California Senate Bill 1391 (2019)

In a progressive move to encourage the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, California passed Senate Bill 1391 in 2019. This bill removed the discretion of the prosecutor to seek to have 14- and 15-year-olds transferred to adult court. Now, the minimum age for prosecution in an adult court is 16, regardless of the crime committed. Cases involving minors aged 15 years or younger are dealt with exclusively in the juvenile court.

The elimination of adult court for 14- and 15-year-olds came a few years after Prop 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act (2016), was passed by California voters. Prop 57 required a prosecutor to move for a hearing before a juvenile court judge to determine whether a 14- or 15-year-old should be transferred to adult criminal court. At the hearing, the judge was to consider various factors such as the juvenile’s maturity, the degree of the crime’s sophistication, the juvenile’s prior delinquent history, and whether the juvenile could be rehabilitated. The matter has been taken out of the hands of the prosecutor and the judge with the passage of SB 1391. No one under 16, no matter the crime committed or the juvenile’s criminal history, can be prosecuted in adult criminal court.

Many factors motivated the passage of SB 1391. The purpose of the juvenile system is to rehabilitate an offender. The belief is that offenders younger than 16 have a significant chance to be rehabilitated and become law-abiding citizens. Minors detained in juvenile facilities are required to participate in individualized services to address behavioral health and other issues. Rehabilitative services specifically for juveniles are not provided in adult prisons.

Other factors influencing SB 1391 include the statistical disparity in the number of minority versus non-minority juveniles who were transferred to adult criminal court and the inconsistency in judges’ decisions regarding transfer. Transfers also lacked uniformity across geographic regions in California.

Because the juvenile court system generally must release a juvenile at the age of 25, some 14- and 15-year-olds may face less than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility even for crimes such as aggravated murder and rape. However, California law safeguards the public from dangerous juveniles.

Section 1800 of the Welfare and Institutions Code allows the Division of Juvenile Facilities to request the prosecuting attorney to petition the court for an order allowing the Division to maintain jurisdiction and control over a person older than 25 who is “physically dangerous to the public.” Likewise, the Board of Parole Hearing may request the Division of Juvenile Justice to review any case in which the Division of Juvenile Facilities has not filed such a request if the Board finds the person physically dangerous to the public.

An added safeguard in California law is the ability of the prosecutor to petition the court to order the person detained for an additional two years after he or she reaches 25. There are no limits to how many times a prosecutor may seek to extend the person’s detention.

California legislators are currently working on an overhaul of the Division of Juvenile Justice. Whether that overhaul will revisit the issue of referring 14- and 15-year-olds to adult criminal court remains to be seen.

We at Spolin Law recognize the flaws in the criminal justice system and hope to help find justice to those who have been denied it. The standardization proposed by California SB 1391 seeks to fill some of these gaps in the system in an effort to promote rehabilitation and eliminate the racial disparities that exist. We intend to follow to progression and impact of California SB 1391 and keep you informed. To learn more about our devoted and accomplished team at Spolin Law, be sure to call us at (866) 617-7158 with any post-conviction questions you may have.