At a recent legislative hearing, California lawmakers moved a bill forward that could keep young offenders from being tried as adults. The bill is one of several initiatives that are contained in a package of legislation that was introduced by Senators Holly J. Mitchell and Ricardo Lara. Other bills in the package advanced by Mitchell and Lara are designed to change laws that have been shown disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos.
If the bill addressing youth being tried as adults, SB 1391, becomes law, it would prohibit fourteen and fifteen-year-olds from being tried as adults and being given sentences to adult prisons. California did not always try fourteen and fifteen-year-olds as adults, and it is possible that the state can change the age at which a person can be tried as an adult yet again. During the 1990s, concerns about youth crime rates drove lawmakers to reduce the age at which offenders could be tried as adults. However, at that time, scientists misunderstood how the human brain develops over time, and more recent research indicates that the type of brain development that could prevent people from engaging in criminal activity develops later than was previously thought.
Research supports raising the age at which youthful offenders may be tried as adults. Scientific studies have shown that the human brain does not fully develop the skills needed to exercise self-control and make decisions until around the age of twenty-five. Some young people, such as those who have experienced trauma, develop those attributes even later. Unsurprisingly, many youths who are tried as adults have experienced trauma or have a recognizable learning disability or mental health disorder.
Not only are fourteen and fifteen-year-olds developmentally unlike adults, trying them as adults does not reduce the chance that they will commit crimes later on in life. In fact, giving young offenders age-appropriate penalties, services, and education, has been shown to reduce the likelihood of future offenses. In contrast to incarceration in adult penal institutions, services, and programs designed for youth help them reach their full developmental capacity, which in turn gives them a greater chance of becoming successful adults who do not commit additional crimes.
The proponents of SB 1391 say that if the bill passes and becomes law, fourteen and fifteen-year-olds will remain in the juvenile justice system. The California juvenile justice system was designed to emphasize rehabilitation and support positive development. It is better equipped than the adult justice system to provide young people with the tools they’ll need to become productive adults and reduce the risk that they will re-offend.
Whether you are a juvenile defendant or an adult defendant, you need someone in your corner who can walk with you through your criminal case. An Orange County criminal defense attorney can help you understand the rules that apply to you, as well as what options you have for pursuing the outcomes that are available to you.