Tuesday, November 1, 2016

California Prop 57: Ending Direct File

prop 57
Over the summer, we wrote about what is known as “direct file,” where states prosecutors have discretionary power about which court system to try a minor: juvenile or adult criminal court. California is one of 15 states that allows prosecutors to dictate the severity of an offense, deciding which court a juvenile case should be tried.

We pointed out that, direct file is used more commonly in certain California counties and that minorities are disproportionately affected by the process. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that black youth were 11.3 times more likely to be direct filed, compared to white minors. It should go without saying that being tried in the juvenile system is preferred over the adult-court, and the decision could seriously impact the future of a defendant.

California voters will decide on changing direct file, as part of Proposition 57, on November 8, 2016, KALW reports. Prop 57 seeks to reduce the prison population, save taxpayers millions and requires judges instead of prosecutors to decide whether minors should be prosecuted as adults, emphasizing rehabilitation for minors in the juvenile system.

"The race of the child and the county in which he or she commit this crime will determine whether or not he’ll be direct filed, not the severity of the crime," says Frankie Guzman from the National Center of Youth Law "and that is not what we should be basing these decisions on." 

Teenagers who find themselves caught in the adult criminal system are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to rehabilitation. Prop 57 aims to give people a chance to turn their life around, rather than possibly condemn them to a life in the system.

"Not only are we denying the benefit of rehabilitation, we are ensuring all the negatives that the adult system carries," Guzman says. "And so we often see young kids who really quickly have to grow and develop in a prison environment that is extremely violent." 

Instead of prosecutors deciding the fate of young people, minors would have a fitness hearing in juvenile court, the article reports. A judge will take a look at all the factors before deciding if a young defendant should be tried as an adult.

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.