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When Your Child Is Charged as an Adult

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on September 16, 2020

No parent wants to see their child in trouble, let alone in juvenile detention. But even worse than having to attend your child’s trial is realizing that they have been charged an adult, despite being underage. It may lead you to wonder why the supposed rules were ignored when it comes to your child’s arrest and how you can get them recognized properly as a juvenile.

Age Limits in California

When you hear “tried as an adult” you may assume that it means the alleged criminal was 18. After all, that is the age that our country recognizes someone to be a legal adult. Unfortunately, when it comes to the law, that isn’t always the case. Every state has different limits on how young someone can be in order to be tried as an adult. In California, children as young as 16 can be treated as adults if a judge sees fit to do so. This age was very recently changed in 2019 from the original minimum of 14-years-old.

However, when children are forced out of the juvenile system and into the criminal justice system, it usually has an incredibly detrimental impact. In the juvenile system, children convicted of crimes are around their peers and given more of a chance to change and reform. In jail or prison, a child, again as young as 16, is around adults. Adults who have been convicted of potentially serious crimes. That places the child in a situation where their morals and values can be shaped by criminals, making it much more difficult for them to reform.

On top of that, a child convicted of a crime can age out of juvenile detention once they turn 18. This means that a child doesn’t lose a chance at healthy life because of a single mistake. That is not true when children are tried as adults, however, as the punishments they face will reflect their new status as “adults” and will following them for years to come.

Factors Around Adult Charges

Whether your child is tried as an adult or as a juvenile will depend on several factors, the foremost being what crime was allegedly committed. Extremely violent crimes, such as first-degree murder, will likely result in a minor being charged as an adult. The same goes for sex crimes, especially rape. However, your child may still be tried as an adult, even if they committed a minor crime.

The prosecution may file for a “fitness hearing.” This means that they believe your child is past being rehabilitated and they want to prove this to the judge. If they are able to make a sound case, then the judge will decide that your child would do better in the prison system, rather in juvenile detention, as they are supposedly past rehabilitation. Of course, no one knows your child better than you, and to decide that a 16-year-old is incapable of being reformed is incredibly cruel.

The prosecution can also choose to bypass the fitness hearing and simply file adult charges directly. This can be incredibly dangerous, however. Many studies have shown that children of color are charged as adults far more often than white children. This can be chalked up to the biases in our justice system. As prosecutors can simply decide that a child should be tried as an adult, they can let their own biases get in the way, whether those biases be towards gender, race, sexuality, or class.

Fighting Against Adult Charges

If your teen is facing adult charges, you likely want to rush to their defense and either get them back to the juvenile system or have their charges dropped altogether. Thankfully, there are ways to get this done. For example, if you can prove during your child’s fitness hearing that they are prepared for rehabilitation, then the judge may wave the prosecution’s request for an adult trial. Doing so will be difficult, however, especially if the prosecutors choose to try your child as an adult anyway. That is why you should contact a skilled Los Angeles juvenile defense attorney at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP. We have years of experience under our collective belts and are passionate about defending those charged with serious crimes. After all, in America you are innocent until proven guilty, and we wholeheartedly believe in that. For a passionate and skilled helping hand, call our firm at (213) 688-0460. We want to help.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense