ACLU Challenges CA Juvenile Justice Initiative

June 7, 2000 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO — The ACLU of Northern California and other organizations today filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 21 – the Juvenile Crime Initiative. The lawsuit argues that the proposition “violates a core provision of the California Constitution designed to ensure the integrity of the electoral process: its requirement that each initiative embrace only a single subject.”

“Instead of embracing one issue, Proposition 21 — the largest crime-related initiative in California history — makes far-reaching changes in several unrelated areas, ranging from the juvenile justice system to adult criminal gang activity to ‘Three Strikes’ sentencing laws that do not relate to either juveniles or gangs,” said Robert Kim, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. The other organizations challenging the initiative include the League of Women Voters of California, Children’s Advocacy Institute, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, and Peter Bull.

The lawsuit also alleges that Proposition 21 deceived the electorate by inserting issues unrelated to juvenile crime. “The backers of this ballot measure quietly tucked in provisions amending prior voter-approved initiatives that had nothing to do with the issues that voters were led to believe they were deciding on March 7th,” said Steven Mayer, a partner with San Francisco’s Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin and co-counsel with the ACLU.

The lawsuit also alleges that Proposition 21 violates the California Elections Code by containing text different than the initiative circulated by petition to voters to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Proposition 21 was passed by voters on March 7, 2000. The law requires children as young as 14 to be tried in adult courts when accused of murder and other serious crimes. It also transfers authority from the court system to prosecutors, enacts stricter probation rules, creates dozens of new offenses relating to gang activity, toughens sentencing laws, adds to the list of death-penalty-eligible crimes for adults, and overhauls the juvenile court system.

The California Supreme Court declined to hear an earlier challenge to the constitutionality of Proposition 21. The challenge was filed on April 20 and the court issued its ruling on May 10. In today’s lawsuit, Gray Davis, the Governor of the State of California; Bill Lockyer, Attorney General of the State of California; and Terence Hallinan, District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco are named as defendants.

The full text of the complaint is available at:

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