California Court Upholds Restrictions on the Prosecution of Minors in Adult Criminal Court

Proposition 57 was enacted by California voters in November, 2016. The proposition eliminated the ability of a district attorney to file charges directly with a California criminal court for minors who were 14 years or older when they allegedly committed the crimes. Senate Bill 1391 (SB 1391), which was passed in 2018, further limits a district attorney’s ability to prosecute minors in criminal court.

In a recent case, after the Superior Court of Solano County blocked the prosecution of a 14-year-old defendant in criminal court, the District Attorney of Solano County filed suit against the court, arguing that SB 1391 was inconsistent with the intent of Proposition 57. Generally, in California, juvenile courts have jurisdiction over offenses allegedly committed by minors. However, prior to Proposition 57, there was a presumption that minors 14 years or older were unfit for the juvenile justice system, and were required to be charged in criminal court for certain crimes. District attorneys had the discretion to charge minors 14 or older directly in criminal court for other cases.

Under Proposition 57, minors can only be tried in criminal court if a juvenile court judge conducts a transfer hearing, considering various factors. District attorneys can request transfers to the criminal court for minors 16 years or older facing any felony offense, but district attorneys can only request transfers for 14 and 15 year olds for certain violent offenses. Proposition 57 was passed in order to concentrate resources on dangerous criminals, “while rehabilitating juvenile and adult inmates and saving tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Senate Bill 1391, which was passed in 2018, further limits the district attorney’s ability to prosecute minors in criminal court, by prohibiting the prosecution of 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds in criminal court in almost all cases. SB 1391 went into effect January 1, 2019, and eliminates a district attorney’s ability to request the transfer of 14- and 15-year-olds to criminal court, except if the minor was “not apprehended” before the termination of juvenile court jurisdiction.

The appeals court found that SB 1391 was consistent with Proposition 57’s stated goals. The court considered the stated purpose of Proposition 57, which included to “[r]equire a judge, not a prosecutor, to decide whether juveniles should be tried in adult court.” It found that SB 1391 furthered Proposition 57’s goal of promoting juvenile rehabilitation, and that it does not take away from Proposition 57’s stated intent.

Have You or Your Child Been Charged with a Crime?

If you have been charged with a crime, or your minor child has, it is important that you meet with a California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Pleasanton criminal defense attorney John W. Noonan has experience in criminal and juvenile court cases, and has over 45 years of experience in criminal law. He understands the nuances of criminal law and is prepared to fight for and defend his clients. The California Penal Code and the criminal justice system can be complex and understanding the ins-and-outs is essential. Attorney Noonan represents clients charged with all types of crimes, including California sex offenses, drug crimes, and weapons charges. To learn more, and to speak with an attorney today, call us at 925-479-0033, or fill out our online form.

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