Posted By : Alisha Wood | Date : 04-20-2016
When a child commits a crime, typically they are tried in a juvenile court whose intention is to seek rehabilitation and help for the child so that he or she does not become a part of the cycle of incarceration. However, when dealing with more serious crimes, a minor’s case may be pushed to adult court and could face a much harsher sentence.
When can a child be tried in adult court?
There are many technicalities that go into sending a child to adult court. The first criterion is that the child must be at least 14 years old. A child younger than 14 must be tried in juvenile court. The crime committed must be serious, and depending on the severity, the prosecution may have to conduct a fitness hearing to receive permission from the juvenile court to take the case to an adult court. In more serious cases, a prosecutor might be able to direct file the case straight to adult court.
A fitness hearing is a proceeding during which a juvenile court judge may decide whether a minor accused of committing a crime is fit for the juvenile court system or needs to be tried as an adult. Five factors are considered, according to W&I Code 707:
- The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor
- Whether the minor has a chance of rehabilitation or fulfilling his/her sentence while still considered a minor by the court
- The minor’s delinquent history
- Success or failure of previous attempts at rehabilitation of the minor by the juvenile court
- The gravity of the offense and its circumstances
A fitness hearing cannot be requested in every juvenile court case. The criteria for prosecution to file for such a hearing may be any one of the following:
- The minor is 16 or older and is accused of a crime
- The minor is 16 or older and accused of committing a felony after having been made a ward of the court previously and was found to have committed 2 or more felonies while over the age of 14
- The minor is over 14 and accused of a crime specified in W&I Code 7(b)
- These offenses are many, but include crimes such as murder, arson, robbery, rape, kidnapping, attempted murder, assault, drug related crimes, etc.
If a crime is serious enough, a fitness hearing may not be necessary, and the prosecutor might be able to direct file a case to adult court.
Direct File Cases
A prosecutor can direct file a juvenile case to adult court depending on the severity of the crime and the circumstances surrounding the case. In the case of a minor 16 or older, the accused must have committed a 707(b) offense or had previously committed an offense after the age of 14 and is being accused of a felony involving a victim aged 65 or older, a hate crime or a gang-related felony.
Direct file criteria for minors 14 and older are the following:
- The minor is alleged to have committed an offense which would be subject to punishment by death or life in prison if committed by an adult
- The minor is alleged to have used a firearm during the felony
- The minor committed a 707(b) offense that either he/she has previously committed, was gang-related, was a hate crime or involved a victim aged 65 or older
A child MUST be tried in adult court if they have been accused of the following crimes and are over the age of 14:
- Murder, if the prosecutor alleges that the minor personally killed the victim
- Sex offenses if personally inflicted by the minor:
- Rape with force, violence or further threat of physical harm
- Forcible sex in concert with another person
- Lewd and lascivious acts onto a child under the age of 14
- Forced sexual penetration
- Sodomy or oral copulation by force
If your child has been accused of a crime, it is important to seek legal counsel immediately. Your attorney will be able to determine if you might benefit from an adult case in front of a jury or if the case should be kept in juvenile court. In order to ensure the best outcome for your child and his or her future, you will need all of the help you can get during this difficult time.
At the Law Offices of Alisha A. Wood, we are equipped to help you and your family fight for the freedom and rehabilitation of your child. Contact us to learn more about how we can help your family and get the most positive outcome in your case: (619) 356-2249.