Thursday, March 14, 2002
Cooley Issues Strict Guidelines for ‘Direct Filing’ Under Proposition 21
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office will once again exercise its discretion to file criminal cases against juveniles under a policy circulated to prosecutors yesterday by District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Cooley barred “discretionary direct” filing against juveniles after this district’s Court of Appeal ruled last year that Proposition 21, which allowed the move, was unconstitutional.
But the ruling was reversed on Feb. 28 by the state Supreme Court in Manduley v. Superior Court. The justices rejected arguments that separation-of-powers principles mandate that judges, not prosecutors, make all determinations of whether youths accused of violence are fit for California’s juvenile court system.
Cooley told his prosecutors that they should continue to allow “fitness hearings” under Welfare and Institutions Code Sec. 707 for most youths accused of crimes.
“While Manduley reaffirms the district attorney’s discretionary authority to file cases against minors directly in criminal court, the office policy will be to utilize this power selectively,” Cooley told prosecutors in Special Directive 02-02.
Prosecutors should exercise their authority to avoid a fitness hearing and proceed directly to criminal court only after a determination by the head deputy of the office’s Juvenile Division, Cooley said in the directive. That determination would be based on seven factors, including the five statutory factors used in a fitness hearing: The circumstances and gravity of the offense, the minor’s previous delinquent history, past efforts at rehabilitation, completion of rehabilitation before expiration of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction, and the minor’s degree of sophistication.
Added are two more factors: the existence of a companion adult defendant, and special consideration for victims and witnesses. Such considerations would include a preference for criminal filing if a victim or witness is elderly or in ill health. Weight would also be given to any legitimate threats against victims or witnesses.
Discretionary cases in which fitness motions already have been filed should generally proceed in juvenile court, the directive said.
Proposition 21, passed by voters in 2000, enacted a host of changes to laws governing prosecution of juveniles. Among the changes were “mandatory direct” filing, which requires prosecutors to file criminal complaints against juveniles accused of murder and sexual assault directly in criminal court.
But the portion struck down by the Court of Appeal and reinstated by the Supreme Court was the “discretionary direct” filing, which applies to lesser, but still serious, charges.
The Manduley case involved charges of brutal hate crimes allegedly perpetrated by a number of teenagers against a migrant farm worker.
A youth processed through the juvenile court system must be released from custody of the California Youth Authority at age 25, no matter how serious the charges. Youths who go through the criminal court system can be sentenced for longer terms, including life in prison.
District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said yesterday that the new policy is much tighter than it was before Cooley took office.
“After [Proposition 21] was passed there was no guideline on how to exercise discretion,” Gibbons said. “There were lots and lots of cases filed directly” before the Court of Appeal ruling, she said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company