Articles Posted in Juvenile Crimes

Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California juvenile case involving an altercation between a student and a school peace officer. The court ultimately concluded that the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient to prove that the juvenile committed battery and resisting arrest.

According to the court’s opinion, an administrator found a student cutting class in the library. The administrator attempted to take the student to the assistant vice principal’s office, but the student initially refused. Eventually, the student followed the administrator. Along the way, the student encountered the school peace officer, who was called when the student initially refused to come to the principal’s office.

Evidently, the student had a history with this particular officer involving a formal complaint that had been made against the officer by the student’s father. The school reviewed the complaint, but the officer remained at the school. On the day of the incident, the officer testified that he initially verbally “encouraged” the student to go to the principal’s office, but the student would not go. Instead, the student used his phone to call his father, asking the officer to speak with his father. The officer declined.

For the most part, when a juvenile is charged with a crime, the state prosecutes the crime within the California juvenile justice system. However, there are some instances where the state will prosecute the juvenile in adult court. States have various ways of determining which offenses that were allegedly committed by juveniles should be prosecuted in adult court.

In California, Proposition 57 requires that prosecutors obtain the approval of a juvenile court before transferring a case to adult court. In 2018, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1391, which prohibited the transfer of 14 or 15-year old children to adult courts in most cases. In a recent case, a prosecutor in Santa Clara argued that SB 1391 was unconstitutional as it unofficially amended Proposition 57.

In that case, the defendant, S.L., was just 15 years old at the time he was charged with murder after shooting someone. The prosecution sought to have the case transferred to adult court, but knew that SB 1391 would prevent it from doing so. Thus, the prosecution filed a writ with the court, asking it to hold that SB 1391 was unconstitutional. The court determined that SB 1391 “did not impermissibly amend Proposition 57 and was therefore constitutional.”

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.”

In a recent California juvenile crime case, a state appeals court upheld a probation condition allowing law enforcement to search a juvenile’s electronic data. According to the court’s opinion, the juvenile defendant, who was 15 years old at the time, was involved in a fight at his school. When his teacher tried to break up the fight, the defendant called the teacher a racial slur.

The court convicted the juvenile of a misdemeanor for disturbing the peace on school grounds. The judge sentenced the defendant to probation and imposed certain conditions, including that the defendant’s electronic devices would be subject “to a search of any source of electronic data identified . . . at any time, with or without probable cause, by a peace officer, and provide the peace officer with any passwords necessary to access the data source specified.” The sources of electronic data included text messages, call logs, social media accounts, voicemail history, photographs, and internet browsing history. The defendant was prohibited from using drugs, threatening others with violence, and visiting school grounds without obtaining prior approval.

The defendant appealed the electronic search condition. He argued that it had nothing to do with the misdemeanor offense and was unconstitutionally overly broad. The state argued that the condition was reasonable because it was not overly broad and that it related to potential future criminality.

In recent a California criminal case before a court of appeals, the court had to consider whether a minor defendant’s case was properly heard by an adult criminal court or whether the case should have been decided by a juvenile court. The defendant in the case was charged with sexual offenses that allegedly occurred when he was between 14 and 16 years old.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s case was first heard in juvenile court, but in November, 2015, the juvenile court transferred the case to adult criminal court. While in adult court, the defendant pleaded guilty to various crimes in March 2017, and agreed to a 40-year sentence in prison. However, before the defendant was sentenced, the defendant requested that the court transfer his case back to juvenile court under Proposition 57, which was passed after the defendant’s hearing in juvenile court. The adult court denied the request, and the defendant appealed the court’s decision.

Juvenile courts in California generally have jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed when the defendant was under 18 years old. Proposition 57 was passed in November, 2016, and significantly amended the laws governing the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. Under the previous law, a minor accused of a crime was generally subject to the jurisdiction of juvenile court, unless the court found the minor unfit for juvenile court. For minors 14 years or older, there was a presumption that the defendant was unfit for the juvenile court system.

Kids are not adults. End of story.

That is a bottom-line observation from our immediately preceding blog post at the established Bay Area criminal defense Law Offices of John W. Noonan. And it is coupled with our view — adamantly supported by researchers, psychologists and thoughtful law enforcers spanning the country — that “young people who are not yet adults shouldn’t typically be treated as if they are.”

Indeed, we stress in our January 2 post entry that juveniles often display “predictable lapses in judgment and failed appreciation for downside consequences.”

There is a mixed yes/no component in the answer to the above-posed headline query in our blog post today.

On the one hand, many of the laws and processes relevant to matters like arrests, custody, interrogation, criminal charging and so forth are indeed the same or closely similar.

Conversely, though, it is also true that there is much that is fundamentally different about how authorities handle juvenile criminal cases. The American legal system has long recognized – and with progressively growing appreciation – that young people who are not yet adults shouldn’t typically be treated as if they are.

California’s long-entrenched reputation as a threshold state for authoring change and novel governmental approaches is well established. In many respects, California leads vanguard reform efforts that other states consider and often follow.

Not always, though. One criminal justice commentator notes that, when it comes to systemic reforms aimed at enhancing fairness and just outcomes, “California is catching up with other states.”

That expressed view seems unquestionable concerning certain aspects of the criminal system relating to juvenile offenders. A bottom-line takeaway from one recent national article spotlighting justice reforms relevant to adolescents stresses that California has lagged – not led – other states in recent years in adopting material equity-based changes. Evidence points especially to teens being tried in adult courts as proof that California has remained passive amid activism elsewhere.

One focal point of our long-established criminal defense practice at the Bay Area Law Offices of John W. Noonan stresses the diligent representation of young people accused of crimes.

It is often the case that unformed judgment and simple lack of maturity connected to life inexperience lead to careless actions that can have serious consequences for juveniles. Minors often do not appreciate the stark downsides that can attend behaviors frowned upon by law enforcers.

Those behaviors can be myriad and varied. We reference many of them on our website. They range widely from underage drinking-related charges and drug infractions to theft crimes and fighting.

Some – unfortunately, not all – criminal suspects in California and elsewhere know that they do not have to answer police queries when they are undergoing an in-custody interrogation. Individuals who are facing the formidable resources and power of government agents have an important right to consult with a criminal defense attorney.

It is a hallmark of American criminal law – a time-honored and bedrock expectation – that attorney/client communications between defense counsel and criminal suspects are confidential.

That is not debatable. In fact, notes a recent national article, secretly listening to or recording a conversation between a suspect and his or her attorney “is a felony under California law.”

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