By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Benjamin Campos on Friday reconsidered his March 3 order that dispositional proceedings involving a man who was convicted in 2016, at age 22, of a murder committed six years earlier, while a minor, will take place in Juvenile Court, deciding that, instead, he will conduct a “transfer hearing” to determine if the case did belong in the criminal court, where it was originally filed.
The decision is a further set-back for District Attorney George Gascón who on Dec. 7, his first day on office, issued a “special directive” declaring that in this county, no 16- or 17-year-old—eligible under the law to be tried as an adult—will be transferred from Juvenile Court. Enforcement of some of his other special directives was blocked on Feb. 8 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant who granted a preliminary injunction.
Campos found that the remittitur, reciting the order for a transfer hearing contained in a Oct. 18, 2019 opinion by Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal, must be obeyed, irrespective of efforts of the District Attorney’s Office.
The bench officer on March 3 declared that Joseph Salazar will not be transferred to adult court in light of the prosecutor’s withdrawal of the request, made before Gascon took office, that such an action be taken. Subsequently, however, The Dordulian Law Group, representing the family of the murder victim, Sergio Guzman, moved for reconsideration.
Attorney Kathleen Cady of that Glendale firm pointed to a memo drafted by the District Attorney’s Office’s Writ and Appeals Division, in connection with another case, saying that where the Court of Appeal, in a remand order, has called for a transfer hearing, such a hearing must be held.
Sua Sponte Order
In Friday’s order, Campos said “[i]t is not clear that the victim’s family has standing to seek affirmative relief in the form of reconsideration,” but declared that he will “on his own motion,” grant reconsideration.
“Upon reconsideration,” he announced, “the court finds that the case must be set for a fitness/transfer hearing, as ordered by the Court of Appeal.”
Div. Four of the Court of Appeal for this district said in its 2019 opinion by Justice Thomas L. Willhite Jr.:
“The conviction and sentence are conditionally reversed and the matter is remanded to the juvenile court with directions to conduct a juvenile transfer hearing. If the juvenile court determines that it would have transferred appellant to a court of criminal (adult) jurisdiction, his conviction and sentence are to be reinstated. If the juvenile court finds that it would not have transferred appellant to a court of criminal jurisdiction, it shall treat his conviction as a juvenile adjudication and impose an appropriate disposition.”
Compos noted that “[n]othing in the remittitur indicates that this court can retain jurisdiction over the defendant without the predicate fitness/transfer hearing” and said he “is bound by the terms of the remittitur, concluding that he must therefore hold the hearing “irrespective of current DA’s policy decision not to pursue transfers of juveniles.”
If the prosecution chooses not to participate at the hearing, he indicated, he’ll hold it, anyway.
The conditional reversal and remand were based on the California Supreme Court’s Feb. 1, 2018 decision in People v. Lara. There, it was held that Proposition 57, enacted by voters in 2016, applies retroactively in barring juveniles from being charged directly in adult court and, instead, requiring a transfer order by a judge.
If Campos finds, after a hearing, that Salazar would have been transferred to criminal court if the matter had been placed before a judge, the sentence of 40 years to life is to be reinstated, under the Court of Appeal’s opinion. On the other hand, if the commissioner finds that a judge of the Juvenile Court would have retained jurisdiction, it will in all probability mean that Salazar will be released because, except under narrow circumstances, the jurisdiction of that court ends where the person who committed a crime has a youth turns 25.
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