Minors arrested for committing crimes in California are charged under the juvenile justice system. The juvenile court works differently from the adult court. Children are considered to lack enough knowledge and understanding of the nature and consequences of their crimes. For this reason, the juvenile court works towards rehabilitating and treating minors for mental and drug-related issues.

For juvenile offenders over sixteen years old, the juvenile court may order their transfer to adult court. This occurs when the child commits a crime under Welfare and Institutions Code 707. In addition to committing a serious crime, being a repeat offender or having a high level of criminal sophistication could cause the child to be charged in adult court.

Being charged as an adult can harm your child’s emotional and mental well-being. This is because the child will be treated as an adult, and their conviction can have lifelong consequences. If your child faces charges for an offense that could cause them to be charged in adult court, you will benefit from the top-notch legal insight we offer at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney. We serve clients seeking guidance and representation to battle criminal charges in Chula Vista, CA.

Trial of Juveniles as Adults in California

In California, minors who face arrest for committing crimes are not treated the same as adult offenders. Crimes committed by children under the age of eighteen are treated as juvenile delinquency matters and handled in juvenile court. Instead of punishing minors for their crimes, the juvenile court offers rehabilitation and education programs. This allows the children to change their delinquent behavior and become better citizens.

The juvenile justice system has undergone many reforms over the years. Senate Bill 1391 was passed in September 2018, allowing minors over sixteen to be tried as adults in criminal court. This bill also prohibits the trial of children under sixteen in adult court unless the offense was discovered after the child turned eighteen.

After an arrest, the juvenile offender will go through the normal juvenile court process, which involves the following steps:

  • Booking. If a minor is not released on a citation or with a warning, the arresting officer will take them to the station for booking into the juvenile hall. The booking process involves recording identification information and taking a mugshot.
  • Detention hearing. The detention hearing is a juvenile court proceeding where the judge decides whether to release your child to go home or detain them awaiting trial. Unlike in adult court, where the offender can secure a bail release, the decision to release a juvenile before trial lies solely with the judge.

After the detention hearing, the juvenile court decides whether your child should be tried as an adult.

Transfer Hearing

The court will hold a transfer hearing before your child can be tried as an adult for their crimes. Your child may be tried as an adult under the following circumstances:

  • The minor exhibits a high degree of criminal sophistication. The circumstances under which the child committed an offense may impact the judge’s decision in a transfer hearing. Criminal sophistication means planning for the crime and attempting to avoid capture carefully.
  • The juvenile committed a serious offense. The severity of the minor’s offense is a significant factor in determining whether they can stand trial in adult court. The juvenile court judge will transfer your child to adult court if they face charges for severe crimes.
  • The minor has an extensive criminal history. If your child has an extensive criminal history, they may be transferred to adult court. Being a repeat offender may indicate the child’s inability to be rehabilitated.
  • Failure to pass rehabilitation attempts. If your child has been through juvenile court for a previous offense, the success of the past rehabilitation attempts may affect the transfer hearing.
  • Lack of programs for the child’s rehabilitation. If the juvenile court does not have the appropriate rehabilitation programs for the child, the minor will be transferred to adult court.

Offenses for Which Minors Are Tried as Adults

Your child may be transferred to adult court after an arrest and charges for the following crimes under California law:


Under California PC 187, murder is the unlawful killing of another person with malice as an afterthought. Depending on the circumstances, the prosecution can file first-or second-degree murder charges against you. First-degree murder occurs when the perpetrator lies in wait or deliberately plans to end the victim’s life. Any other form of unlawful killing is classified as second-degree murder.


A juvenile could be arrested and charged with arson for willful and malicious burning of property or forestland. A murder conviction arises when the prosecution proves the following elements of PC 451:

  • The offender burned or caused a fire on a property.
  • The offender’s actions were willful and malicious.


California law defines robbery as using force or violence to take another person’s property. The prosecution will obtain a robbery conviction if they can prove that:

  • You took property belonging to someone else.
  • The property you took was in the victim’s immediate possession.
  • You took the property against the owner’s will.
  • You used force or violence against the victim to accomplish your crime.


Under California PC 261, rape involves having sexual intercourse with another person without their consent. The use of threats, force, or violence could accomplish rape. Additionally, having sexual intercourse with an intoxicated or unconscious person attracts rape charges.

Lewd Conduct with a Child Under 14 Years

Touching a child under fourteen for sexual arousal or gratification is a crime under California law. A juvenile could be charged with this crime under PC 288 if the victim of their actions is another child under the age of fourteen. A violation of California PC 288 could cause a minor to be tried in adult court.


California PC 286 makes it a crime to engage in anal sex with a minor or another person against their will. A minor facing charges under this statute can be tried as an adult.


