If your minor child (under 18) gets into trouble in Nevada, the matter will probably be handled in juvenile court. In serious cases, however, the court may “certify” your child to be prosecuted and tried as an adult in criminal court.
Juveniles can be tried in adult court in two circumstances:
- your child is 13 to 15 and accused of murder or attempted murder, or
- your child is at least 14 and accused of a delinquency charge that would be a felony if committed by an adult.
There is one scenario where juvie judges are required to certify your child as an adult: This is when your child is 16 or 17 and was accused of either:
- sexual assault (rape) involving the use or threatened use of force or violence against the victim, or
- an offense or attempted offense involving the use or threatened use of a firearm.1
However, we can stop this “mandatory certification” if we can prove to the juvie judge by clear and convincing evidence that:
- your child cannot understand the situation due to mental incompetence; or
- your child has substance abuse or behavioral problems that may be treated through the juvenile court system.
Here at Las Vegas Defense Group, we have represented countless young people who had brushes with the law and faced being tried as adults. In our experience, early intervention and negotiations with the prosecution are key to preventing certification.
In this article, our Las Vegas juvenile crimes attorneys explain the certification process and how we may challenge it.
1. How do courts certify your child as an adult?
First, the prosecutor makes a motion to the court requesting that your child be certified for transfer to adult criminal court.
Following an investigation, the court holds a hearing where we would zealously argue against certification. Finally, the judge makes a decision.
2. Can all children be certified as adults?
No. Generally, only kids over 13 and accused of felonies can be certified.2
3. Does Juvenile Court have jurisdiction over all children?
Not all. If your child fits into one of the following six serious situations, then criminal court – and not juvie court – has jurisdiction over them from the start:
- Your child was previously convicted of a criminal offense; or
- Your child was 16 or 17 and accused of murder or attempted murder; or
- Your child was 16 or 17, they were accused of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault involving the use or threatened use of force or violence against the victim, and they have a prior delinquency that would be a felony had an adult committed it; or
- Your child was 16 or 17, they were accused of an offense or attempted offense involving the use or threatened use of a firearm, and they have a prior delinquency that would be a felony had an adult committed it; or
- Your child was 16 or 17, they were accused of a category A or B felony, but either: 1) the police did not identify your child as the suspect until they reached 21 years old, or 2) the police did not identity and charge your child until they reached 20 years old and 3 months; or
- Your child was accused of a felony that resulted in death or substantial bodily harm to the victim, and the felony was committed on the property of a public or private school when pupils or employees of the school were present or may have been present. Plus it must have been at an activity sponsored by a public or private school or on a school bus while the bus was engaged in its official duties, and your child must have intended to create a great risk of death or substantial bodily harm to more than one person using a weapon, device or course of action that would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person.
Otherwise, all children under 18 who get arrested start out in juvie court. As discussed at the beginning of this article, there are situations where the judge has the discretion to certify your child as adults, and there are situations where it is presumed that your child will be certified as an adult.3
4. What happens if my child is facing multiple charges?
If one of your child’s charges gets transferred from juvenile court to criminal court, the rest of your child’s delinquency charges will transfer as well.
Example: Susan is 17 when she offers a john to have sex for $200. While in their hotel room, Susan steals his Rolex.
Because of the felony and Susan’s age, the judge has the discretion to certify her as an adult to be tried in criminal court. If the judge decides to transfer her, the solicitation court case transfers as well because both charges arose out of the same case.
5. Can certified cases be transferred back to juvenile court?
Potentially, yes. If a juvie court judge certifies your child as an adult, we would file a petition to have the case transferred back from criminal court to juvenile court.
For your child’s case to go back to juvenile court, we must show there are “exceptional circumstances” to justify it. Examples include:
- The criminal court prosecutors or judge in your child’s case committed misconduct that prejudiced their right to a fair trial (“judicial error” or “prosecutorial misconduct”); and/or
- Your child’s original attorney or public defender did not provide competent representation (“ineffective assistance of counsel“).4
In addition, we would argue to the judge that your child’s needs would be best served in the juvenile justice system and that subjecting your child to the adult criminal justice system at such a young age not only hurts their long-term prospects but also fails to serve the public good.
Remember that your child can never be transferred from criminal court to juvenile court if any one of the six exceptions listed above in question 3 applies. In those cases, the criminal court has exclusive and original jurisdiction over your child’s case even though they were under 18 at the time of the alleged offense.
6. Are the penalties different in juvenile court versus criminal court?
Both juvenile court and criminal court impose similar penalties, including detention, community service, fines/restitution, and driver’s license revocations. However, juvenile court sentences tend to be less severe than criminal court sentences because the juvenile court system is focused on rehabilitation over punishment.
If your child is found delinquent in juvenile court, the worst case scenario is that they are sentenced to a term in juvenile hall and continue to receive schooling. Though if they are certified and convicted as an adult, then your child faces incarceration in county jail or state prison.
Note that if your minor child is convicted of a crime in adult criminal court, their youth gives them one advantage: The judge has the option of reducing their mandatory minimum sentence by 35%.5
Example: Seventeen-year-old Ben is convicted in criminal court for burglary with a deadly weapon, which carries a mandatory minimum of two years in prison. Because Ben was a juvenile when he committed the burglary, the judge can sentence him to only 1.3 years in prison instead.
7. What about my child’s record?
Most juvenile court records get sealed automatically once your child turns 21. Having a “clean record” when your child reaches adulthood will greatly increase their prospects for employment, education, housing, professional licenses, and loans.
In contrast, adult criminal records usually cannot be sealed until five or 10 years after the case closes, and some convictions stay on your child’s record forever. So if your child’s juvenile case gets transferred to criminal court – and then your child gets convicted – your child may have a much harder time getting ahead in life with a criminal record haunting them.6
This criminal record issue is one of the main reasons we fight so hard to keep cases in juvenile court: Our goal is not just to get laxer penalties but also to minimize any long-term fallout.
For additional information on juvenile justice laws, refer to the following:
- Clark County Juvenile Detention Center – Our information page about Las Vegas Juvie Hall.
- Eighth Judicial District Court Juvenile Court – Official page of the Juvenile Court in Clark County (including Las Vegas).
- Nevada Juvenile Justice Services – Serves youths 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.
- Trying Juveniles as Adults: An Analysis of State Transfer Laws and Reporting – Article by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
- See State v. A. L. (In re A.L.), (Nevada Supreme Court, 2007) 123 Nev. 26, 153 P.3d 32. IN RE: B.J.W.-A. C/W 84276 (2023) 139 Nev. Adv. Op. 1. NRS 62B.390 – Certification 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.
- See Thomas R. v. Juvenile Div., Eighth Judicial Dist. Court ex rel. County of Clark, (1983) 99 Nev. 427, 664 P.2d 947.
- NRS 62B.330. See William S. v. State (In re William S.), (2006) 122 Nev. 432, 132 P.3d 1015. See also Zalyaul v. State (2022) 138 Nev. Adv. Op. 74.
- Nevada Revised Statute 62B.390.
- NRS 176.017.
- NRS 62H. NRS 179.245.