In early April, California lawmakers supported a bill that would help keep minors who have committed crimes out of adult courts. The legislation is backed by both criminal justice experts and former youth offenders.
Several bills created a package presented by Senators Holly J. Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles, and Richardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens. The proposal is part of ongoing efforts to create uniformity in state punishment laws and help young people avoid prison at such early age. Other bills pushed forward at the same time propose to alter mandatory sentencing guidelines that have disproportionately affected Latino and black defendants.
Senator Mitchell noted that the potential change in the new law is not about lessening punishments, but recognizing that “we as adults, as a society of adults, have failed you, our systems have failed you.”
Criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles have already used nine new bills that were signed into law affecting minors in the last year. In those new laws, minors now have increased parole opportunities, and they can also seal more juvenile records than before. Children under the age of 16 are now also required to consult with a criminal defense lawyer before they waive their rights in police interrogations. Administrative fees charged by counties have also been limited.
One of the new proposals will bar prosecutors from requesting that minors who were charged with committing crimes at the age of 14 or 15 be tried in adult courts. The practice of moving these children to adult courts begin in the 1990s. It was based in large part on studies that indicated teens’ brains are fully developed. However, research today has since debunked this common misconception.
The new laws advocate for age-appropriate services that will focus on rehabilitation. Keeping teens in the juvenile system will arguably help them develop and grow into functioning adults who contribute to society. Exposure to the prison system at an early age is scarring for children, and they may never recover. Studies also indicate that teens who are tried in the adult court system are more likely to commit offenses again.
Some other lawmakers have voiced their opposition to the new bills, including Senator Jeff Stone, a Republican from Temecula. He argues that some juveniles need to remain in the adult system, particularly those who have committed heinous, violent crimes.
For many juveniles charged in Los Angeles, staying in the juvenile system is in their best interest. They can focus on learning and rehabilitating instead of just being punished. At Okabe & Haushalter, we understand the importance of using the juvenile system for teens and other young people who have been accused of crimes. If your child or other loved one has been charged with a criminal offense, you need a criminal defense attorney who will make efforts to keep the case in juvenile court. Contact our team for more information.