A juvenile is a minor or a child that is 18 years or below. In most cases, crimes are associated with grown-ups, but juveniles could also violate the law. California understands that minors break the law and need rehabilitation, not punishment.
Thus, juvenile delinquency courts handle criminal matters involving children and find the best way to rehabilitate them. Despite this, some minors commit atrocious crimes or repeat offenses, forcing them to be tried as adults. Therefore, transfer hearings refer to when a juvenile court wants to determine if a minor is fit to stand trial as a grown-up, and the case is moved or transferred to an adult court.
If your child is tried as an adult, it means the penalties they receive are those for an adult, which are devastating for a grown-up and even worse for a child. Aggressive defense to avoid the harsh repercussions is critical in your child's case with an experienced attorney's help. At the Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we understand the severity of the situation, and we have helped many minors charged in an adult court have their reduced or dismissed.
Understanding Juvenile Delinquency Transfer Hearing
This hearing in a juvenile court, as earlier stated, is when a judge recommends a minor to be tried as an adult. However, before this is recommended, a hearing known as fitness or transfer hearing is conducted to determine whether the minor is fit to have their case heard in a juvenile court or not.
While deciding, the judge considers five factors and how serious the alleged offense is. Earlier, we stated that the juvenile court system was designed to rehabilitate minors that break the law. However, some offenses and repeating them may mean the minor does not profit from the rehabilitative services. If this is the case, the judge would recommend transferring the minor's case to an adult court for determination.
Additionally, the prosecution can request for transfer hearing of a minor's case. This is possible if:
- The juvenile is sixteen years or over and is accused of committing a crime or felony as listed under the W&I Code 707(b) or
- The minor was between 14 and 15 years when they committed the alleged offense, and they were not arrested for it until they were 18
Prosecutors don't always request transfer hearings unless the offense committed falls under W&I code 707(b), as discussed earlier. A transfer hearing does not occur at any time but between two hearings, the detention and adjudication hearings. But, petitioning for a transfer hearing does not mean it is always granted. Your child's lawyer can fight this and ask for the minor to be rehabilitated according to the juvenile court system. Due to this, the prosecutor gives the minor a notice of five court days to prepare for the fitness hearing.
Transfer Hearing Fitness Criteria
Earlier, we stated that before a judge transfers a minor's case to an adult court, they consider five factors. These are:
- The level of innovation or sophistication displayed by the child while committing the offense
- Whether rehabilitation of the minor is possible before the court's jurisdiction on youth expires.
- Background or prior delinquent history of the minor
- How successful past trials at rehabilitating the minor have been
- The seriousness and circumstances of the crime they are accused of committing
For a better understanding of these factors, we look at some examples of offenses juveniles can commit. These are:
Sixteen-year-old Crystal has been caught shoplifting at a department store. Fortunately, this is her first offense. In this case, the prosecutor cannot request the court to transfer the case because the offense does not qualify according to W&I Code 707(b). Shoplifting is a misdemeanor, according to W&I 707(a). After Crystal is arrested and charged with the offense, she might have the case sentenced to probation.
A different scenario would be Sean, who is sixteen and is apprehended for committing a felony. If he carjacked and assaulted his victim in a gang-related offense, it is a serious felony. Here, Sean will face charges according to PEN 215 for carjacking and PEN 245(a)(1) assault causing bodily harm.
Unfortunately, Sean has been charged with various offenses before and made a court's ward. Because he violated the law he was 16, the prosecutor is authorized to request the court to try Sean as an adult under the adult court. If he is found guilty of the violations, the punishments or penalties he will receive are similar to those an adult would receive.
Crimes that See a Minor Tried as an Adult
Earlier, it was noted that not all crimes a minor commits could be tried at the adult court. However, some offenses as listed under W&I 707(b) that can trigger a transfer trial or hearing are:
- Arson that results in significant bodily harm or burning an inhabited dwelling or structure
- Killing another person or murder
- Forceful rape or use of violence causing great bodily injuries
- Forcing a victim to sodomy through violence or threats of causing injuries
- Forcing a minor below 14 to engage in lascivious or lewd acts through the use of violence or threats to their wellbeing
- Forcing a person to oral copulation through violence or threats of causing injury
- Kidnapping a person and seeking a ransom
- Kidnapping a person to rob them
- Kidnapping a person and causing them bodily harm
- Attempting to murder another person
- Assaulting another using a gun or a destructive device
- Assaulting in a manner to cause harm to the victim
- Firing a gun into a building or structure that is occupied
- Using a dangerous weapon to commit a felony
- Violating PEN 136.1 that prohibits dissuading a state witness or PEN 137 bribing a witness
- Processing, assembling, or selling controlled substances weighing at least half an ounce according to HS code 11055(e)
- Committing a violent crime that would result in another felony violation such as found under PEN 186.22(b) sentence enhancement for criminal gang crime
- Escaping from a juvenile hall, ranch, camp, forestry camp, or home using violence or force that inflicts injuries to a worker at the facility
- Torturing your victim
- Kidnapping to sexually assault your victim
- Aggravated mayhem
- Kidnapping a victim while carjacking them
- Drive-by-shooting according to PEN 26100
- Detonating a dangerous device to kill victims
- Committing voluntary manslaughter
Can a Court Decision be Challenged or Appealed?
