When Are California Juvenile Cases Transferred to Adult Court?

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.”

The court began its analysis by going over the legislative history leading up to the passage of SB 1391. Before the passage of Proposition 57 in 2016, prosecutors could “direct-file” certain juvenile cases in adult court at their own discretion. However, Proposition 57 eliminated the prosecutor’s ability to direct-file, and required the juvenile court hold a hearing. Proposition 57 includes a clause granting lawmakers the ability to make amendments to the law, provided “such amendments are consistent with and further the intent” of the proposition.

In 2018, SB 1391 was passed. Under SB 1391, prosecutors could not seek the transfer of 14- and 15-year-olds from juvenile court to criminal court unless the minor is “not apprehended prior to the end of juvenile court jurisdiction.” The court was asked to determine if SB 1391 impermissibly amended Proposition 57.

In holding that SB 1391 was not an unconstitutional amendment to Proposition 57, the court held that SB 1391 was consistent with the intent of Proposition 57. The court noted that a major purpose of Proposition 57 was to focus on the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, which SB 1391 undoubtedly did. The court also explained that the other purposes of Proposition 57, such as protecting the community, were not undermined by the passage of SB 1391. The court went on to note that SB 1391 was constitutional and must be enforced by the lower courts.

Are You A Minor Facing Serious Criminal Charges?

If you or your child is currently facing serious criminal charges, contact California criminal defense attorney John W. Noonan for assistance. While the prevalence of cases in which juveniles are being prosecuted as adults has decreased, there is still a great deal at stake. The juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system are similar, but not identical, and you should ensure that you are represented by an attorney who is experienced in California juvenile offenses. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 877-463-3390 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with Attorney Noonan today.

Contact Information