To Gov. Jerry Brown:
You’ve been a great governor for California these last eight years. You’ve been exactly what California needed after an economic meltdown and the wasteful period of preening photo ops staged by your predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Your decisions, especially in your second term, have been weighted toward being on the right side of history on climate change.
But history has shown that some issues are impervious to the good intentions you have poured into the environment, water use, and high speed rail.
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In cases of unspeakable crimes, some hearts cannot be reformed so easily. Some crimes, even if they are committed by boys under the age of 16, cannot be rehabilitated in a way that protects the public. Or respects the victims.
Please do not sign SB 1391 into law. Veto it. Reject it. If enacted, it would go too far in the name of good intentions by barring prosecutors from recommending that some 14- and 15-year-olds be tried as adults for horrendous crimes.
The authors of SB 1391 – state Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara – are laudable public servants whose experiences inform their work. Coming from African American and Latino communities, both have seen first hand how tough-on-crime laws of the 1980s, ‘90s and early 2000s have damaged kids, especially kids of color.
And, as a state Senate analysis of SB 1391 states: “Children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing. Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, we explained, ‘they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.’‘’
The Senate analysis isn’t wrong. The intentions of Mitchell and Lara are not wrong. But SB 1391 is too broad. It offers a one-size-fits-all approach to juvenile crime cases that are complex and different.
It also overlooks three important points that should prompt you, Gov. Brown, to veto this bill.
First, SB 1391 makes sweeping generalizations about the capacity of juveniles to be rehabilitated when there are exceptions to every rule. Not every murder is alike, and I can name two Sacramento area homicides that should give anyone pause: The brutal 2013 slaying of an elderly Davis couple in their own home by 15-year-old Daniel Marsh. He broke into the home of Oliver “Chip” Northup Jr, 87,. and Claudia Maupin, 76. Marsh found the couple sleeping in their bed and stabbed each of them more than 60 times.
In 2015, J.J. Clavo – a beloved Grant High School football player – was gunned down in his car in broad daylight at the busy intersection of Silver Eagle Road and Mabel Street in north Sacramento.. The gunman sprayed the car with bullets without regard for Clavo’s life or the carload of Clavo’s friends whose lives were spared but whose teen years were forever drenched in the blood of their friend. Clavo, 17, died hours before he was supposed to suit up in a playoff game at Grant. He supposed to be in college right now. Keymontae Lindsey, 15, was arrested for the crime.
Second, the voters of California have already enacted a safeguard against prosecutorial overreach on juvenile cases. Since the passage of Proposition 57 in 2016, juveniles can only be tried as adults by order of a judge after a hearing. I sat in on one of these hearings, for Lindsey, on Wednesday. What did I see? Lindsey is being represented by what appears to be a good lawyer. That lawyer presented a forensic psychologist who will make the argument that Lindsey is capable of rehabilitation. This hearing will be exhaustive and be spread over three days. A juvenile court judge will decide whether the young man will be tried as an adult or a juvenile. This is no rubber stamp for prosecutors. The defendant is getting his day in court.
Third, the prosecution of juveniles as adults is rare. In Sacramento County, in 2016, the Sacramento County District Attorney filed 7,230 cases in juvenile court. In only three of those cases did the DA recommend that the youth be tried as an adult. In 2017, the DA filed 6,249 cases in juvenile court and only recommended that six be tried as adults. The Chronicle of Social Change, an online publication which covers juvenile justice, wrote that only 32 youths statewide were transferred to be tried as a adults the year after Proposition 57 passed.
These cases don’t get so much attention because legions of young people are being tried as adults in California. They get attention because the crimes are so bad.
If you strip the ability of a DA to recommend a special and specific course of action in a small subset of heinous crimes, then you are suggesting that all juveniles can be rehabilitated. You are suggesting that there are no exceptions to the rule. And there is simply no science that would suggest a thing.
In the case of Clavo, the killing wasn’t only startling because it was carried out in plain sight. Clavo’s killing created a chilling effect as Sacramento Police struggled to persuade numerous eye witnesses to cooperate and tell authorities what they saw.
Clavo’s friends drove him back to Grant High where school staff attempted CPR on his lifeless body.
“It’s a loss I will feel for the rest of my life,” said Clavo’s mother, Nicole. in the hearing for Lindsey on Wednesday. “Every day I have a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. “
Clavo called SB 1391 “a slap in the face” to the families of victims.
Maupin’s granddaughter, Sara Rice, told The Bee that Marsh knew what he was doing. “He was calculated, he was smart and he committed the perfect crime two weeks before he turned 16,” she said. “...This psychopath – this convicted murderer – is already serving too short a sentence for what he did.”
Victoria Hurd, the daughter Maupin, said, “As a victim, this is my life sentence and the life sentence of my family.”
The fear of Yolo County authorities is that if SB 1391 is signed by Brown, it would be applied to Marsh retroactively. The fear is that he would be released by juvenile detention officials at 25. Marsh was convicted before the Prop. 57, which is now being applied to him retroactively. He has the juvenile court transfer hearing that all juveniles have had since 2016.
That hearing is scheduled for Oct 1.
Lindsey’s hearing is scheduled to conclude Oct 5.
“I lost my baby boy,” Clavo said. “I have to go to a graveyard to see him. I have to talk to a headstone. I have to watch videos to hear my son’s voice.”
Gov. Brown. you weren’t in court to hear Nicole Clavo speak. But her words speak to you nonetheless. Some crimes cross barriers of humanity that are beyond redemption. If we pretend that these crimes and criminals don’t exist, we make California less safe and create a legacy of pain for the future.
Gov. Brown, you know you face a Sept. 30 deadline to get this right. Don’t let SB 1391 become law, Governor. We’ll all regret it.