The Penal Code of the State of California describes every aspect of criminal law in California. One of the most important aspects of a system of criminal laws is defining who can and cannot be tried for crimes. The California code specifies six conditions under which someone who has been implicated in a criminal act can avoid trial.
Children who are under the age of 14 cannot be tried for a crime, but only if it can be shown they did not understand the illegality of their actions. Children under 14 who know what they are doing is wrong are unlikely to be tried as adults, but can still face the court for their actions. Children who are over 14 can be tried for their crimes regardless, and can even be tried as an adult for many crimes.
People who are seriously mentally incapacitated cannot be tried either. People with serious mental retardation cannot be tried because they lack the ability to understand the full consequences of their actions. On a related note, the defense by reason of insanity is not often a successful one, except with people who are extraordinarily mentally ill. A mental illness must be serious enough to be incapacitating, or to make the person unable to understand the situation.
Two other conditions under which someone can avoid trial is if their actions happened under “mistake of fact” with no criminal intent, and not being conscious of one’s actions. Stated differently, if it can be shown that someone was misled or uninformed in a way that led them into actions that were illegal, without them realizing their actions were illegal, they cannot be tried. Someone who was obviously unconscious at the time of their actions-someone with a serious sleep disorder, for example-can also avoid trial.
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