Who decides if a teen killer should be tried as an adult?

On Tuesday morning, the California Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of O.G. v. Superior Court (S259011).  The issue is whether the California Legislature unconstitutionally amended the statutory provisions of Proposition 57 when it enacted SB 1391.  Prop. 57 was voted into law by a majority of California voters in 2016.  The ballot measure eliminated a District Attorney’s ability to directly file criminal charges against individuals under age 18 in adult court.  The measure instead gave juvenile court judges the sole authority to decide whether violent juveniles ages 14 and older should be prosecuted as adults only after conducting a full evidentiary hearing in the juvenile court.  In 2018, former Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1391 into law.  SB 1391 prohibits 14 and 15 year olds from being criminally prosecuted as adults regardless of the crime committed.  In a nut shell, voter enacted Prop. 57 gives juvenile court judges the sole authority to decide whether juveniles (ages 14 and older) should be prosecuted as adults and legislature enacted SB 1391 prohibits 14 and 15 years olds from being prosecuted as adults.  SB 1391 (the legislature) takes away what Prop. 57 (the voters) authorized.  CJLF filed a brief (found here) arguing that SB 1391 unconstitutionally amended Prop. 57.

The juvenile in this case was a 15-year old street gang member who murdered two people on two separate occasions while in the company of gang cohorts.  The Ventura County D.A.’s Office sought to prosecute him as an adult and, pursuant to Prop. 57, filed a motion to transfer him from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court to the superior court.  The juvenile objected to the transfer motion on the ground that because he was 15-years old at the time of the murders, SB 1391 repealed the authority of the D.A. to make such a motion.  The trial court disagreed, expressly found that SB 1391 unconstitutionally amended Prop. 57, and granted the D.A.’s motion to transfer.  A unanimous panel of California’s Second District Court of Appeal agreed.  However, divided panels of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth District Courts of Appeal have ruled otherwise.  When the California Supreme Court granted review in this case, it also granted review in several other cases presenting the same issue and is holding them pending the resolution of O.G.

If the California Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of SB 1391, it will have a devastating impact on the surviving family members of victims (past, present, and future) who were/are brutally murdered by 14 and 15 year old offenders.  Under current California law, a teen murderer tried and sentenced in juvenile court can only be incarcerated until age 25.  Daniel Marsh was 15 years old when he intentionally and repeatedly stabbed and mutilated the bodies of Chip Northup, 87, and Claudia Maupin, 76 as they slept.  At Marsh’s Prop. 57  transfer hearing, juvenile court Judge Samuel T. McAdam presided over a full evidentiary hearing and found that “there is virtually no chance that Marsh will be rehabilitated before he turns 25 years old – it is certainly not a likelihood.”  Judge McAdam’s full transfer ruling order can be found here.  If SB 1391 is upheld, Marsh’s adult court sentence of 52-years to life will be set aside and he will be remanded to juvenile court for a juvenile disposition.  Marsh is now 23 years old.  Let that sink in.