A recent article indicates that states are reconsidering the practice of trying juveniles in adult court. The article, published by the highly-regarded Pew Center for the States is entitled, “States Have Second Thoughts About Juveniles in Adult Court.” Apparently, states such as Colorado and New Jersey are making it more difficult for juveniles to be tried as adults.
That trend is not readily visible in California. In 2000, 62 percent of voters passed Proposition 21, which increased penalties for juveniles. Specifically, Proposition 21 increased punishments for gang-related felonies and imposed increased sentences for home-invasion robberies, carjacking, witness intimidation and drive-by-shootings.
In Los Angeles County and Southern California, it is unusual for prosecutors to “direct file” a case in adult court. In my experience, even cases that are eligible to be filed directly in adult court are generally subject to fitness hearings. As the name suggests, fitness hearings determine whether the juvenile is fit to be tried as an adult. Typically, only cases that involve older juveniles and the most serious charges–e.g., a 17- year old charged with first degree murder with multiple victims, serial rape, etc.–are likely to be filed directly in adult court.
As a juvenile defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I don’t have first-hand knowledge as to what happens in other states. I have no reason to doubt the findings in the Pew Center’s article. But from where I sit, at least in California, prosecutors are not changing their stripes. The trend of trying juveniles in adult court is not abating. Juvenile fit hearings are alive and well in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California.