When Can a Juvenile Be Charged as an Adult?

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In California, juvenile crimes are usually handled as delinquency matters in juvenile court. However, depending on the type of crime and other factors, juveniles are sometimes prosecuted as adults. Below is an overview of the circumstances in which a juvenile can be charged as an adult in California.


Prosecution Procedures


Minors between the ages of 14 and 17 may be tried as adults in California when:


1) A finding is made in juvenile court that a minor is unfit for rehabilitation;

2) A direct filing is made in adult criminal court at the prosecutor’s discretion; or

3) A crime is committed that mandates automatic prosecution as an adult.


What is a Fitness Hearing?


As noted above, one way in which a minor may be tried as an adult in California is a finding of unfitness. A minor’s fitness for rehabilitation is determined via a fitness hearing, which is a legal proceeding in which a judge decides whether a minor is amenable to rehabilitation. Fitness for juvenile court is determined based on the following factors:


1) The minor’s degree of criminal sophistication;

2) The likelihood that the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the jurisdiction of the juvenile court;

3) The minor’s history;

4) The results of previous attempts to rehabilitate the minor; and

5) The gravity of the offense alleged to have been committed by the minor.


Automatic Prosecution as an Adult


In California, juveniles can be automatically prosecuted as adults for certain crimes, including:


  • Specific lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Murder with special circumstances
  • Certain sex offenses carried out under specific circumstances
  • Rape with threat of great bodily harm, force, or violence

Prosecution as an Adult Based on Fitness


When a minor is found to be unfit for rehabilitation in juvenile court, he or she may be tried as an adult for certain crimes, including:


  • Murder
  • Attempted murder
  • Robbery
  • Carjacking
  • Torture
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Drive-by-shooting
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Assault with a firearm
  • Assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury
  • Discharge of a firearm into an occupied or inhabited building
  • A violent felony
  • Escape from a county forestry camp, juvenile hall, ranch, or home, if great bodily injury is intentionally inflicted by the minor upon an employee of any of the aforementioned facilities


San Diego Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys


Due to the potential consequences involved, it is important that all juveniles facing criminal charges of any kind in California seek the guidance of an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney. At the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, we come equipped with the best lawyers in order to represent and defend the accused against all juvenile crime charges. The talent and experience of our attorneys ensures that our clients’ cases are handled expertly and with the utmost care. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges of any kind in California, please contact us immediately for a free consultation.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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