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Can a Minor be Sent to Adult Court for Adjudication of a Criminal Case?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Nov 02, 2018 | 0 Comments

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Senate Bill 1391 was signed into law by Gov. Brown in September 2018. According to the bill, a district attorney can make a motion to transfer a minor from juvenile court to an adult court of criminal jurisdiction as long as the minor is 16 years of age or older.

The bill prohibits the prosecution of minors in adult court for offenses committed while under the age of 16, unless the minor was not apprehended until after turning 18 years of age.

SB 1391 marks a change in California law. Prior to the bill, minors 14 years of age and older could be sent to adult court for adjudication of certain serious offenses via a transfer hearing.

New Laws Under Senate Bill 1391

SB 1391 states that a judge can send a minor from juvenile court to an adult court of criminal jurisdiction for adjudication of the case. However, he can only do so when:

  1. The minor is 16 years of age or older; OR,
  2. The minor committed a crime when under the age of 16 but was not apprehended until after turning 18 years of age; AND
  3. There is sufficient reason to transfer the case.

In determining whether there is sufficient reason to transfer a case, the juvenile court will consider the following factors:

  • The minor's maturity and his mental and emotional health;
  • Whether the minor can be rehabilitated in the juvenile court system;
  • The minor's past criminal history;
  • The success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor; and,
  • The seriousness of the offense committed by the minor.

SB 1391 specifically prohibits the prosecution of minors in adult court for offenses committed while under the age of 16 (unless in the situation noted in 2. above).

Laws Prior to Senate Bill 1391

SB 1391 significantly changed California's existing law on transfer of juvenile cases to adult court. Under the State's old law, a minor from juvenile court could be transferred to an adult court of criminal jurisdiction if:

  1. The minor was 16 years of age or older and committed a felony; and/or,
  2. The minor was 14 or 15 years of age and committed a “serious offense.”

Examples of “serious offenses” include:

  • Murder;
  • Rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm; and,
  • A violent felony.

Reasoning for SB 1391

Proponents of the new law support it for five main reasons. These are:

  1. It will better rehabilitate 14- and 15-year-old offenders;
  2. Offenders of the same age will be less likely to re-offend;
  3. The law is in line with recent science that shows children who commit crimes can change for the better;
  4. It will lower jail populations; and,
  5. It protects minors from the behaviors and personalities in adult prison.

Senate Bill 1391 was introduced in April of 2018 by Sens. Ricardo Lara and Holly Mitchell. The bill amends Section 707 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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