Prior the passage of Senate Bill 1391, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, which was enacted by Proposition 57, allowed the district attorney to make a motion try a minor in the adult criminal court (1) if the minor is alleged to have committed a felony when he or she was 16 years of age or older, or (2) in a case in which a serious offense is alleged to have been committed by a minor when he or she was 14 or 15 years of age. This bill would repealed the authority of a district attorney to attempt to try the minor as an adult in the latter of these two cases, unless the minor was not apprehended prior to minor’s 18thbirthday.
In the 1960s, the Arnold-Kennick Juvenile Court Act established 16 as the minimum age for which a minor could be transferred from juvenile court to adult criminal court. Over 30 years later, the law changed, lowering the age at which a minor could be transferred to adult criminal court from 16 to 14 years of age, in large part due to concerns of increasing crimes of violence being committed by teens. In 2000, once again citing public safety concerns, legislators passed Proposition 21, increasing sentences for specified gang-related crimes, authorizing a prosecutor to file charges against a juvenile offender directly in criminal court for specified felonies, prohibiting the sealing of juvenile records involving Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b) offenses, and designating additional crimes as violent and serious felonies.
However, over the last several years there have been a series of U.S. Supreme Court casesrecognizing the inherent difference between juveniles and adults for purposes of sentencing. These cases have relied on research on brain and adolescent development which suggests that juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform. The Supreme Court held that they have a “ ‘lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility,’ ” leading to recklessness, impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking,. Further, they “are more vulnerable . . . to negative influences and outside pressures,” including from their family and peers; they have limited “contro[l] over their own environment” and lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings.
So how does the system work in these cases? After the DA’s office makes the decision that they feel the minor should be tried as an adult, the DA is required to make a motion to have the case moved from juvenile court system to the adult criminal justice system. From there, it is ultimately the court’s (the judge’s) decision whether or not to allow the transfer. In reaching that decision, the judge is required to consider certain factors.
First, the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor. This factor tends to hinge on the minor’s age. maturity, intellectual capacity, physical, mental and emotional health at the time he committed the crime, the minor’s impetuosity or failure to appreciate the consequences of his actions, the effects of the minor’s family environment, and whether there had been any sort of childhood trauma. Second, the circumstances and gravity of the offense. Third, whether the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the minor’s 18thbirthday, and previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor. And fourth, the minor’s prior criminal history.
While the passage of the bill was widely celebrated throughout the state, it was not without it’s critics who that some crime are so horrific that this change in the law does not respect victims and coddles teens who are the types of offenders who will never be reformed.
The main cases include: Roper v. Simmons (2005) 543 U.S. 551 [125 S.Ct. 1138, 161 L.Ed. 2d]; Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48 [130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed. 825]; J.D.B. v. North Carolina (2011) 564 U.S. 261 [131 S. Ct. 2394, 180 L.Ed. 310 ]; Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. 460 [132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed. 2d 407].)
For an opposing position see this 2015 Law Review article.
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