and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.