CA Appeals Court Says Decision to Try Juveniles in Adult Court Belongs to Judges, Not Prosecutors

February 7, 2001 12:00 am

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SAN DIEGO–A California Court of Appeals today ruled that Proposition 21, the Juvenile Crime initiative that’s under challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union, violates the separation of powers provision of the state constitution.

The Court said that the portion of Proposition 21 which transfers from judges to district attorneys the decision of whether to prosecute a juvenile as an adult is essentially a sentencing decision, which is the constitutional province of the courts, not the District Attorney.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in today’s case and a constitutional challenge to the measure immediately following its passage in March 2000, hailed the decision as a victory for fairness in California’s troubled criminal justice system.

Today’s ruling comes in the case of Manduley/Rose v. Superior Court of San Diego County in which eight San Diego juveniles have been charged as adults in the alleged beating and robbing of five elderly Latino migrant workers last July.

“The Court has restored proper balance to our legal system,” said William LaFond, attorney for Manduley/Rose. “Proposition 21 took the responsibility for sentencing the guilty from an impartial judge and gave it to the district attorney, who is by definition a biased advocate in an adversarial system.”

Under California law, if a juvenile is convicted in juvenile court, the sentence can range from counseling to serving time in a juvenile detention center. However, if a juvenile is convicted in adult court of the same crime, those options are no longer available, and sentences are served in adult prisons.

In September, a judge of the Fourth District Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay in the Manduley/Rose proceedings in order to allow the constitutional issues to be decided before the youths entered pleas in adult court.

If today’s decision is appealed, it will most likely reach the California Supreme Court, where a final determination of the constitutional issues will be made.

To read more about the ACLU’s opposition to Proposition 21, go to /node/8553.

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