CA Supreme Court Hears Arguments Against Sweeping Juvenile Justice Measure Today

December 5, 2001 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES–The state’s highest court will hear arguments today in a landmark case that tests whether Proposition 21, the largest crime-related initiative in California history, violates the state Constitution and strips courts of their traditional powers.

In friend-of-the-court briefs filed in Manduley v. Superior Court, the American Civil Liberties Union and a broad group of 40 organizations argue that an appeals court was correct in holding that Proposition 21 — passed in March 1999 — unconstitutionally strips judges of the authority to decide whether a child can be tried as an adult.

The groups are also concerned about the scope of the ballot initiative and its adverse implications for juvenile justice issues.

“This kind of flawed ballot initiative should never be allowed to reach voters,” said Robert Kim, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “At stake is the legitimacy of voters’ choices at the ballot box, the independence of the judicial system and the welfare of youth in California. Rarely does a case present such a confluence of important topics.”

Under the provisions of Proposition 21, the San Diego District Attorney is attempting to prosecute eight youths as adults, a move opponents say oversteps the office’s authority.

The Supreme Court will also consider other legal challenges to Proposition 21, including whether the measure violates the state’s single subject rule, which limits the scope of ballot initiatives to one subject.

The ACLU joined the Children’s Defense Fund, the League of Women Voters of California, the California Teachers’ Association and nearly a dozen juvenile justice experts in filing briefs that challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 21.

Their legal briefs assert that the initiative contains multiple, unrelated subjects. They point out that Proposition 21’s provisions range in purpose from overhauling the juvenile court system to creating a gang registration system in every municipality, to expanding “Three Strikes” laws for adults.

“This is a case that all voters should be concerned with because it affects their ability to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a single subject without worrying about hidden or unrelated provisions,” said Barbara Inatsugu, president of the League of Women Voters of California.

The fiscal and public policy impacts of Proposition 21 are devastating, according to some of the organizations. While the initiative is designed to channel more youth offenders through adult courts and prisons, studies show that young people who are sent to adult prisons are more likely to commit serious future offenses than their peers who enter rehabilitative programs through the juvenile court system.

The state’s Legislative Analyst Office estimated that Proposition 21 would cost state and local governments upwards of $430 million annually and have a one-time cost totaling from $950 million to more than $1.05 billion dollars.

A news release on the February appeals court ruling is online at /node/8537.

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