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Prop 57 - Juveniles tried as adults

This morning, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Superior Court (Lara) (S241231).  The issue was whether Proposition 57 applies retroactively to juvenile cases that had been directly filed in adult court prior to it being passed in the November 2016 election.  In addition to permitting the release of inmates who commit "non-violent" offenses, Proposition 57 mandates that all allegations of criminal conduct against a minor (individuals under age 18) must be initiated in juvenile court.  In other words, a delinquent minor can no longer have charges directly filed against him or her in adult court.  All cases, regardless of the severity of the crime, must be initiated in juvenile court.  If a minor (age 14+) commits certain enumerated crimes (such as murder or certain sex offenses), a prosecutor can file a motion for a "transfer hearing" which requires the juvenile court to evaluate factors such as the minor's maturity level, degree of criminal sophistication, prior delinquent history, and whether the minor is capable of rehabilitation.  If, based on those factors, the juvenile court concludes that the minor should be tried as an adult, the case can be transferred to adult court and all proceedings from that point on occur as if the minor is an adult.

Prior to Proposition 57, minors age 14 or older who committed certain serious crimes could be tried in adult court in one of three ways: (1) statutory waiver - mandatory direct file in adult court; (2) prosecutorial waiver - discretionary direct file by the District Attorney; or (3) judicial waiver - upon motion, juvenile court had authority to transfer the case to adult court after holding a "fitness hearing."  Proposition 57 eliminated statutory and prosecutorial waiver.  
After Proposition 57 passed, several cases were filed by defendants whose cases were directly filed in adult court when they were juveniles alleging that Proposition 57 applies to their cases retroactively which thus entitles them to a hearing in juvenile court.  In most of the cases, the appellate courts held that Proposition 57 does not apply retroactively to their pending cases.  A few other appellate courts held otherwise.  For example, In Lara, the minor committed certain serious sex offenses when he was 14-15 years old, and he was directly charged with those crimes in adult court.  His case had not yet been tried and was pending in adult court when Proposition 57 was passed.  Lara then requested that his case be transferred to the juvenile court so that a juvenile court judge could decide if he should be tried as a juvenile instead as an adult.  In People v. Vela (S242298), the minor was 16 years old when he was directly charged with murder.  He was tried and convicted by a jury.  His case was pending on appeal when Proposition 57 became effective.  In People v. Cervantes (S241323), the minor was 14 years old when he was directly charged as an adult with committing horrific sex crimes against a 13 year old girl.  He was also convicted by a jury and his case was also pending on appeal when Proposition 57 passed.  The Vela and Cervantes courts held that Proposition 57 applied to their cases.  Their cases were remanded to the juvenile court so a hearing could be held to determine if they should be tried as minors instead of adults.  In Lara, the court held that the minor, who had been charged but not yet tried, was entitled to a hearing in juvenile court.  

The California Supreme Court granted review in all three of these cases and issued its opinion in Lara this morning.  The Court affirmed the judgment of the lower court, but not its reasoning, and held that because Proposition 57 "reduces the possible punishment for a class of persons, namely juveniles . . .  Proposition 57 applies to all juveniles charged directly in adult court whose judgment was not final at the time it was enacted."  The Court further disapproved of all of the Court of Appeals' opinions that are inconsistent with their Lara decision.  In other words, Proposition 57 is retroactive to all non-final cases.  What does this mean?  It means that the ramifications of Proposition 57 continue to get worse.  It also means that the court invited the opportunity for monsters like Daniel Marsh to seek a hearing in juvenile court because his case is "not final"  It permits Alexander Cervantes to be possibly re-tried as a juvenile.  Neither Marsh nor Cervantes are juveniles anymore.  The Court opened up a can of worms.  It provided the bait and those worms are going to wriggle their way back into juvenile court.

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