California Supreme Court Says 15-Year-Olds Can’t Be Tried as Adults

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The California Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that 14- and 15-year-olds cannot be tried as adults in criminal court, saying the California Legislature decided the issue in 2018, when lawmakers amended state law to keep 14- and 15-year-olds in the juvenile system rather than be transferred to prison, reports the Courthouse News Service. The case arises from the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors charged a 15-year-old minor with fatally shooting Jose Lopez, 22, and fatally stabbing Adrian “Mikey” Ornelas, 26. Prosecutors say the 15-year-old, referred to as “O.G.” in court documents, also committed second-degree robbery with a gun and had a known gang affiliation. They asked to transfer O.G.’s case to criminal court shortly after the California Legislature amended existing state law that eliminated transferring juvenile offenders accused of committing crimes when they are 14 or 15 years old. Ventura County prosecutors claimed the juvenile court should be able to decide if O.G. can be tried as an adult.

Two years after the passage of Prop 57, which allowed offenders as young as 14- or 15-years-old to be tried as adults, the California Legislature amended the law to emphasize rehabilitation for juvenile offenders. The California Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday reverberated across the legal landscape. The non-profit Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which argued in an amicus brief that SB 1391 is unconstitutional, said the intent of Proposition 57 was to leave the decision to try a minor as an adult up to a judge.

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