In Nevada, most criminal prosecutions of minors under the age of 18 take place in juvenile court. However, NRS 62B.390, juvenile court judges may certify minors to be prosecuted and tried as adults in certain cases.
- Children age 14 and older accused of felonies may be certified.
- Children 16 and 17 accused of sexual assault (NRS 200.366) or firearm offenses usually must be certified.
- Children of any age accused of murder (NRS 200.030) must be certified.
Otherwise, the case remains in juvenile delinquency – not criminal – court. The language of Section 62B.390 states that:
Certification as an adult can be devastating for the child defendant. Having a criminal record can derail future school and job prospects.
NRS 62B.390Certification of child for criminal proceedings as adult.
1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2 and NRS 62B.400, upon a motion by the district attorney and after a full investigation, the juvenile court may certify a child for proper criminal proceedings as an adult to any court that would have jurisdiction to try the offense if committed by an adult, if the child:
(a) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b), is charged with an offense that would have been a felony if committed by an adult and was 14 years of age or older at the time the child allegedly committed the offense; or
(b) Is charged with murder or attempted murder and was 13 years of age or older when the murder or attempted murder was committed.
2. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 3, upon a motion by the district attorney and after a full investigation, the juvenile court shall certify a child for proper criminal proceedings as an adult to any court that would have jurisdiction to try the offense if committed by an adult, if the child:
(a) Is charged with:
(1) A sexual assault involving the use or threatened use of force or violence against the victim; or
(2) An offense or attempted offense involving the use or threatened use of a firearm; and
(b) Was 16 years of age or older at the time the child allegedly committed the offense.
3. The juvenile court shall not certify a child for criminal proceedings as an adult pursuant to subsection 2 if the juvenile court specifically finds by clear and convincing evidence that:
(a) The child is developmentally or mentally incompetent to understand the situation and the proceedings of the court or to aid the child’s attorney in those proceedings; or
(b) The child has a substance use disorder or emotional or behavioral problems and the substance use disorder or emotional or behavioral problems may be appropriately treated through the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.
4. If a child is certified for criminal proceedings as an adult pursuant to subsection 1 or 2, the juvenile court shall also certify the child for criminal proceedings as an adult for any other related offense arising out of the same facts as the offense for which the child was certified, regardless of the nature of the related offense.
5. If a child has been certified for criminal proceedings as an adult pursuant to subsection 1 or 2 and the child’s case has been transferred out of the juvenile court:
(a) The court to which the case has been transferred has original jurisdiction over the child;
(b) The child may petition for transfer of the case back to the juvenile court only upon a showing of exceptional circumstances; and
(c) If the child’s case is transferred back to the juvenile court, the juvenile court shall determine whether the exceptional circumstances warrant accepting jurisdiction.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys explain the certification process. We also explain how it may be challenged.
1. When can children be certified as adults?
It depends on the delinquency charges:
1.1. Mandatory certification
Adult certification is usually mandatory if:
- The child was 16 or 17 at the time; and
- The charge was for sexual assault (rape) or a firearm crime
But there is an exception where courts may not certify minors. It is when clear and convincing evidence shows that:
- The child cannot understand the situation due to mental incompetence; or
- The child has substance abuse or behavioral problems that may be treated through juvenile court.
Courts always certify minors accused of murder.
1.2. Discretionary certification
Judges may certify a minor as an adult if:
- The child was 14 or older at the time; and
- The delinquency charge would be a felony if an adult did it1
Children’s attorneys always fight to keep cases in juvie court. There are many possible arguments. One is that certification does not serve the public good.
2. How do courts certify a juvenile as an adult?
First, the prosecutor makes a motion to the court. It requests that the minor get certified for transfer to adult court.
Following an investigation, the court holds a hearing. Finally, the judge makes a decision.
3. Can all children be certified as adults?
No. Generally, only kids over 13 and accused of felonies can be certified.2
4. Does Juvenile Court have jurisdiction over all children?
Initially, yes. All defendants under 18 start out in juvie court. But if the charge is serious, this could change.
As discussed above, the state may try to certify the child as an adult. Then the child would face charges in criminal court.3
5. What happens in cases with multiple charges?
If one delinquency charge gets transferred to criminal court, the rest will too.
Example: Susan is 17. She offers a john to have sex for $200. While in their hotel room, Susan steals his Rolex.
Susan may be transferred to criminal court due to the felony. If the judge transfers her, the solicitation case transfers as well. This is because both charges arose out of the same case.
6. Can certified cases be transferred back to juvenile court?
It is possible. The child’s lawyer may petition for a transfer back to Juvie Court. The court must find there are “exceptional circumstances” to justify it. Examples include:
- Ineffective assistance of counsel;
- Judicial error; or
- Prosecutorial misconduct4
7. Are criminal penalties harsher than juvenile ones?
Usually, yes. But criminal court judges may impose laxer punishments on juvenile defendants. Under NRS 176.017, judges may reduce the mandatory minimum incarceration period by 35%. Courts take into account the defendant’s age and rehabilitation prospects.
- Nevada Juvenile Justice Services: Serves youth under 21 committed for delinquent behavior or mental illness.
- Nevada Child Welfare Services: Assesses the needs of children and their families. Helps provide shelter, foster care, and counseling.
Call our Las Vegas juvenile defense lawyers. The consultation is free.
In California? See our article on prosecuting juveniles as adults
In Colorado? See our article on prosecuting juveniles as adults.
- See State v. A. L. (In re A.L.), 123 Nev. 26, 153 P.3d 32 (2007).
- See Thomas R. v. Juvenile Div., Eighth Judicial Dist. Court ex rel. County of Clark, 99 Nev. 427, 664 P.2d 947 (1983).
- See William S. v. State (In re William S.), 122 Nev. 432, 132 P.3d 1015 (2006).
- NRS 62B.390.