California legislators are seeking to instate a process that would require courts to evaluate a juvenile offender before finding him or her eligible to be charged as an adult.
“The court shall cause the probation officer to investigate and submit a report on the behavioral patterns and social history of the minor being considered for a determination of unfitness,” states Fitness Hearings for Juvenile Offenders (SB 382).
Currently, minors as young as 14 may be charged as an adult in California.
“Since 2003, nearly 10,000 California youth under the age of 18 have been tried as adults in criminal courts and denied the services and treatment provided in the juvenile system,” noted the Human Rights Watch, which added, “While juvenile court is focused on what works for young people and is intent on rehabilitation, the primary purpose of the adult criminal justice system is to punish.”
“Juvenile court both holds young people accountable for their actions and requires participation in education, treatment, and other age-appropriate services,” states Human Rights Watch in a letter it urges supporters to send to their legislators.
According to the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, substantially higher recidivism rates exist among youths who had been transferred to adult criminal courts, compared with those who were retained in the juvenile system.
“In a string of recent US Supreme Court cases, Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama, the nation’s highest court recognized that differences between youth and adults render suspect any conclusion that a youth falls among the worst offenders.
|“10,000 California youth under the age of 18 have been tried as adults in criminal courts”|
The fact that teens are still developing neurologically and emotionally means that they are especially capable of personal growth. These are important factors that should be weighed in the context of deciding whether a youth should be tried as an adult,” the Human Rights Watch stated.
The criteria set forth to determine whether a juvenile is fit to be adjudicated in adult court will include:
1) The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor
2) The individual’s age, maturity, intellectual capacity, and physical, mental and emotional health at the time of the alleged offense, the minor’s susceptibility of being influenced by peer pressure, as well as the minor’s family and community environment, and the effect of childhood trauma on the minor’s criminal sophistication
3) Whether the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction when the minor reaches the age of 25.
4) Previous criminal history
5) Success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor
6) The circumstances and gravity of the offense alleged in the petition to have been committed by the minor.