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Local attorney shares opinions, answers legal questions surrounding stabbing of Black girl in Lakeside

After the alleged stabbing of a 16-year-old Black girl by a white boy, also 16, on April 16, many have been calling for a larger investigation and more arrests. Two minors have been arrested and charged with attempted murder and a hate crime.

Still, many have questions. KPBS reached out to local attorney Geneviéve Jones-Wright to answer some of the questions surrounding this case.

Jones-Wright is a former San Diego County public defender who served for 13 years. She is also a co-founder and executive director of Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance (MoGo), an impact litigation nonprofit. In 2018, Jones-Wright was a district attorney candidate.

What constitutes a hate crime?

Jones-Wright: A hate crime is a crime that is committed in whole or in part because of a person's perceived or actual disability, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or, as in this case, race or ethnicity.

How are hate crimes charged and sentenced?

Jones-Wright: A hate crime can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. And we see hate crimes act as enhancements, which can increase punishment. So, if a hate crime is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, for example, a person can be facing up to one year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine for a felony. A hate crime enhancement can add three years to a sentence.

Why hasn't the suspect's mugshot been shown or name been shared?

Jones-Wright: In California, it is routine that, if an accused person is a minor, then their identity will not be publicized. It is for the protection of the minor accused, and that is the same reasoning behind not sharing their image.

Why are people concerned about gang enhancement charges not being applied in this case?

Jones-Wright: That's a question that a lot of community members have, and it is a very valid question. We know that the San Diego County District Attorney's Office overwhelmingly charges people of color — African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders overwhelmingly — with gang enhancements, even where community members believe it is not appropriate, where there has not been a gang crime committed or a crime committed in the furtherance or for the benefit of a gang. And yet we still see these enhancements added to Black and brown people every single day in our criminal courtrooms. This idea that the father and the son may be affiliated with a gang is something that the DA must consider and should consider. There has to be an equal application of the law.

But we know that, as it relates to "gang crimes," San Diego County has done a very poor job of prosecuting gang crimes where the perpetrators of such crimes are white. And so the people who overwhelmingly fill our gang databases are people who are nonwhite.

What are stand-your-ground and self-defense laws and how if at all do they apply in this case?

Jones-Wright: So, in California, in our self-defense jury instructions, the jury is instructed on the right to "stand your ground" and, as a matter of fact, in the right to self-defense or defense of others jury instructions California law says that a defendant — right, someone who is being accused of committing some sort of harm, whether it is in a thought or a battery or an assault with a deadly weapon — they are not required to retreat, meaning if someone comes to them, as in the victim in this case and her mother, they are not required to run away, they're not required to retreat. They were entitled under those facts to stand their ground and defend themselves in the face of these persons who were acting violent and yelling perturbative labels and racial slurs at them.

What are bystander laws and why weren't others present arrested?

Jones-Wright: I really don't want to talk about bystander laws in this case because they are completely irrelevant. I was mortified at the words of the district attorney's representative calling the actions of those adults "standing by." The fact that the DA's office said: "I can't prosecute a parent for standing by." We have to ask ourselves, how did the child — and the children because there was a separate person who was swinging a pipe and hit the victim's mother — how did they get there? How did they get there with weapons in hand in the accompaniment of adults?

So we are not talking about standing by. If races were reversed and we were talking about white victims and Black people who were accused of such a horrific crime, we would see that every single person would have been at least detained, questioned as suspected people. And, honestly, what we know to be true is that all of them would have been prosecuted from some form of liability, an accomplice liability.

What about parental responsibility laws? Could the parents be held liable for the actions of the two minors who were arrested and charged?

Jones-Wright: Now, I can tell you that in California parents have a legal duty to act, and parents can be held responsible for the criminal actions of their children. All we have to do is look to penal code section 272 A.2.

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