Surge in Adult Charges for Juvenile Suspects

April 14, 2009 9:28:25 PM PDT
South Valley district attorney's offices are noticing a disturbing trend. More juveniles are being charged as adults for crimes they're charged with. From arson, burglaries and even murder, attorneys say younger kids are becoming more violent. Last week, 17-year old Anella Sanchez was charged as an adult for murdering her three month old son. Her case is just the latest in a series of major crimes in the South Valley involving juvenile suspects.

Assistant Tulare County District Attorney Don Gallian said, "Unfortunately, we're seeing a substantial amount of our violent crime done by juveniles." In fact, Gallian says there are 26 juveniles at Tulare County's Juvenile Hall who are awaiting adult charges. Of them, 7 are facing murder, 9 are facing attempted murder.

Gallian said, "Out of the 26 juveniles presently charged as adults, all but four of those are being charged with gang activity." Visalia police say it's not uncommon to see adult gang members use underage gang members to commit crimes.

Lt. Jason Salazar said, "With the thought that perhaps the juvenile will get away with a lighter sentence and avoid the adult gang members from serving stronger sentences."

Not all of the juveniles are affiliated with gangs. In January, Marco Antonio Navarro was sentenced to 30-years to life in prison for murdering his group home advisor when he was 16 years old. Last December, 19-year old Miguel Ruiz was found guilty by a jury for stabbing his mother to death when he was 17 years old. A judge later deemed him unfit for trial. Defense attorney Michelle Winspur said charging most juveniles as adults goes against the original intentions of the juvenile system.

Michelle Winspur said, "The juvenile system is supposed to be about rehabilitation and now we're sending them in the adult courts which is for punishment. This is our future."

Winspur said the District Attorney's office is taking advantage of a law passed several years ago which allows them to charge juveniles 16 years and older as adults if they've committed a serious crime.

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