What Crimes Can Juveniles Be Charged As Adults For?

The question of whether to charge juveniles as adults has sparked heated debates among legal professionals, policymakers, and communities. In Los Angeles, like in many other jurisdictions, the transfer laws govern the process by which young offenders may be charged and tried as adults. Our team of legal experts at the Law Offices of Hart J. Levin is committed to shedding light on this complex and contentious issue, offering help to navigate the intricacies of the law as we advocate for fair treatment and the protection of the rights of young individuals entangled in the criminal justice system.

Why Are Some Youths Tried as Adults in California?

The decision to charge juveniles as adults in California is multifaceted and influenced by several factors, aiming to strike a balance between rehabilitation and accountability:

Public Safety and Deterrence: Charging juveniles as adults for serious crimes sends a strong message to potential offenders, acting as a deterrent and safeguarding public safety.

Gravity of the Offense: When a juvenile commits a heinous crime that deeply impacts victims and communities, adult charges may be considered to ensure appropriate consequences.

Juvenile Justice System Inadequacy: In some cases, the juvenile justice system may be deemed ill-equipped to handle the severity of the crime or the individual’s prior history of criminal behavior.

Prior Criminal Record: A juvenile offender’s history of prior criminal activity can influence the decision to try them as an adult, especially if it demonstrates a pattern of dangerous behavior.

Protecting Victims’ Rights: Charging juveniles as adults in certain cases can provide victims with a sense of justice and validation of their suffering.

Age of the Offender: Although age is considered, older juveniles may be more likely to face adult charges, as they may be perceived as having a greater capacity to understand the consequences of their actions.

Judicial Discretion: Judges play a crucial role in determining whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult, weighing all the relevant factors before making their decision.

For What Crimes Can Juveniles Be Charged as Adults in California?

Murder and Homicide: In cases of premeditated murder or intentional killing, juveniles may be charged as adults due to the gravity of the offense and its impact on public safety.

Aggravated Assault: When a juvenile commits a violent assault causing severe injury or involving the use of a deadly weapon, they may face adult charges to ensure appropriate accountability.

Sexual Offenses: Juveniles involved in serious sexual offenses, such as rape or aggravated sexual assault, may be tried as adults to protect victims and address the severity of the crime.

Armed Robbery: If a juvenile commits armed robbery, especially with a firearm, they may be charged as an adult due to the potential danger posed to the public.

Kidnapping: When a juvenile engages in the abduction or unlawful restraint of another person, the seriousness of the crime may warrant adult charges.

Manslaughter: In cases where a juvenile unintentionally causes the death of another person, they could be charged as an adult if there is evidence of gross negligence or recklessness.

Attempted Murder: Even unsuccessful attempts to commit murder can lead to adult charges if there is clear intent and a substantial risk to human life.

Drug-related Offenses: Juveniles involved in large-scale drug trafficking or distribution of controlled substances may face adult charges to address the significant impact on public safety and health.

Terrorism: In cases of juvenile involvement in acts of domestic or international terrorism, adult charges may be pursued to ensure thorough investigation and prosecution.

Repeat Offenders: Juvenile offenders with a history of prior criminal behavior may face adult charges if they continue to engage in serious criminal activities, demonstrating a pattern of dangerous behavior.

Consequences of Being Charged As an Adult in California

The decision to charge a juvenile as an adult can have far-reaching implications:

1. Harsher Sentencing: If a juvenile is convicted in adult court, they may face harsher penalties and longer sentences compared to those imposed in the juvenile justice system (up to life in prison)

2. Criminal Record: Adult convictions typically result in a permanent criminal record, which can significantly impact future educational and employment opportunities.

3. Loss of Rehabilitation Focus: The adult criminal justice system prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation, potentially hindering the juvenile’s chances of reform and reintegration into society.

4. Increased Vulnerability: Juveniles in adult facilities may face heightened risks, both emotionally and physically, due to exposure to older, more hardened criminals.

Advocacy for Juvenile Offenders

Trying juveniles as adults is a complex issue with profound implications for both young offenders and society at large. As criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles, we understand the importance of safeguarding the rights and futures of young individuals while addressing the seriousness of their actions. By navigating the intricacies of the legal system, advocating for rehabilitation, and seeking alternatives to adult charges, we can work towards a justice system that embraces accountability and supports the potential for positive change among juveniles who find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system. Contact the Law Offices of Hart J. Levin now to schedule a consultation.


Are all juvenile offenders at risk of being charged as adults?

No, not all juvenile offenders are automatically charged as adults. The decision is made on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as the severity of the crime, the juvenile’s age, and their prior criminal history. Most juveniles are not charged as adult offenders. The most recent Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office policy is to severely limit the number of juveniles who are prosecuted in adult criminal court.

Can a defense attorney prevent a juvenile from being tried as an adult?

Yes, a skilled defense attorney can advocate for the case to remain in the juvenile justice system, presenting evidence supporting the potential for rehabilitation and the benefits of age-appropriate sentencing. This involves conducting a hearing in front of a judge to show that the minor is “fit” to be charged in criminal court (known as a “fitness hearing”). This determination would be made based on the seriousness of the crime and the history of the juvenile offender. Keeping a juvenile from being upgraded to adult criminal court means that their maximum exposure is only being held to the age of 25 by the California Youth Authority (“CYA”).

Cases in adult court can range all the way up to life in prison. The older the minor is, and the more serious the offense, the higher the odds are that they would be sent to adult criminal court. The DA’s office has two methods to send a minor to adult court. One is a fitness hearing where a juvenile court judge makes the determination based on a totality of the circumstances. The other is a process where the district attorney directly files the case in adult court.

Are there any alternatives to trying juveniles as adults?

Yes, diversion programs, restorative justice practices, and rehabilitative interventions within the juvenile justice system can offer alternatives to formal adult court proceedings.

How can society strike a balance between accountability and rehabilitation for juvenile offenders?

Striking a balance requires a comprehensive approach, involving prevention and intervention programs, adequate legal representation, public awareness, and policy advocacy for reforms in the justice system.

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