New Juvenile Law in California (Senate Bill 1391): How it Can Help Your Child

You can’t believe it, your teenager has been arrested and charged with a crime, and if they’re convicted, life as you both know it is over.

Worse yet, it’s classified as a “Serious Offense,” which includes a violent felony, rape with force, violence or threat of great bodily harm and murder or other crimes that fall under the Welfare and Institutions Code section 707, subdivision (b).

You are blindsided, scared and terrified they’ll be tried as an adult. Plus, you know nothing (or very little) about the juvenile justice or juvenile court system.

If your child is 14 or 15 (or under 16 years old), California’s passing of Senate Bill 1391 (SB 1391) can offer new hope for their rehabilitation instead of a transfer to adult criminal court.

Here’s a look at how Prop 57 worked before this Bill, the changes SB 1391 has made, and the reasoning behind these changes.

 

THE PROP 57 STANCE ON TRANSFERING JUVENILES TO ADULT CRIMINAL COURT

 

Before SB 1391, Proposition 57 required that juvenile court first hold a hearing to determine if a case involving a minor should be transferred. This was a big change that took away a prosecutor’s previous authority to directly file petitions in adult criminal court.

Under Prop 57, the State could move to transfer a minor from juvenile court to adult criminal court if the following things were true:

  1. The minor was at least 16 years old and committed a felony.
  2. The minor was 15 or younger and committed a serious offense as listed in the Welfare and Institutions Code section 707, subdivision (b), linked and discussed above.

If you’ve been reading articles and blogs that popped up after you searched terms like ‘juvenile attorney’, ‘juvenile criminal lawyer’, or ‘child advocate lawyer’, if they’re more than six months old, you’ve likely looked at old information.

There are new protections in place for your child that will benefit you both to know.

 

NEW CHANGES AND PROTECTION FOR JUVENILES UNDER SB 1391

 

Senate Bill 1391 takes the hearing process for transferring a case a step further by repealing the right of the State to transfer a 14- or 15-year-old minor to adult criminal court.

This includes for crimes listed under previously mentioned Welfare and Institutions Code section 707, subdivision (b). The only exception is if the then minor is apprehended after the age of 25.

In simple terms, what this means is that in order to have a case moved from juvenile to adult criminal court, your child must be:

  1. At least 16 years old.
  2. Apprehended for a serious offense committed under 16 years old after turning 25.
  3. Transferred due to sufficient reason being found.

“Sufficient reason” requires the court to consider factors including the minor’s childhood, current mental and emotional health, the success of rehabilitation attempts, the seriousness of the crime, and the minor’s criminal history, among other related factors.

The emphasis is on rehabilitation, which could give your 14- or 15-year-old the chance to change the course of their lives. Life without the possibility of parole for a child, for instance, eliminates this chance. Senate Bill 1391 gives that chance back.

 

EMPHASIS ON REHABILITATION BASED ON RECENT SCIENCE

 

25 years old.

That is the approximate age in which many studies have found that the pre-frontal cortex is fully formed. This is the part of the brain that calculates risk vs. reward and other vital cognitive processes!

So to punish juvenile delinquency under 16 in adult criminal court (which is still 9 years before full development), it was placing 14- and 15-year-olds in a criminal system with adults likely to be a detrimental influence. And in extreme cases, it got them sentenced to a lifetime of incarceration before they were even old enough to drive.

The California Division for Juvenile Justice (previously known as the California Youth Authority), on the other hand, has programs focused on rehabilitating minors so that they get the chance to grow up to be upstanding, law-abiding citizens. SB 1391 has put safeguards in place to give minors, especially ones under 16, that chance.

 

So what does this mean for your child?

 

If you’ve been trying to wrap your mind around the differences between the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems, you may have gone down a Google search rabbit hole with terms like ‘juvenile hall’, ‘juvenille detention’, or even ‘juvenile probation’. Only to find more confusion.

If you’ve been trying to find out if you can retroactively apply SB 1391 for your minor child, you’re headed for even more confusion as there hasn’t been a unanimous decision made.

That’s where a juvenile defense lawyer comes in.

It can help you navigate the waters when they get even more complex, and can ultimately save your teenager from life in prison as in a recent case involving a then 15-year old who was charged with murder and able to accept a plea-deal allowing him to avoid adult criminal court and serve time in juvenile detention.

A statement from the Contra Costa County Public Defenders Association in the article about the case on MercuryNews.com talked about the importance of treating children as children, saying:

“SB 1391 aims to prevent greater tragedy. It was passed to treat children as children under the law and rehabilitate them in situations like this.”

District Attorney Diana Becton from the case agreed, adding that SB 1391 doesn’t grant innocence but does add balance:

“The decision certainly does not excuse or condone the actions of those who find themselves charged with a crime. However, as we all work through the evolution of our criminal justice system we must collectively continue to find the balance between public safety, accountability, fundamental fairness under the law, and the rights of victims.”

Knowing what rights your child has is the first step. You’re already in the right place because it’s one thing to Google search ‘juvenile law attorneys Fresno’, it’s another to wade through all of the information and find someone you can trust.

For a judgment-free zone and your best chance at helping your child, contact Proper Defense Law Corporation today for a FREE consultation at (559) 825-3800 or schedule an appointment online on my ‘Contact Us’ page. It gets better with Proper Defense, I promise.

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