Thursday, June 20, 2019
Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Third District Court of Appeal yesterday affirmed the validity of an amendment to a Welfare and Institutions Code section which bars the transfer of alleged offenders who are 14 or 15 to adult court for trial, rejecting the contention that this runs afoul of the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, enacted by voters as Proposition 57.
Acting Presiding Justice Ronald B. Robie wrote the opinion which denies a petition for a writ of mandate sought by Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. The proceeding pitted the county prosecutor against state Attorney General Xavier Beccera, who defended the amendment.
The amendment to Welfare and Institutions Code §707 was effected by S.B. 1391, authored by then-Sen. Richard Lara, D-Bell Gardens, now state insurance commissioner. The issue before the appeals court was whether the amendment is consistent with the intent of Proposition 57.
One specific purpose of that measure, Schubert argued, was to authorize criminal prosecutions of 14- and 15-year-olds who are charged with specified serious offenses, but to leave the decision to a judge, rather than a prosecutor, as to whether they will be tried as adults.
The real parties in interest, K.L. and R.Z., each allegedly committed a murder at age 15. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Alyson Lewis determined that under S.B. 1391, they could not be tried in a criminal court.
“There is no dispute that by its language, Proposition 57 does permit transfer of minors aged 14 or 15 if they commit certain crimes…. That is not, however, determinative of whether it was one of the ‘major and fundamental purposes’ of Proposition 57…or that eliminating that possibility is a ‘clear and unquestionable’ conflict with Proposition 57.”
The jurist declared:
“Taken as a whole, and in the context of juvenile offenders, it appears the intent of Proposition 57 was to reduce the number of youths who would be prosecuted as adults. This appears to be an intent that will further other broader purposes of Proposition 57 to reduce the number of offenders incarcerated in state prisons, and to increase the opportunities for rehabilitation, particularly for juvenile offenders. That Proposition 57 enacted a procedural scheme to remove from the prosecutor and vest in the judiciary the discretion to determine whether a youth should be prosecuted as an adult, and that it stated it was its intent to impose such a transfer of discretionary power, is in accord with these other purposes.”
Scheme Not Contravened
“Additionally, under the scheme formalized by Proposition 57, the judiciary merely acted as a check on the prosecutor’s discretionary decision by ruling on the motions for transfer, it did not independently decide which charged youths should be subject to the possibility of transfer. This scheme, and these stated purposes and intent are not contravened by S.B. 1391. Rather, S.B. 1391 furthers the stated purpose and intent of Proposition 57 to have fewer youths removed from the juvenile justice system.”
“And, while Proposition 57 did continue to permit transfer of 14 and 15 year olds to adult court for prosecution, there is nothing in the language of Proposition 57 or the ballot materials to suggest that it was a specific intent of Proposition 57 to ensure that 14- and 15-year-old juvenile offenders would continue to be subject to adult criminal prosecution. S.B. 1391 does not conflict with Proposition 57 but advances its stated intent and purpose to reduce the number of youths to be tried in adult court, reduce the number of incarcerated persons in state prisons, and emphasize rehabilitation for juveniles. Accordingly, we conclude S.B. 1391 is not an unconstitutional amendment of section 707 as modified by Proposition 57.”
The case is People v. Superior Court (K.L.), 2019 S.O.S. 2865.
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