Using fear or force to take a vehicle from another person will attract carjacking charges under PC 215. The prosecution must prove that the offender took the vehicle from the victim’s immediate presence before a conviction. Additionally, the intent to deprive the victim of the vehicle's use must be clear.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Under PC 192, voluntary manslaughter occurs when you kill another person in the heat of passion or during a sudden quarrel. Unlike murder, the prosecution does not need to prove premeditation for a conviction under this statute. If your child is charged with voluntary manslaughter, the juvenile court may order their transfer to adult court.


California PC 206 describes torture as inflicting severe bodily injury on another individual for revenge, sadistic purposes, or extortion. Your intent to cause suffering or pain to a victim is the most critical element of this offense.


Taking or holding another person against their will constitutes kidnapping under California law. Depending on the circumstances, kidnapping could include taking someone without their consent or holding them for ransom. Kidnapping is a severe offense that can result in a juvenile offender's trial as an adult.

Adult Court Criminal Process

A minor's trial in adult court is similar to that of adults filing similar charges. The following are steps that your child’s case will take:


After a transfer to adult court, the first hearing for your child’s court case is arraignment. At this hearing, your child will have the chance to enter a plea. Pleas in adult criminal court include guilty, not guilty, and no contest. If your child pleads guilty or no contest to the charge, they can proceed to a second trial.

However, most people will plead not guilty to the offense, which involves their right to bail. Unlike in juvenile court, where there is no right to bail, a juvenile facing trial as an adult will be entitled to a bail release.

Posting bail allows the minor to go home with a pending trial. The judge determines the amount that must be paid for bail depending on the following circumstances:

  • The minor's flight risk. If your child has a history of skipping court dates or violating court orders, the court can raise the bail amount.
  • The gravity of the crime. Crimes that cause a minor to be tried as an adult vary in severity. The judge will consider the child’s crime before setting their bail.
  • Public safety. Like adult offenders, minors can be a threat to the safety of other people. When setting the bail amount, the court will consider this factor.
  • Child's criminal history. The court could set a high bail amount for juvenile offenders with an extensive criminal history.

You can post bail for the minor in cash or with the help of a bail bonds company. During the bail release, the judge will issue a trial date. You must ensure your child appears in court as scheduled to avoid losing the bail money.

Pretrial Process

Most criminal cases involving minors are resolved in the pretrial phase. A pretrial phase will include the following proceedings:

  • Appearing in court.
  • Filing different notions.
  • Exchange of evidence between the prosecution and defense.
  • Negotiations and entering plea deals.

During pretrial, your child’s attorney can file motions to exclude illegally obtained evidence. This could weaken the prosecutor’s case and increase your child's chances of avoiding the consequences of a criminal conviction.

Jury Trial

If the case is not solved with pretrial proceedings, the juvenile will face a juvenile trial. Jury trials comprise twelve individuals who listen to the evidence presented by the prosecution and defense to determine whether the offender is guilty of the alleged charges. You will find out the outcome of your child’s criminal case at this hearing.

If your child is unsatisfied with the jury’s verdict, they can appeal the case or petition for a new trial. However, appeals are based on the fact that the court made a mistake in the trial.


If your child is charged as an adult, they will face similar punishment as adult offenders. Before the court issues a sentence, your child’s attorney could present mitigating evidence to try and have the sentence reduced.

Punishment for Minors Charged as Adults in California

One of the benefits of a trial in juvenile court is that the dispositions ordered by the court aim at the rehabilitation, treatment, and education of the minor. If your child is tried as an adult in California, they will face the full length of the law. A juvenile will face the following penalties after a conviction in adult court:

Penalties for Murder

The penalties for a murder conviction vary depending on the degree of the offense with which your child is charged. First-degree murder carries a potential punishment of 25 years to life in prison. On the other hand, capital murder is punishable by life without parole or the death sentence.

Fortunately, life without parole and death sentences are not applicable for minors tried as adults in California. Instead, the court will impose a prison sentence of fifteen years to life.

Punishment for Arson

If your child is found guilty of willful and malicious burning of property in California, the penalties will vary depending on the type of property they burned. Arson attracts the following punishment:

  • A prison sentence of sixteen months to three years for burning personal property.
  • Two to six years in prison for burning forest land.
  • Up to eight years for burning an inhabited property.
  • Five to nine years for causing serious bodily injury.

Robbery Penalties

Robbery can be charged in the first or second degree. The penalties for first-degree robbery include a prison sentence of up to six years and a fine that does not exceed $10,000. On the other hand, second-degree robbery is punishable by a prison sentence of two to five years.

Penalties for Rape

Rape is a severe felony whose conviction can land an offender in prison for up to eight years. Minors are not an exception to this sentencing when they face charges in adult court. The sentence may be increased by up to five years if the victim suffered significant bodily injury.

