Juvenile Court or Criminal Court: Strategic Applications for Trying a Juvenile as an Adult

Juvenile Court or Criminal Court: Strategic Applications for Trying a Juvenile as an Adult
by Lawrence Wolf, Esq.

Numerous factors need to be considered when weighing advantages and disadvantages of the juvenile court system versus the criminal court system.

If the juvenile is accused of a serious crime, it is more advantageous to remain in the juvenile court systemwhere an attempt can be made to rehabilitate the minor versus solely punish him.

I accomplished this in a case where an early plea in a juvenile court murder case, prior to the filing of the anticipated fitness hearing, short circuited the prosecutions attempt to have the minor tried as an adult and resulted in keeping the minor in the juvenile court.

However, depending on the level of evidence that the prosecution may have against the minor, it may be more desirous to have a jury of twelve deicide his fate rather than the judgement of a single juvenile court judge.

This could be especially applicable when considering the rules of evidence that apply in an adult court compared to a juvenile court. A critical example is that a minor may be convicted in a juvenile court by the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice whereas in adult court a conviction cannot be had upon the testimony of an accomplice unless it has been corroborated by other evidence. (In re Mitchell P. [1978] 22 C3d 946).

Another strategic advantage to having a minor tried as an adult is in the case of a less serious offense. Whereas the adult court would punish the offender with a small fine, the juvenile court could take custody, removing the minor from the home.

Another consideration arises when the minor has turned 18 at the time of adjudication. Under Rucker v. Superior Court (1997) 75 CA 3d 197, it was held that the minor, who had turned 18, may instigate the fitness proceedings and waive the benefits of juvenile court, thus answering the charges as an adult in the criminal court.

In contrast, the court held In Anna S. (1979) 99 CA3d 869 that a minor under the age of 18 but over the age of 16 may not demand to be found unfit; therefore, the minor must be 18 prior to adjudication in order to demand that he be held as an adult.

(Be sure to read When is a Juvenile Tried as an Adult?)

When is a Juvenile Tried as an Adult?

If a minor is over sixteen years old at the time of the commission of an offense, the Juvenile Court may have a hearing to decide if the minor should be prosecuted in juvenile court or adult court. In court, these five criteria determine if the juvenile will be found unfit:

1. The minors sophistication.
2. The period necessary for rehabilitation of the minor.
3. The previous delinquent history of the minor.
4. The prior attempted rehabilitative efforts made.
5. The seriousness of the offense.


Here are current phone numbers of self-help groups/programs which might be of help to your clients:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    (213) 387-8316
  • Battered Wives and Help for Batterers (Forte Foundation)
    (818) 788-6800
  • Because I love You
    (Parent Support Group)
    (213) 659-5289
  • Children of the Night
    (818) 908-4470
  • Cocaine Anonymous
    (213) 839-1141
  • District Attorney for Child Support Violations
    (213) 728-1000
  • Emotions Anonymous
    (213) 285-3002
  • Families Anonymous
    (800) 736-9805
  • Fathers Are Forever
    (818) 846-2219
  • Marijuana Anonymous
    (213) 964-2370
  • Narcotics Anonymous
    (213) 283-1745
  • Prostitutes Anonymous
    (818) 905-2188

Get your questions answered - call me for your free, 20 min phone consultation (310) 277-1707.

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Disclaimer: The felony, misdemeanor, traffic, criminal defense, drunk driving, DUI, theft, drugs, three strikes law, juvenile law, or other legal criminal defense information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor the formation of a lawyer or attorney client relationship. Any results portrayed here were dependent on the facts of that case and the results will differ if based on different facts.