Wednesday, October 2, 2019
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district—rejecting a contrary view expressed by the First, Third, Fifth and Sixth districts—has declared that legislation, effective Jan. 1, that purports to bar trying a 14- or 15-year-old as an adult impermissibly contravenes Proposition 57, an initiative measure enacted by voters in 2016.
Under the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016—Proposition 57—a district attorney’s office may, with a juvenile court judge’s approval, try as an adult a minor who was 14 or 15 at the alleged crime was committed if it was one of the offenses specified in a list. One of those offenses is murder.
However, under SB 1391, signed into law last year, a motion may not be made to transfer an alleged offender to the adult court based on a serious crime committed at age 14 or 15 unless the person had not been apprehended until after he or she reached the age of 18.
Ventura Superior Court Judge Kevin J. McGee ruled that “O.G.,” accused of murder, may be tried as an adult, notwithstanding SB 1391. Div. Six of the appeals court on Monday denied a writ petition sought by the youth,
Justice Kenneth Yegan declared:
The Legislature cannot overrule the electorate. All power of government ultimately resides in the people….Under the guise of ‘amendment,’ an initiative may not be ‘annulled’ by the Legislature. Consistent with precedent, we ‘jealously guard’ the law as declared by the voters. We hold that Senate Bill No. 1391 is unconstitutional insofar as it precludes the possibility of adult prosecution of an alleged 15-year-old murderer.”
He cited the California Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in People v. Superior Court which said that the Legislature may not contradict what the electorate has enacted. Yegan wrote:
“It does not matter whether treating a 15-year-old alleged murderer as a juvenile is wise or unwise. That is not a judicial call. What is a judicial call is whether the Legislature may prohibit by statute what the electorate has previously authorized by initiative. We disagree with the four court of appeal opinions because, frankly, they did not ask nor answer the determinative question so aptly framed by Justice Chin for a unanimous Supreme Court in Pearson. Three of the four court of appeal opinions do not even cite to the Pearson case. Principles of stare decisis require adherence to the Pearson rule.”
History, Purposes Irrelevant
“The court of appeal opinions seem enamored with the history of how 15-year-old alleged murderers have historically been treated. This is, largely, irrelevant. It is the ‘overruling’ of the People’s latest expression of their wishes in 2016 which is the starting and ending relevant date. The court of appeal opinions analyze the enumerated purposes of Proposition 57. This is not irrelevant but the focus is on the trees and not the forest.”
“The language of Proposition 57 permits adult prosecution and S.B. 1391 precludes such prosecution. The expressly stated goal of S.B. 1391 is to categorically preclude the possibility of adult court treatment of a 15-year-old for specified crimes including murder.”
Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert signed Yegan’s opinion but added in a concurring opinion:
“However reasonable the views of my colleagues in other districts concerning the voter’s intent in Proposition 57, the words of Proposition 57 contradict that view. Our oath of office requires us to follow the clear language of the proposition absent a constitutional infirmity. Here the constitutional infirmity is in Senate Bill No. 1391.
“Separation of powers is a guiding principle of our democracy. We must preserve this safeguard whatever our views about the wisdom of the proposition or the legislative enactments concerning that proposition.
“If we fail to adhere to this analysis of legislation, we follow a path that can lead to unforeseen consequences in the interpretation of future legislation. When the shoe is on the other foot, one may get a bunion.”
The case is O.G. v. Superior Court, 2019 S.O.S. 2901.
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