Punishment for Lewd Conduct with a Child Under Fourteen Years

Adult court transfers are only done when a juvenile offender is over sixteen. Therefore, the minor could be charged with lewd conduct with a younger child. If your child used threats or violence to accomplish the crime, the court could sentence them to five, eight, or ten years in prison. In cases where the victim suffered bodily injury from the acts, the juvenile offender could face a sentence of up to 25 years.

Penalties for Sodomy

Sodomy is a wobbler. This means the criminal court may issue felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the circumstances. As a misdemeanor, the minor will be sentenced to a jail sentence of up to one year. A felony conviction for the offense is punishable by sixteen months to three years in prison.

Punishment for carjacking

If your child’s carjacking case is tried in adult court, the punishment for the offense will include a maximum of six years in state prison. If the crime was committed to benefit street gang activities, the juvenile may face a prison sentence of fifteen years to life.

Penalties for Voluntary Manslaughter

The potential penalty for a voluntary manslaughter conviction is a prison sentence of three to eleven years. Voluntary manslaughter is a strike under California's three strikes law. Therefore, your child’s sentence could be increased to twenty-five years or life imprisonment, depending on the number of strikes they have on their record.

Punishment for Torture

Torture is a felony punishable by a life sentence with the likelihood of parole. The main reason for the harsh penalty for this offense is the intention to harm another person and the extreme pain caused by the crime.

Punishment for Kidnapping

California law charges kidnapping as simple or aggravated, depending on the circumstances. For simple kidnapping, your child could face a prison sentence of up to fourteen years. The minor could face life imprisonment if the crime were committed for ransom or reward.

Benefits of Trial in Adult Court for a Juvenile Offender

If your child meets the eligibility requirements for trial as an adult, a transfer may be inevitable. While the child’s lawyer can use all tactics to ensure your child remains under the juvenile justice system, the judge will decide on the transfer. The following are some of the benefits that your child accrues from being tried as an adult in California:

Enjoy the Right to Bail

Offenders do not have a right to a bail release. Instead, the court will determine your child’s suitability for release before trial. If the minor is charged as an adult, they can post bail and go home while they await trial. Some of the benefits of posting bail include:

  • Avoid the stigma of spending time in prison. The adult court is flooded with criminal cases. Therefore, your child’s case could take a while to be resolved. Remaining in jail can affect the child’s emotional and mental well-being. When the child is released on bail, they can receive much-needed support from their family.
  • Speak with their attorney. When your child secures a bail release, they can meet with their defense attorney to discuss the case. Speaking with a lawyer from behind bars could be complicated. This is because the jail cells have surveillance cameras that could capture the information that your child offers their attorney.
  • Move on with your life. An arrest for a criminal charge and transfer to adult court is not the end of your child’s life. When the minor posts bail in adult court, they can continue with school and lead their normal lives while they await trial.

Enjoy a Jury Trial

In juvenile court, the judge makes the ultimate decision on the child’s disposition. Without varying opinions, the judge’s decision could be biased, causing your child to suffer undeserving consequences. If a minor faces trial as an adult, they will enjoy the right to trial by jury.

The jury consists of several individuals with varying opinions. Some jury members could be sympathetic to your child based on their age.

Setbacks in the Trial of Minors in Adult Court

Transferring your child to adult court is not always in your best interests. The disadvantages of having your child try as an adult include:

  • Harsher penalties. In juvenile court, the dispositions offered aim at rehabilitation and not punishment for the juveniles. Most dispositions do not involve detention unless your child is sentenced to a Division of Juvenile Justice Facility. If the child faces charges in adult court, they risk facing harsh penalties, including incarceration, hefty fines, and probation.
  • The adult justice system will not offer counseling and treatment. The juvenile court offers treatment and counseling services. This allows minors to rehabilitate and make better future choices. Unfortunately, these services are not available in adult court.
  • Adult criminal convictions taint your child’s record. Most juvenile offenses are sealed when a person turns eighteen years old. However, adult convictions leave behind a tainted criminal record whose consequences are challenging to shake off.

Find a Knowledgeable Defense Lawyer Near Me

Like adults, minors can be arrested and charged with committing serious offenses. In California, children between thirteen and seventeen years old are tried under the juvenile justice system, which aims at rehabilitation. However, if your child faces charges for a serious crime like murder, arson, rape, or robbery, they could be tried as an adult.

Transferring to adult court may be possible for your child’s case if the minor is over sixteen. The court holds a transfer hearing where the child’s offenses, criminal history, and degree of criminal sophistication determine their suitability for trial in adult court. A trial as an adult means your child will not enjoy the benefits of the juvenile justice system. Additionally, a conviction in the criminal justice system will result in severe punishment.

If your child is arrested and at risk of transfer to adult court, you must hire and retain a skilled criminal lawyer. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we offer expert legal guidance to fight charges that could lead a minor to be charged as an adult in Chula Vista, CA. Call us today at 619-877-6894 to discuss your case.