Legislature and Governor to Crime Victims:  Drop Dead

Michele Hanisee
President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys

The utter disdain for crime victims by Governor Brown and the State Legislature has been apparent for some time now. Two bills signed into law this past week are punctuation points on that fact.

SB 1391 will prohibit 14 and 15-year-old juveniles from being tried in adult court for a crime, even if it was a vicious and calculated murder.  In an eloquent column two weeks ago, Sacramento Bee columnist Marco Breton implored Governor Brown to veto SB 1391, highlighting two brutal murder cases in Sacramento by 15 year olds as examples that “SB 1391 makes sweeping generalizations about the capacity of juveniles to be rehabilitated when there are exceptions to every rule.”

In one 2013 murder case Breton described, the then 15-year-old murderer who is “a diagnosed psychopath, a sophisticated, manipulative killer” broke into a house and stabbed an elderly couple 60 times each, fulfilling his fantasy to kill someone.  He was sent to adult court under a direct filing by prosecutors, where he was convicted and sentenced to 52-years-to-life in prison.  After Prop 57 changed the direct filing law by only allowing Judges to make the direct filing decision, the case was remanded to Juvenile Court for a judge to decide whether he should be retried as a juvenile (with a release two years from now) or whether the adult sentence he received should remain in effect.  On the very day the Governor signed SB 1391 the juvenile’s attorneys requested the hearing be delayed until January 1, 2019, when SB 1391 takes effect and prohibits his being sentenced as an adult.

As a result of SB 1391, a juvenile murderer in California will be released from prison by age 23, regardless of how brutal his crime was or how many people he killed.  Governor Brown lamely attempted to refute that reality in his signing statement, claiming that even with the change in law  juveniles can be held in state custody beyond age 23 “if necessary.” Those familiar with the juvenile system know this is a deliberately false assurance, ranking right up there with the Governor’s false claim his Prop 57 would not result in early release of inmates who had committed violent crimes.

If you are a juvenile convicted of murder in juvenile court, you can expect to serve about 70 months for first degree murder.  Convicted and sentenced in juvenile court for rape; 28 months. The cold reality is that nearly every 14 or 15 year-old convicted of a murder or any other violent crime and sent to juvenile prison will measure their time served in months, and virtually all can count on being released by age 23.

The other bill that Governor Brown signed was AB 1437, which eliminates the felony murder rule as well as the natural and probable consequences doctrine.  We discussed this terribly flawed bill in a recent blog.  Thanks to the Governor and legislature, hundreds of inmates who participated in a murder will now be able to get an early release from prison, and future defendants will be able to escape punishment for the natural and probable results of a crime in which they willingly participated.

It is a twisted world where criminal defendants are now considered the “victim.” The non-stop legislation reducing criminal liability and accompanying penalties gushing out of the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Brown evidences that to be their world view.  In the words of longtime columnist Dan Walters, the “scope of criminal law changes during Brown’s second governorship is stunning.”  To the real, innocent victims of crime the message is clear:  you don’t matter.

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