Earlier, we stated that the juvenile court system is designed for rehabilitating minors that break the law. Unfortunately, some juveniles refuse to become reformed through the various rehabilitation programs and keep breaking the law. Others become even worse and commit more sophisticated or atrocious offenses, forcing the court to opt for them to be tried as adults. However, the decision does not come without facing challenges.
Transfer hearing means there will be a date set for the state or court to argue why the minor should be tried in an adult court and receive punishment for the violations committed as a grown-up. On that date, the minor's lawyer has a chance to argue against the intended transfer and persuade the juvenile judge not to allow the transfer.
The process of challenging your child's transfer begins with a written petition filed in court in the first 20 days immediately after their first arraignment for the transfer hearing.
If the minor is accused of using a gun during the offense's commission, the offense automatically becomes a section 707(b) crime. This makes it even more critical to hire an attorney knowledgeable in juvenile delinquency statutes and the criminal court system. If the minor's offense falls under the mentioned category, the prosecutor can directly file the case in adult court or start a hearing to transfer the case.
During the hearing, the minor's attorney must prove that the child should be tried in the juvenile court and that the rehabilitation program will help reform the youth. If the court is convinced, the minor's case is tried according to the juvenile court system. If the hearing is lost, the minor is tried as an adult and punished in an adult court.
Juvenile Delinquency Hearings
Earlier, we mentioned when transfer hearings happen in a juvenile case. It is important to understand the different types of hearings that take place in a juvenile delinquency case. Below, we discuss the various hearings in greater detail for your understanding.
The hearings depend on the minor's ability to deny the accusations leveled against them and the type of allegations. Before the case is concluded, multiple judicial hearings are scheduled with this regard. During the hearings, the minor's age, the severity of the violation, and the minor's criminal history are considered. Under the WIC 600, the court has the authority to hear and rule over a juvenile delinquency case.
At the end of the multiple hearings, the court determines or concludes that:
- The juvenile stays with their parents or legal guardians under the supervision of the court.
- The youth to be placed on probation. During this period, the minor may be ordered to stay with a relative, a group home, or foster care, or in a rehabilitation institution.
- The court can also have the minor placed in a probation ranch or camp.
- The judge can also order for the minor to be placed under the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). If the child becomes tried as an adult, they can be taken to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Adult Operations (CDCR).
Before the court decides on the outcome of a juvenile delinquency case, including transfer hearing, a particular process is followed. This process involves:
- When a minor is reported for violating the law, the first encounter is with a police officer who arrests them for the crime.
- After the minor is arrested, they may be reprimanded and released while the officer called at the crime scene. The officer can also bring them to the station or take them to a probation officer who would reprimand and release them. Depending on the violation, the police can issue the minor with a citation and a date to appear in court. The last option at this stage would be detaining the minor in a juvenile hall.
- If the minor was not released after a reprimand, a petition might be raised with the juvenile court. Sometimes, a petition may not be raised, but the minor is placed on probation when brought in. Informal supervision is also considered under this, according to WIC 654. Depending on the violation, a complaint can also be raised in the adult court, according to WIC 602(b).
- If the minor is detained at the juvenile hall, a detention hearing, according to WIC 636, is carried out.
- Following the detention hearing, the minor can be released to be supervised from home according to WIC 636, or another hearing, according to WIC 637 is conducted.
- Between the detention hearing and the pre-trial hearing, a fitness hearing is scheduled. A fitness hearing is the other name for a transfer hearing. During this hearing, the judge determines if the minor will be tried according to the juvenile court system or the adult court system. If the court recommends trial as an adult, the case is transferred to the adult court. If the transfer hearing case is defeated, the case continues at the juvenile court.
- After the pre-trial hearing, a jurisdictional hearing, according to WIC 700 – 702, is carried out.
