Will My Child Be In Juvenile Court or Adult Court?

Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Under California law, the District Attorney can file a transfer motion for a youth to be transferred from juvenile court to adult court only in very specific circumstances. Importantly, the DA is not required to file a motion to transfer a minor’s juvenile delinquency case to adult court. Whether they decide to do it or not depends on the particular practices in a given county. Each prosecutor’s office has different policies and protocols for determining whether they file a transfer motion.

Regardless of the policy of a particular county, transfer motions can only be filed in two circumstances, with the first scenario being the most common:

  • If the youth was 16 years of age or older at the time of the commission of an offense listed in WIC 707(b) or any other felony criminal statute.
  • If an individual is accused of a an offense listed in WIC 707(b) was 14 or 15 years old at the time of the commission of the alleged offense, but was not arrested or charged until after juvenile jurisdiction court expires (meaning they aged out of juvenile court), the DA can file a transfer motion.

What Is a WIC 707(b) Offense?

You can find them listed here. The short answer is that these offenses are among the most serious offenses. Most are violent or serious felonies under California’s “Three Strikes” law. One notable exception is residential burglary, which is a strike in adult court, but not a WIC 707(b).

How Does the Court Decide Whether to Transfer a Young Person to Adult Court?

The court must be persuaded by the District Attorney, by clear and convincing evidence, that a youth is not “amenable” to rehabilitation in juvenile court before the court loses jurisdiction. For a WIC 707(b) offense, the longest young people can be under juvenile court jurisdiction is age 25.

The court must consider any relevant evidence that addresses the the following factors:

  • The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the youth during the planning and commission of the alleged offense. When analyzing this factor, the court looks at the youth’s maturity, intellectual capacity, physical and mental health, and emotional health at the time of the alleged offense. Court will also examine whether family or other adult pressure played a role in the alleged offense as well as peer pressure. The family structure, community and impacts of any childhood trauma are also considered by the court.
  • Whether the minor can be rehabilitated before jurisdiction expires. In other words, does this young person have the ability to grow and mature before he or she “ages out” of juvenile court jurisdiction? The seriousness of the minor’s previous delinquency history and the effect of the minor’s family and community environment and childhood trauma on the minor’s previous delinquent behavior.
  • The youth’s prior juvenile delinquency history. How serious is the previous criminal history? Did family structure, community factors and/or childhood trauma play a role in previous delinquency cases?
  • Whether the juvenile court’s previous attempts to rehabilitate the youth have been successful. What kind of services were offered to the minor? Were they adequate to meet the level of support the youth required?The success of the minor on previous probations will be considered by the court.
  • The circumstances and gravity of the offense alleged in the petition. The court will look at the youth’s age at the time of the alleged offense as well as maturity; intellectual capacity; physical, mental and emotional health at the time of the alleged offense. Did the youth appreciate the gravity of their conduct? And again, family, adult and peer pressure along with community environment and childhood trauma.

Preparation for a Juvenile Transfer Hearing

Preparation for a juvenile transfer hearing, if done correctly, requires skill, tenacity, and a great deal of work. The lawyer defending the young person will need to put together a team of forensic psychologists, social workers, and investigators to address the factors at issue in the hearing. It requires the same level of preparation as a trial. There is no cutting corners and no substitute for exacting, detailed work and developing the most effective, fact-supported method to tell the client’s story.

A qualified juvenile defense attorney who is familiar with the juvenile courts may be able to intervene early in an effort to keep the case in juvenile court.

There are severe risks and consequences to you or your child’s case going to adult court rather than juvenile court. Contact a qualified Los Angeles County juvenile defense attorney to discuss your or your child’s case. For a confidential consultation, you can call criminal defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg in Los Angeles at (323) 633-3423 or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page.

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