February 9, 2001

Court of Appeal Overturns Prop 21 Says Decision to Try Juveniles in Adult Court Belongs to Judges, Not District Attorney

The California Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled that Proposition 21, the Juvenile Crime initiative passed by voters in March 2000, is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers provision of the state constitution. The Court said that the portion of Proposition 21 which transferred from judges to district attorneys the decision of whether to prosecute a juvenile as an adult was essentially a sentencing decision, which is the constitutional province of the courts. If a juvenile is convicted in juvenile court, the sentence can range from counseling to serving time in a juvenile detention center. 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.

The 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. In September, a judge of the Fourth District Court of Appeal issued an emergency stay in the proceedings in order to allow the constitutional issues to be decided before the youths enter pleas in adult court.

"Today the court re-affirmed a basic principle underlying our system of government—that the authority to prosecute someone for a crime and the responsibility for sentencing the guilty should not be placed in the same hands," says William Lafond, attorney for Morgan Manduley, one of the juveniles. "The decision of whether or not to prosecute a juvenile as an adult is, in effect, a sentencing decision, because it pre-determines what will happen to a young person if he or she is convicted. Proposition 21 took that authority away from an impartial judge and gave it to the district attorney, who is by definition a biased advocate in an adversarial system. The Court, by striking down Prop 21, restored the proper balance to our system."

The defendants' legal team was joined in challenging Prop-osition 21 by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief. The ACLU also filed a constitutional challenge to the measure immediately following its passage. Today's case, if it is appealed, is almost certain to be the first to reach the California Supreme Court, where a final determination of the constitutional issues will be made.

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