When Can Children Be Tried As Adults In California?

When Can Children Be Tried As Adults In California?

by Oct 30, 2018

Having a minor child get arrested is unquestionably one of every parent’s greatest fears. Any child going through the criminal justice system is bound to be affected in significant ways. In an absolute worst-case scenario, a minor child may be tried as an adult, depending on the severity and circumstances of the crime they’ve committed.

But under what conditions can that worst-case scenario occur? While it’s somewhat rare for children under the age of eighteen to be charged as an adult for a criminal offense, it can happen. In California, very specific conditions must exist for a court to consider this situation.

The Juvenile Justice Initiative

In 2000, California enacted proposition 21, known as the “Juvenile Justice Initiative”. The law was aimed at reducing criminal street gang activity committed by teenagers. In practice, it gives prosecutors the ability to decide whether a minor at least fourteen years old can be tried as an adult for certain types of crime.

Additionally, the law also specifies certain offenses for which minors will automatically be tried as an adult in criminal court, including murder if one or more special circumstances are alleged. Several sex offenses also automatically result in adult charges if the prosecutor alleges the minor personally committed the offense.

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Additional Circumstances

Minor children ages fourteen to seventeen may be tried as adults in California through any of the following procedures:

  • A prosecutor may file a petition for a “fitness hearing” in juvenile court. If the juvenile court judge finds the minor to be unfit for rehabilitation, he or she will be referred for prosecution as an adult.
  • Prosecutors can choose to directly file charges in adult criminal court at their discretion.
  • Trial as an adult can be automatically triggered for certain predetermined aggravated offenses for an eligible minor.

It is important to note that California law currently prohibits criminal prosecution of any child under fourteen years of age.

Penalties For Minors Tried As Adults

When children are tried as minors, the most serious consequences they face are usually being sentenced to a juvenile detention center.

When a minor is tried as an adult, they face the exact same consequences that any other adult convicted of a similar crime would face. This includes a potential sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The only exception is that minors cannot be sentenced to death under any circumstances.

If your child has been charged with a crime and you’re worried about them being tried as an adult, contact our office immediately for a free consultation of your case.


At Quinnan Law, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 540-2356.

We provide representation in California State and Federal Courts. We accept most major credit cards for your convenience.

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