In Lawsuit, ACLU Says CA's Juvenile Justice Initiative Limits Court Powers

August 31, 2000 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


SAN FRANCISCO — In legal papers filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said that Proposition 21 — the state’s Juvenile Crime Initiative — is unconstitutional because it limits the courts discretion to determine whether a case should be heard in juvenile or criminal court.

“The power to determine whether a case should be heard as a juvenile proceeding or a criminal proceeding affects generations of youth to come, that cannot be stripped from judges and placed solely in the hands of prosecutors,” said Robert Kim, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. “To do so violates core separation-of-powers and due process principles.”

In the initial lawsuit, filed on June 7, the ACLU argued that Proposition 21, the state’s largest crime-related initiative, violated a core provision of the California Constitution which requires each initiative to embrace only a single subject.

Today’s action, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, amends that lawsuit to address the issue of court discretion.

“For the prosecution to have the power, without any standards, to send two youths accused of committing the same offense to entirely different courts with entirely different sentencing powers violates equal protection and the constitutional requirement that laws be uniform,” said Steve Mayer, an ACLU cooperating attorney.

Proposition 21 calls for children as young as 14 to be tried in adult courts when accused of murder and other serious crimes. It also creates dozens of new offenses relating to gang activity, toughens sentencing laws, adds to the list of death-penalty-eligible crimes for adults, and overhauls the juvenile court system.

The ACLU alleges that Proposition 21 further violates the California Elections Code because it contains text different than that in the initiative circulated by petition to voters to qualify the measure for the ballot and that Proposition 21 deceived the electorate by inserting issues unrelated to juvenile crime.

The lawsuit, League of Women Voters of California v. Gray Davis, was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of California, Children’s Advocacy Institute, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, and Peter Bull, former director of a Bay Area youth organization.

The lawsuit is brought by the California ACLU affiliates and the law firm of Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin. A hearing is scheduled in San Francisco Superior Court on September 7th at 9:30 am in Judge Garcia’s courtroom.

The full text of the original complaint is online at

The ACLU’s initial release on the lawsuit is online at

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Smart Justice

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Smart Justice

Smart Justice issue image

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.