- If the petition is found to be factual under the jurisdictional hearing, a dispositional hearing, according to WIC 706, is carried out. At the dispositional hearing, this is where the court issues the minor with a sentence. There are various sentence outcomes after dispositional hearing that include:
- Informal probation for six months according to WIC 725
- Wardship probation while the minor stays at home according to WIC 727
- Wardship probation while the minor is placed in a group home, foster care, or private institution according to WIC 272
- Wardship as a juvenile detainee in a juvenile home, camp, ranch, or forestry camp according to WIC 730
- Wardship under the division of juvenile justice according to WIC 730
As earlier stated, the juvenile court system operates under a series of hearings before the outcome. These include:
Initial or Detention Hearing
Before the judge decides to transfer a minor's case to the adult court, a series of hearings occur, with the first one being a detention hearing. When a petition is raised alleging the committing of an offense by a minor, the court files the petition and assigns the case. The delinquency courtroom where the case will be heard is informed and all the relevant parties too. If the child is held at the juvenile detention center, the first court appearance is known as a detention hearing.
During this hearing, a minor is expected to be presented by an attorney. If the minor doesn't have one, the court appoints one for them. Next, the evidence against the minor is evaluated by the court for determination. One of the primary goals of a juvenile court is to protect the child. If the detention is found to be necessary for protecting the child, community, or victim, then the court upholds it. It is important to note a critical distinction between a juvenile court and adult court. A minor cannot ask to pay bail in the juvenile court system in adult courts.
Upon the minor's detention, a notice for the first court hearing is sent to them or the parents. The details of where to appear and when are well documented in the notice. Upon arriving at the juvenile court, the minor defendant presents themselves at the designated place. The court clerk then takes the minor's details and inquiries on the parent or guardian who has accompanied the minor to court. Because of the various hearings taking place in that courtroom, it is advisable to be patient and wait for your child's case to be called.
This hearing is also referred to as a status conference. The reason for this hearing is establishing if the issue is fit for settling without the need for a trial or not. If the court determines the case must go to trial, the next thing is to establish if the lawyers are well prepared for the case. In some cases, this hearing is held out of court, although in most cases, attorneys don't feel the need to have one.
As earlier stated, this is the hearing to determine if the minor defendant is fit to be tried at the juvenile court or the adult court. The type of offense alleged to have been committed, and the minor's criminal background is the main determining factor.
This stage is similar to that of adult court. Here, the judge hears the case and determines if the youth did commit the alleged offense. If it is determined, the court acquires jurisdiction or control over the juvenile. The prosecutor, in this case, must present evidence that the child committed the alleged offense. If the minor denied the allegations, their lawyer must also challenge the prosecutor's evidence and present proof of their argument.
Jurisdiction hearing typically starts in fifteen days from detention hearing, but only if the child was held. If the child is left to go home, the hearing is scheduled to happen thirty days from the arrest.
The trial or hearing can be continued at the request of either party. However, the party asking for continuance must provide good reasons. If the court accepts them, a new date not so far is set to hear the case.
As the hearing begins, the judge will read and explain the minor and their parents’ petition. Further, the judge discusses the expectations during the hearing and the parent's or guardians' role, including paying or restitution and fines for the minor. If the judge is convinced the juvenile comprehends the charges against them, they ask them if the accusations are false or true. If the minor admits to the allegations, the judge can terminate the hearing at that stage. However, if the minor denies the charges, the prosecutor has a burden to prove the juvenile court case.
In fighting the charges, the minor's lawyer will cross-examine prosecution witnesses, challenge the evidence produced by presenting contrary one, and present a witness for the minor. The lawyer can also argue the case based on logic and other legally acceptable defenses.
If the minor is tried in an adult court, this same procedure is repeated only that the minor must take a plea. If they plead not guilty to the allegations, the prosecutor must prove to the court or jury that the minor did commit the alleged offense. The minor's attorney will also prepare their defense by refuting the evidence produced and challenging the alleged offense elements.
Although juvenile cases are not heard and determined by a jury, if the case is transferred to the adult court, a jury hears the case and determines if the minor is guilty or not. In a juvenile court, once the judge determines the allegations are true, another hearing or date is set to sentence the minor. However, if the case is transferred to the adult court, the judge will sentence the minor after hearing the case.
This is the last hearing in the juvenile court. During this hearing, the judge determines the sentencing to hand down to the minor to reform.
Adult Court Hearing
As earlier stated, a minor can be tried as an adult after a determination is made at the transfer hearing stage. If your child is tried as an adult, there is no leniency because of their age, but they will face similar penalties as adults in the same position.
Find a Juvenile Attorney Near Me
When your child is accused of committing a serious felony or has a history of breaking the law, you would be stressed at the possibility of them facing penalties as adults. The court or the prosecutor can petition for the minor to be tried as an adult. Fortunately, you can fight against this possibility and have your child tried and sentenced in a juvenile court.
At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we understand the fear parents and minors would have over this possibility and fight hard to prevent it from happening. If your minor is faced with criminal allegations, call us at 310-564-2605, and we will passionately fight on their behalf.