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Juvenile Certification, Direct Files and Other Transfers of Juveniles to Adult Court

We all know it as a common truth: Juveniles are not "miniature adults." They think differently, act differently and process information differently. Juveniles usually do not have the same decision making capabilities as adults. For that reason, the Legislature created Juvenile Courts. Juvenile Courts are not criminal courts. Juvenile Courts are considered Family Courts and they are designed to meet the special needs of juvenile offenders.

In some circumstances, prosecutors seek to transfer cases to the adult criminal justice system where these young people may be housed in jail with and treated like adult criminals. Juveniles that are convicted in adult criminal courts may have to suffer adult consequences, such as imprisonment in the Nevada State Prison. Even when a juvenile avoids jail or prison, adult criminal convictions can have life-long consequences, affecting future job and educational opportunities.

Families caught up in these types of transfer cases have concerns and questions that need to be thoroughly explored with an attorney with special expertise in Juvenile Crimes and Juvenile Certifications. This article is designed to provide a general framework for understanding Juvenile Certifications and other types of transfer cases. It is not intended to replace a professional consultation tailored to the specific facts in your case.

Direct File Cases - The Legislature has created laws that say which cases can be heard in Juvenile Court. This is referred to as the " jurisdiction" of the court, or (put another way) it is the power of the court to hear a particular case. In Nevada, some crimes are considered so serious that the Legislature has stated that the Juvenile Court may not hear them. These are called "Direct File" cases because they are filed directly into the adult courts, and never come before the Juvenile Court. Examples of "direct file" cases include Murder and Attempted Murder. In addition, if a juvenile is at least sixteen (16) years old and has a prior conviction for a felony offense, he may be subject to direct file if he commits a new offense of Sexual Assault with Force or if he commits a new Felony Firearm Offense.

Juvenile Certifications - Juvenile Certification proceedings involve charges that are usually heard in juvenile court. In these cases, the prosecutor files a certification petition claiming that there are special facts about the offense or the juvenile and, because of those facts, the case would be more properly handled in adult court. Offenses such as Robbery with Use of a Deadly Weapon, Firearm Offenses, Juvenile Sex Offenses, Violent Offenses or Gang-Related Offenses are the most typical kind of discretionary certification offenses.

Most juvenile certification proceedings are Discretionary Certification cases. They are called Discretionary Certifications because the decision whether or not to certify the case to adult court is in the discretion of the judge, which means the judge can generally do whatever he thinks is right given all of the facts of the case. If the juvenile is over fourteen (14), Prosecutors can file a petition for discretionary certification in any felony case.

The juvenile is entitled to a hearing on the petition and can present evidence to show that the case would be better handled in juvenile court. When deciding the petition, the Court usually considers: (1) the nature and seriousness of the offense; (2) the number and seriousness past offenses; and (3) the juvenile's personal factors such as age, maturity, character, personality, and family relationships.

The other type of certification proceeding is called a Presumptive Certification. A juvenile is subject to presumptive certification if he/she was sixteen (16) or older at the time of the offense, and the committed was either a Firearm Offense or a Sexual Assault with Force. In a presumptive certification hearing, if the court finds that those requirements are met, the Court must certify the child unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that: (1) the juvenile is incompetent to stand trial; or (2) the juvenile has substance abuse, emotional or behavioral problems that may be appropriately treated in Juvenile Court.

Other Transfer Cases - Recently, the Nevada Legislature expanded the length of time that a prosecutor has to charge a juvenile with certain serious juvenile crimes. Previously, when an offense was committed by a juvenile, the Juvenile Court could maintain its power over the offense and the offender only until the offender turned twenty-one (21) years old. Once the person turned twenty-one (21), the Juvenile court lost its power and the case was automatically closed. If an offender was not charged or arrested before they turned twenty-one (21), then the matter was closed and the offender could never be prosecuted for the juvenile crime.

In 2009, the law changed to allow the government to charge and prosecute people for certain serious juvenile offenses even after they turn twenty-one (21) years old. In such circumstances, a transfer hearing is held before the Juvenile Court. At the hearing the Juvenile Judge decides if the case should be dismissed or if it should be transferred to adult court and allowed to proceed in the adult criminal system.

Whatever your situation, if a prosecutor is seeking to transfer your child's case to adult court, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced Las Vegas juvenile crimes attorney early in the case. The juvenile crimes attorney can discuss with you the details of the transfer proceeding in your case. The attorney can also discuss potential defenses and strategies to oppose transfer.