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San Diego DA Says Proposition 47 Doesn’t Apply To Juveniles

San Diego minors get felonies when adults don’t

Photo by Katie Schoolov

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis speaks to the media, Aug. 20, 2013.

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In San Diego County, minors are being charged with felonies for crimes considered misdemeanors in adult court.

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Proposition 47 Amicus Brief

Proposition 47 Amicus Brief

Californians for Safety and Justice, Michael Romano and the American Civil Liberties Union argue Proposition 47 should apply to minors.

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Since November, the San Diego Superior Court has ruled nearly 2,000 adults are eligible to have their low-level felonies reduced to misdemeanors under Proposition 47. At the same time, the court has slapped juveniles with felonies for the same class of crimes.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said in an earlier legal filing the law, which voters passed in 2014 to reduce the prison population and reform the state's approach to rehabilitation, doesn't apply to juveniles because it only uses terms related to the adult criminal justice system.

Whereas adults are "convicted" and given a "sentence," minors are "adjudicated" and given a "disposition." The latter terms do not appear in the text of Proposition 47, also called the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.

The law's principal authors and the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed an amicus brief urging the 4th District Court of Appeal to extend the benefits of the law to juveniles. They're filing it on behalf of 76 affected youths.

Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit concerned with prison reform, and Michael Romano, the director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School, helped write the law and say in the brief it was intended to apply to offenders of all ages.

Sacramento, Alameda and San Francisco counties have interpreted the law as such.

"There is no rational basis — much less a compelling one — to saddle minors alone with severe criminal histories," the brief states. "A minor who is adjudicated a felon is more likely to be unfairly stigmatized, subjected to enhanced criminal penalties, turned down for jobs, rejected from military service, denied admission to college, and placed at risk in immigration proceedings."

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Dumanis has contended strict rules regarding confidentiality of juvenile court records mean a felony won't have much of an impact once a minor is out of the criminal justice system.

But the authors of the brief argue a felony increases the likelihood judges will refer youth to adult court for subsequent offenses, potentially subjecting them to harsher punishment and more damaging records.

And they point out that youth would have to disclose juvenile convictions when applying for deportation relief under the DACA program for Dreamers or when enlisting in the military.

"The Superior Court’s refusal to afford the benefits (to minors) runs contrary to the rehabilitative purpose underlying the juvenile justice system," the brief states.

The San Diego Superior Court sided with Dumanis on the matter in February. Tuesday's brief will go to the state appellate court.

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