Juvenile adjudications (convictions) can be used against adult criminal defendants under the “three strikes” law even though juvenile defendants have no right to a jury trial. The California Supreme Court, in People v Nguyen, held that prior juvenile adjudications that qualify as serious or violent felonies (“strikes”) can used to substantially increase an adult criminal defendant’s felony sentence, despite the fact that juveniles are not entitled to a trial by jury.
In Nguyen, the Court emphasized that a defendant is still free to contest the fact of a prior conviction in the adult case, and, of course, a defendant can always challenge whether the juvenile adjudication actually qualifies as a serious or violent felony offense. Juvenile cases from outside of California are example of those types of cases often subject to successful challenge on the issue of whether they qualify as a strike offense. But for now, criminal defense attorneys can no longer successfully raise 5th 6th and 14th Amendment objections against the use of the juvenile case as a strike solely due to the lack of a jury trial right in juvenile court.
The California Supreme Court may get overruled on this issue by the U.S. Supreme Court. Criminal defense lawyers therefore must continue to object to the use of juvenile offense as strikes in order to preserve this issue for appeal, especially for criminal defendants looking at a life sentence.