CA Law Aimed at Gang Violence is Unconstitutional, ACLU and Youth Rights Groups Argue

September 6, 2001 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO – The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Southern California, and San Diego in coalition with other voter and youth advocacy groups today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the California Supreme Court challenging California’s Proposition 21, the “Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act.”

The case Manduley v. Superior Court, involves the prosecution of eight teenagers as adults by the San Diego District Attorney. In the brief, the ACLU argues that Proposition 21 is unconstitutional because it violates the single-subject rule of the California Constitution. The Court is expected to address this claim along with the provision within Proposition 21 that enabled the minor defendants to be tried as adults in criminal court.

“There’s a reason for the single-subject rule,” said ACLU of Southern California Executive Director Ramona Ripston, “and that is to prevent voter confusion. That’s impossible when an initiative takes on as many distinct issues as Proposition 21 did, from overhauling the juvenile justice system, through expanding three-strikes laws, to revising laws related to gang violence.”

The League of Women Voters of California has twice studied the initiative and referendum process in California and are plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit that also challenges Proposition 21, League of Women Voters v. Gray Davis.

“While we support the right of citizens to legislate through the initiative process, we also believe that the process has gone far beyond what the reformers who developed it intended,” said Barbara Inatsugu, President of the League of Women Voters of California. “Increasingly, we see extremely long, complicated measures covering a number of marginally related issues placed on the ballot. Proposition 21 is an example of this.”

“Proposition 21 will only lead to the victimization of thousands of children who are tried as adults and incarcerated in adult prisons,” said Beverly Tucker, Chief Counsel for the California Teachers Association, which is also participating in the brief. “By prosecuting children as adults we are depriving them of the educational and rehabilitative programs available in the juvenile system. If they are put in adult prisons, we are basically throwing away the key on a whole generation of young people.”

Participating organizations in the friend-of-the-court brief include the League of Women Voters of California, the California Teachers Association, the Children’s Advocacy Institute, Coleman Advocates For Children and Youth, the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Council of La Raza, the National Urban League, the Youth Law Center, Child Welfare League of America the L.A. County Bar Association, San Francisco Bar Association, Beverly Hills Bar Association, and the California Public Defenders Association,

The California Supreme Court has not yet scheduled oral argument in the case but is expected to do so within the next several months. The ACLU brief was co-authored and filed by the law firm of Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin. A copy of the brief is available online at

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