Juveniles and Violent Crimes
In California, criminal offenses committed by minors under the age of 18 are typically referred to the juvenile delinquency court system, which is distinct from the adult criminal justice system. While the juvenile justice system has a stronger focus on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment when compared to the adult criminal justice system, certain offenses can carry extremely significant consequences for minors under the age of 18. Specifically, violent crimes committed by juveniles are treated very seriously by the court and can carry serious and long-lasting consequences.Differences Between Adult Court and Juvenile Court
There are significant differences between juvenile court and the adult criminal justice system. The juvenile justice system is rehabilitative in nature and probation terms usually include a heavy focus on counseling, education, drug or alcohol treatment and other similar programs. However, certain criminal offenses are deemed too serious for juvenile court and may be sent to adult criminal court. Many of the criminal offenses sent to adult court involve violent crimes such as robbery, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and assault with a firearm.Offenses Tried in Adult Court
Minors over the age of 14 accused of the most serious crimes will have their case automatically filed in an adult court. These crimes include murder and certain sex offenses. Under California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 707(b), certain criminal offenses can be handled in adult court. These 707(b) offenses include murder, certain arson offenses, robbery, rape, kidnapping, attempted murder, assault with a firearm, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, discharge of a firearm, offenses in which the victim is over 65 or disabled, carjacking and various other crimes. When a minor is charged with a 707(b) offense, the district attorney can either directly file the case in adult court or can file a petition in juvenile court and have a “fitness hearing” where a judge would determine whether or not the minor is a good fit for the juvenile justice system.
A prosecutor can “direct file” in adult court when the allegations against a minor over the age of 16 involve a 707(b) offense or where the minor has a previous felony and the current offense involves a victim over the age of 65, a hate crime, or the offense is alleged to be gang-related.
A prosecutor can “direct file” against a minor over the age of 14 where the minor is alleged to have committed an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death for adult offenders, an offense involving personal use of a firearm or where the minor is alleged to have committed a 707(b) offense where he or she has a prior 707(b) on his or her record, the crime was gang-related, the crime was a hate crime or the victim was 65 or older or disabled.Violent Crimes in Juvenile Court
While certain violent crimes may be sent to adult court as a direct file or following a fitness hearing, other offenses will be allowed to remain in the juvenile delinquency court system. Unlike the criminal justice system, a minor accused of a crime is not allowed to post bail to secure his or her release pending the adjudication of the case. At the minor’s arraignment, the judge may require that the minor remain in custody while the case is adjudicated or may allow the minor to return to his or her home under strict conditions of release. The juvenile probation officer’s report and recommendation will be very important in making this determination.
Juveniles accused of a violent crime in juvenile court are entitled to many of the same rights and protections as adult defendants, including the right to discovery and to see the evidence against him or her and the right to subpoena evidence or witnesses to appear in court. In many cases, the minor may have been acting in self-defense when he or she acted violently and having an effective juvenile defense attorney can be critical.