Articles Posted in Juvenile Crimes

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 Office 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 Office 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.”

Reference to terms such as “intent” or “deliberation” often attaches to the crime of murder. A favored expression under traditional common law is “malice aforethought.”

There are many other descriptors as well. They all coalesce around the assumption that murder must link closely with an individual’s purposeful action to cause the death of another human being.

Notwithstanding the long-posited link between conscious intent and murder, however, a material disclaimer to that tie-in exists concerning another criminal charge.

Remember what it was like to be a teenager?

Most adults flash back occasionally to the wonder years, of course, especially those who now have kids of their own. Some readers of this blog likely had more than their fair share of challenges and setbacks while growing up, with others perhaps remembering little but upsides and strongly positive memories.

Notwithstanding such polar opposites in experience, though, one thing seems to uniformly mark most teens and set them apart from other groups, and that is this: a sense of invincibility.

Following are a couple bullet points applicable to juveniles who are in custody and interacting with criminal law authorities seeking to ask them crime-related questions. Reportedly, these things are true, as passed along in a recent Bloomberg article:

  • About nine of every 10 minors detained by law enforcers forgo exercising their Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent and promptly communicate in confidence with an attorney
  • Suspected juvenile offenders are “especially susceptible” to providing self-incriminating evidence that is not true and that leads to false confessions and convictions

A Bloomberg editorial team strongly asserts that the active interplay of such factors makes authorities’ in-custody communications with minors concerning their legal rights “a recipe for injustice.”

Indeed, that would certainly seem to be the case. And the potential for a flat miscarriage of justice to occur in juvenile cases is arguably increased far further by the right granted minors in most states to waive their right to counsel without first discussing that decision with an attorney.

Here’s the succinct bottom-line outcome relevant to a recently issued California Supreme Court ruling: A 50-year prison term for a minor is a no-go.

In fact, noted the court’s decision announced late last month, such a sentence is “functionally equivalent” to a life behind bars with no chance of parole. The tribunal held in a narrow 4-3 opinion that such a disposition constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution.

California’s judicial take on the matter clearly relied on momentum garnered from a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that announced a material cutback in life sentences being doled out to adolescents for violent crimes. The California opinion pointed to the earlier decision in discussing its rationale.

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