In Nevada, most criminal prosecutions of minors under the age of 18 take place in juvenile court. But under NRS 62B.390, juvenile court judges may certify minors to be prosecuted and tried as adults in certain cases.
- Children age 13 to 15 accused of murder (NRS 200.030) or attempted murder may be certified.
- Children age 14 and older accused of felonies may be certified.
- Children 16 and 17 accused of certain sexual assault (NRS 200.366) or firearm offenses usually must be certified.
Otherwise, the case remains in juvenile delinquency – not criminal – court. The language of Section 62B.390 states that:
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.
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 in the juvenile case:
1.1. Mandatory certification
Adult certification is usually mandatory and presumptive if:
- The child was 16 or 17 at the time; and
- The charge was for 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
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 the juvenile court system.
1.2. Discretionary certification
Under Nevada state law, judges may certify a minor as an adult if:
- The child was 13, 14, or 15, and is accused of murder or attempted murder; or
- The child was 14 or older at the time, and the delinquency charge would be a felony criminal offense if an adult did it1
Children’s attorneys always fight to keep juvenile crime cases in the juvenile justice system. There are many possible arguments to keep cases from being transferred to the adult criminal justice system. 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?
Not all. In the following six situations, criminal court – and not juvie court – has jurisdiction over defendants who were under 18 at the time of the alleged offense:
- The defendant was previously convicted of a criminal offense; or
- The defendant was 16 or 17 and was accused of murder or attempted murder; or
- The defendant was 16 or 17, he/she was accused of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault involving the use or threatened use of force or violence against the victim, and he/she has a prior delinquency that would be a felony had an adult committed it; or
- The defendant was 16 or 17, he/she was accused of an an offense or attempted offense involving the use or threatened use of a firearm, and he/she has a prior delinquency that would be a felony had an adult committed it; or
- The defendant was 16 or 17, he/she was accused of a category A or B felony, but either: the police did not identify the defendant as the suspect until he/she reached 21 years old, or the police did not identity and charge the defendant until he/she reached 20 year old and 3 months; or
- The defendant was accused of a felony that resulted in death or substantial bodily harm to the victim, 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, 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 the the defendant intended to create a great risk of death or substantial bodily harm to more than one person by means of a weapon, device or course of action that would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person.
Otherwise, all defendants under 18 start out in juvie court. But if the charge is for a serious crime, this could change. As discussed above, the state may try to certify the child as an adult. If the judge agrees, then the child would face charges in criminal court.3
Common penalties for minors found delinquent in Juvie Court of unlawful acts are community service, a driver’s license suspension, and time in a juvenile detention facility.
5. What happens in cases with multiple charges?
If one charge for a delinquent act 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 court 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?
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
But cases can never be transferred to juvenile court if they fall under one of the six exceptions listed above in question 4. In those cases, criminal court has exclusive and original jurisdiction even though the defendant was under 18 at the time of the alleged offense.
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.
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.), (Nevada Supreme Court, 2007) 123 Nev. 26, 153 P.3d 32.
- 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.
- Nevada Revised Statute 62B.390.