California relies on a blanket assumption that children under 14 are legally incapable of committing crimes. This means that even if they physically commit a crime, it will most likely not qualify as such because children this young don't have the maturity or mental capacity to understand the wrongfulness of their actions. If, however, a prosecutor believes that the child did appreciate the nature of his/her actions, the prosecutor would file the case in juvenile court and arrange for a California juvenile adjudication hearing…the equivalent of an adult's trial.
But at what age might a child truly appreciate the wrongfulness of his/her actions? The answer depends on the individual child, as some children are more mature than others. Just today, the Los Angeles Times reported that 53 guns were found in a home where a two-year-old shot and killed his six-year-old step-sister. Despite this obvious tragedy, a two-year-old would have no clue that what he did was wrong. But what if it wasn't a two-year-old, but rather a ten-year-old? What about a 13-year-old? A 17-year-old?
And then when there are particularly aggravating circumstances, there is the question of whether an older child should proceed through a juvenile adjudication hearing or be tried as an adult.
If your child has been accused of being involved in a crime, it is critical to hire a California juvenile criminal defense attorney who has experience handling juvenile crimes. Only this type of seasoned lawyer will know the most effective ways to keep your child out of juvenile court when he/she is simply too young to understand the wrongfulness of his/her actions, or how to keep your child in juvenile court and out of adult court when that is the more appropriate forum. (Refer to our article, "No more life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders convicted of non-homicide crimes in California.")