group of kids standing on a gym court

California Bill Would Bar Children Under 12 from Being Prosecuted

A state senator from Los Angeles is pushing a bill through the Legislature that would bar the state of California from prosecuting children under the age of 12. According to a news report in the Sacramento Bee, in 2015, 874 cases involving children were referred to California juvenile court for crimes ranging from curfew violation and truancy to vandalism, theft, assault and robbery. This is according to a UCLA analysis of state justice department data.

Senator Holly Mitchell believes it makes more sense to understand the source of the child’s problems that led up to the crime and use social services to help them instead of locking them up. Under the bill, instead of doing time in a jail cell at juvenile hall, children would be redirected to dependency court, mental health counseling and other local resources to find help and rehabilitation. Senate Bill 439 is sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund and other juvenile justice organizations.

How the System Works Now

Under the current juvenile justice system, children can be arrested for crimes or for status offenses based on their age such as curfew violations, truancy or running away. Law enforcement officials are arguing that the juvenile justice system is already built around rehabilitation and that it is rare for children under 12 to be locked up. In many cases, children 12 and under are often cited and returned to their parents. Young children are, however, taken into custody when an officer determines the crime is serious enough or that the child is a danger to a victim. In those cases, the child offenders are sent to juvenile hall and the case is handed over to the county probation department.

The District Attorney then determines whether to pursue charges. Within three days of the arrest, a detention hearing takes place to determine whether the child should remain in juvenile hall or be returned to his or her family. Juvenile cases receive bench trials. Only 69 out of 874 cases that prosecutors referred to juvenile court in California resulted in the equivalent of a guilty verdict in the year 2015. Advocates argue that it is a waste of time and money to prosecute children when few charges are actually sustained.

Mitchell points out that cases of extreme violence involving children 12 or under are quite rare. No children were referred to the court for homicide or manslaughter and only one child was charged, but not convicted of rape in 2015. Mitchell calls opponents of the bill individuals who seem to be in denial about the realities of the disproportionate numbers of minority youth who are experiencing stop-and-frisk and being charged with crimes their white counterparts are not being charged with.

Incarceration is Not the Answer

Studies show that children who are arrested or charged with the crime or sent to juvenile hall are more likely to have histories of child abuse, learning problems or behavioral conditions that have not been addressed. Research consistently shows that children who are processed in the juvenile justice system are more likely to engage in future criminal behavior. Those who have experienced that say it was not a positive experience or an experience that “scared them straight,” but a step in the wrong direction. Child advocates say pathways outside of the juvenile justice system serve children better and prevent them from becoming repeat offenders in the future.

In addition, children’s ability to distinguish right from wrong and comprehend the serious consequences of their actions as opposed to adults, is another reason why rehabilitation is key. Take the case of 10-year-old Joseph Hall who shot and killed his father. His case got national attention. Right before the shooting his father, Jeffrey Hall, threatened to turn off the smoke alarms and burn down the house as his family slept.

The boy said as he was sitting in a police car that she shot his dad because the man abused him and his family. He suffered from developmental disabilities and expressed regret for his actions even asking police if people “get more than one life.” His case prompted Senate Bill 395, the law requiring anyone under 18 to consult with an attorney before waiving their Miranda rights.

If Your Child Has Been Accused of a Crime

The first step to take if your child has been accused of a crime is to consult an experienced Orange County juvenile crime defense lawyer. This is crucial to your child’s case. First, it helps to prevent self-incrimination. As police gather evidence in your child’s case, they often want to speak to your child and try to pressure him or her into agreeing to an interview or giving a statement.

This could end up in serious charges or could be potentially damaging to your child’s case. Children are very likely to say something that could incriminate them. It is important to remember that children have constitutional rights just like adults including the right to legal representation. They are not obligated to speak to law enforcement without first consulting an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Having an attorney on your side will also help prevent false confessions. Police officers, counselors and other parties are easily able to manipulate the gullibility and impressionability of young children and coax them into giving a confession. Police may not be required to seek a parent’s permission before speaking to a child suspect about a potential crime. However, a juvenile does have the constitutional right to remain silent and the right to seek counsel from a defense attorney before saying anything to police.

As Orange County juvenile crime defense lawyers who protect the rights of youth, we strongly believe that rehabilitation – not punishment – is the key to preventing recidivism among young people. If your child has been arrested on suspicion of a crime, he or she needs quality legal representation to help secure that valuable second chance at life. A child still has constitutional rights and the right to legal representation. If your child has been charged with a crime in Orange County, call us at (888) 250-2865 for a free, confidential consultation and case evaluation.