A Bay Area prosecutor says a controversial new juvenile justice law with potential implications for a high-profile Yolo County murder case is unconstitutional and should be thrown out.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen is taking aim at Senate Bill 1391, which bars courts from trying minors under age 16 as adults, saying it strips the power voters gave judges with Proposition 57 to determine whether 14- and 15-year-olds who commit murder and other serious felonies should stand in adult court.
“Proposition 57 expressly told voters that judges would be vested with the power to decide which juveniles who have committed the most serious and violent crimes should be tried as adults and which should be adjudicated as minors,” Rosen wrote in the brief dated Wednesday. “This express power was eliminated by SB 1391,” Rosen wrote.
Rosen’s brief last week to the state’s Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose concerned cases before that court and Santa Clara Superior Court.
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But Yolo prosecutors also watched with interest, the brief coming as convicted murderer Daniel William Marsh faces a Yolo Superior Court judge to determine whether he should be resentenced as a juvenile in the April 2013 mutilation slayings of an elderly Davis couple or whether his 52-year-to-life prison sentence stands.
Marsh was 15 when he killed Oliver Northup and Claudia Maupin in their south Davis condominium. He was tried as an adult at 16 and sentenced at 17 in December 2014 for the murders.
Marsh, now 21, could be released from prison on his 25th birthday if Yolo Superior Court Judge Samuel McAdam determines he should have been sentenced as a minor. The transfer hearing before McAdam resumes Monday.
The hearing rose out of Prop. 57, the 2016 ballot measure.
State appellate judges said in their ruling this year that there was virtually no chance that Marsh would be found eligible for a juvenile sentence at the hearing, but were bound by the statute to send the case back to Yolo County.
“Here we are,” Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said Friday of the brief’s timing. “It’s ironic that we’re right in the middle of this hearing and we’re only here because of Prop. 57.”
Rosen has supported resentencings of low-level drug and other offenders from felonies to misdemeanors – a “smart-on-crime” approach that has been a theme of reform-minded prosecutors and lawmakers.
The thinking aligned with California voters. In 2014, voters approved a similar overhaul, Proposition 47, by a 3-to-2 margin. That measure reclassified certain theft and drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors; gave people convicted of felonies that would have qualified as misdemeanors under the proposition a chance to petition courts for resentencing; and gave those who completed their sentences the opportunity to petition to reclassify their convictions as misdemeanors.
But Rosen said in his brief Wednesday that voters two years later likely never would have supported Prop. 57 if they thought it could be modified to keep any 14- or 15-year-old charged with murder from facing adult consequences.
“It is obvious the voters did not intend to eliminate prosecution in criminal court of 14- and-15-year-old minors who commit … heinous crimes,” Rosen wrote, adding “there is no ambiguity.”
The possible implications of SB 1391 horrified Northup’s and Maupin’s survivors who joined district attorneys in Sacramento in September to call for the bill’s veto and offer chilling testimony of the couple’s killing.
“The man who brutally murdered my grandparents and then spent time with their bodies mutilating them – he was calculated, he was smart and he committed the perfect crime, two weeks before turning 16. He knew what he was doing,” said granddaughter Sara Rice.
Weeks later, SB 1391 was signed into law and will go into effect Jan. 1. District attorneys in Yolo, Sacramento and other California counties have vowed to challenge it in court.
“We’re all focused on this effort to find it unconstitutional,” Reisig said. “We’ll fight every step of the way to keep Marsh in adult court.”