Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Senate Bill 889: All People Under 21 To Be Tried as Minors

people under 21 to be tried as minors

A bill was introduced at the California state Capitol in January 2020 in hopes of changing the way young people were treated in the state’s justice system. Senate Bill 889 was introduced in an effort to have all people under 21 to be tried as minors. There were a number of arguments for and against the measure, including an emphasis on the scientific reasons young people may not be fully developed mentally or emotionally and, as such, not fully responsible for their actions.

Considerations of Senate Bill 889

Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced Senate Bill 889 in January 2020, in an effort to have California lawmakers expand the reach of the juvenile system to include people under 21 who would be automatically tried as minors. There was a significant amount of support for the bill, including among some state probation officers who believed that teenagers are not mature enough to be held responsible for their actions as adults.

Skinner stated that she proposed Senate Bill 889 in “recognition that people under 21 still need guidance.” She pointed out that other laws in the state, including restrictions on purchasing alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis, require an individual to be at least 21 years old which is indicated as the “adult or responsible age.”

Minors and the Juvenile Justice System

In 2018 in the state of California, 17,200 minors under the age of 17 were arrested for felonies. More than half of those were Black and 36% were Latino. Also in 2018, about 14,400 individuals aged 18 and 19 were arrested for felonies. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), based in San Francisco, estimated that, by trying individuals aged 20 and younger in juvenile courts, the juvenile facilities would see thousands of new inmates.

There were concerns on both sides of the proposed bill. Some worried that by raising the age for someone to be considered a juvenile, that individual might end up spending more time in a juvenile facility than they would if they were sent to an adult facility to serve their time. In addition, the director of the CJCJ, Daniel Macallair, feared that some may have backed the bill as a way to project jobs in the juvenile system. He pointed out that juvenile arrests have decreased steadily in the past few years and that a number of juvenile halls have few inmates or are in danger of closing.

Juvenile Justice Reform in California

Senate Bill 889 builds on a long history of juvenile justice reform in the state of California, starting with efforts by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004. The governor, responding to criticisms over harsh conditions in juvenile facilities, overhauled the California Youth Authority, which held approximately 3600 minors at the time.

Further reform was seen in 2007, with Governor Jerry Brown who gave more control to county probation departments, followed by the efforts of Governor Gavin Newsom in his first year in office. Governor Newsome suggested that control of state juvenile inmates should be moved away from corrections and placed under the purview of government health and human services officials.

The Science of Young Minds

The efforts of Senator Skinner and others to have people under 21 treated as minors in the justice system is partially based on science. In fact, many landmark cases in the US Supreme Court have changed the legal responses to juvenile offending. These cases have abolished the death penalty for adolescents, found that the mandatory sentences of life without parole for murder violate the 8th Amendment, and eliminated sentences of life without parole sentences for crimes less than murder.

The adolescent brain is still developing. Scientific research has found that young people are highly subject to the influences of reward and of their peers. Neuroscience, in particular, has found that adolescents mature at significantly different rates. This has also helped improved the general understanding of juvenile offenders.

Research has clarified that teenagers’ heightened vulnerability to reward drives their risky behavior. This vulnerability can continue into an individual’s early 20s, depending on the person’s specific rate of development. Young people can often recognize the risks but given the still incomplete development of their brain mechanisms related to modulating their impulsive behavior, their tendency to heed those risks is often reduced.

Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh if your son or daughter is in legal trouble or faces school expulsion. Attorney Walsh has the expertise to advocate for your loved one's well-being successfully. For a free consultation, call Katie Walsh at (714) 351-0178.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

California Appeals Court: New Hearing for Teen Sentenced to 90 Years

California Appeals Court New Hearing for Teen Sentenced to 90 Years

A young man who was convicted of a 2009 murder, and who has since initiated a series of appeals and petitions for review, will have a new hearing to determine whether he was properly tried as an adult, rather than as a juvenile. The California Appeals Court has determined that the man sentenced to 90 years in prison when he was a teen is now entitled to a new hearing.

The Story

In June 2009, Harquan Johnson, who was 17 at the time, and his friend, KeAndre Windfield, then 18 years old, were involved in a series of arguments that turned into a violent dispute. After much back and forth between various individuals, Johnson and Windfield shot two people, one of which was Montoyea Smith, who died from his gunshot wounds. 

Johnson and Windfield were convicted of one count of murder and one count of attempted murder each, in addition to assault with a semi-automatic firearm. There were also gun discharge and gang enhancement allegations involved in the murder and attempted murder counts. Johnson and Windfield were each sentenced to 90 years to life as a result of their convictions.

A New Hearing

The Court of Appeal of the state of California held, in a ruling filed on January 4, that Johnson is entitled to a hearing to determine whether he should have been tried as an adult or as a juvenile, since he was 17 when he committed the crime. The court referenced Proposition 57, passed in 2016, which decided that the judge and not the prosecutor is required to determine whether juveniles charged with certain crimes should be tried in juvenile or adult court.

Additionally, and particularly important in Johnson’s case, the court ruled that the law can be applied retroactively. The appeals court also stated that courts can conduct hearings to determine whether past transfers of juveniles to adult court were proper. 

Proposition 57

Known as the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016,” Proposition 57 made changes to the State Constitution to increase the number of inmates eligible for parole consideration and authorized California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to award sentencing credits to inmates. 

The measure also made changes to state law to require that youths have a hearing in juvenile court before they can be transferred to adult court. The measure stated that juvenile court judges shall make determination, upon prosecutor motion, whether juveniles age 14 and older should be prosecuted and sentenced as adults for specified offenses.

The Court’s Discussion

In the court’s ruling granting Johnson a new hearing, they said that in their original opinion, they had commented that there was no sentencing memorandum submitted by counsel for Johnson, the probation report contained scant information about Johnson personally, and neither counsel for Johnson nor the sentencing court addressed this topic of youth factors during sentencing. 

The Appeals Court concluded that, having been charged in adult court as a juvenile, Johnson is entitled to an opportunity to make a record of mitigating evidence tied to his youth. The court’s decision also stated that, in conducting the transfer hearing, the juvenile court shall treat the matter as though the prosecutor had originally filed a juvenile petition in juvenile court and had then moved to transfer Johnson’s cause to a court of criminal jurisdiction. 

If the new hearing determines that Johnson is “not a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under the juvenile court law,” then Johnson’s convictions and sentence are to be reinstated. However, if the juvenile court finds that it would not have transferred Johnson to adult court, it shall treat his convictions as juvenile adjudications and impose an appropriate “disposition” within its discretion.

The Appeals Court ordered, in the event Johnson is unfit for treatment in juvenile court, a limited remand of Johnson’s sentence to provide an opportunity to present evidence of mitigation due to his youth. As to Johnson’s co-defendant Windfield, also listed in the appeals decision, the sentence was affirmed, since he was 18 when he committed the crimes. 

Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh if your son or daughter is in legal trouble or faces school expulsion. Attorney Walsh has the expertise to advocate for your loved one's well-being successfully. For a free consultation, call Katie Walsh at (714) 351-0178.