Fitness Hearing Law and Legal Definition

Fitness hearing refers to a hearing in a juvenile court case to determine whether the case should be transferred to adult criminal court where the juvenile will be tried as an adult. Every State as well as the District of Columbia has specific rules regarding the transfer. This is also termed as certification hearing, waiver hearing or transfer hearing.

Example of a State Statute on Fitness Hearing

In California, according to Cal Wel & Inst Code § 707 the court shall cause the probation officer to investigate and submit a report on the behavioral patterns and social history of the minor being considered for a determination of unfitness. After considering the report and other relevant evidence the juvenile court may find thatthe minor is not a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under the juvenile court law if it concludes that

(1) The child was 16 years or older at the time of the alleged offense; and

(2) The child would not be amenable to the care, treatment, and training program available through facilities of the juvenile court, based on an evaluation of all of the following criteria:

  • The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor
  • Whether the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court's jurisdiction
  • The minor's previous delinquent history.
  • Success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor.
  • The circumstances and gravity of the offense alleged in the petition to have been committed by the minor.

In the fitness hearing conducted for the purpose, under section 707(a)(1), the burden of proving that the child is unfit is on the petitioner, by a preponderance of the evidence. If the court finds the child to be fit, the court must proceed to jurisdiction hearing. If the court finds the child to be unfit, the court must make orders under section 707.1 relating to bail and to the appropriate facility for the custody of the child, or release on own recognizance pending prosecution. The court must dismiss the petition without prejudice.

The relevant part of the law as it appears in the statute.

Cal Rules of Court, Rule 5.770

Rule 5.770. Conduct of fitness hearing under section 707(a)(1)

(a) Burden of proof (§ 707(a)(1)) In a fitness hearing under section 707(a)(1), the burden of proving that the child is unfit is on the petitioner, by a preponderance of the evidence.

(b) Criteria to consider (§ 707(a)(1)) Following receipt of the probation officer's report and any other relevant evidence, the court may find that the child is not a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under juvenile court law if the court finds:

(1) The child was 16 years or older at the time of the alleged offense; and

(2) The child would not be amenable to the care, treatment, and training program available through facilities of the juvenile court, based on an evaluation of all of the following criteria:

(A) The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the child;

(B) Whether the child can be rehabilitated before the expiration of jurisdiction;

(C) The child's previous delinquent history;

(D) The results of previous attempts by the court to rehabilitate the child; and

(E) The circumstances and gravity of the alleged offense.

(c) Findings under section 707(a)(1) The findings must be stated in the order.

(1) Finding of fitness The court may find the child to be fit and state that finding.

(2) Finding of unfitness If the court determines the child is unfit, the court must find that:

(A) The child was 16 years or older at the time of the alleged offense; and

(B) The child would not be amenable to the care, treatment, and training program available through the juvenile court because of one or a combination of more than one of the criteria listed in (b)(2).

(d) Maintenance of juvenile court jurisdiction If the court determines that one or more of the criteria listed in (b)(2) apply to the child, the court may nevertheless find that the child is amenable to the care, treatment, and training program available through the juvenile court and may find the child to be a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under juvenile court law.

(e) Extenuating circumstances The court may consider extenuating or mitigating circumstances in the evaluation of each relevant criterion.

(f) Procedure following findings

(1) If the court finds the child to be fit, the court must proceed to jurisdiction hearing under rule 5.774.

(2) If the court finds the child to be unfit, the court must make orders under section 707.1 relating to bail and to the appropriate facility for the custody of the child, or release on own recognizance pending prosecution. The court must dismiss the petition without prejudice.

(g) Continuance to seek review If the prosecuting attorney informs the court orally or in writing that a review of a finding of fitness will be sought and requests a continuance of the jurisdiction hearing, the court must grant a continuance for not less than two judicial days to allow time within which to obtain a stay of further proceedings from the reviewing judge or appellate court.

(h) Subsequent role of judicial officer Unless the child objects, the judicial officer who has conducted a fitness hearing may participate in any subsequent contested jurisdiction hearing relating to the same offense.

(i) Review of fitness determination An order that a child is or is not a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under the juvenile court law is not an appealable order. Appellate review of the order is by petition for extraordinary writ. Any petition for review of a judge's order determining the child unfit, or denying an application for rehearing of the referee's determination of unfitness, must be filed no later than 20 days after the child's first arraignment on an accusatory pleading based on the allegations that led to the unfitness determination.