California bill would remove young people from career criminal law

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Los Angeles’ new chief prosecutor, a reformer, said Friday it’s time to remove young offenders from California’s harsh career criminal law, which can significantly extend their prison sentences. later in life.

District Attorney George Gascón, who heads the nation’s largest prosecutors’ office, backed pending legislation that would prevent juvenile ‘strikes’ from counting towards future sentencing enhancements under the ‘three strikes’ law. of the state which can lead to life imprisonment for repeat offenders. .

“The juvenile system is based on rehabilitation, not punishment,” he said. Juvenile cases are not considered criminal proceedings, and he noted that juvenile offenders do not have the same constitutional protections as adults, such as the right to a jury trial.

Still, state law treats juvenile strikes for youths 16 and older the same as adults, subjecting them to longer prison terms if they are later convicted of second and third strikes. . A second shot doubles the underlying sentence and a third serious or violent crime can trigger a life sentence.

This helps overcrowd prisons and disproportionately affects people of color, Gascón explained.

The California District Attorneys Association, which has argued with Gascón over other actions, has not yet taken a position on the proposal, said legislative director and former district attorney Larry Morse.

“I expect there will be a wide range of opinions among ADs on this bill. It’s obviously a provocative and intriguing proposal,” Morse said, in part because of the argument. that state law treats minors differently than adults.

“It makes absolutely no sense that a kid who can’t go to prom has an action at that time…that could be used down the line to count as a third strike,” said Democratic Congressman Miguel Santiago from Los Angeles, who bears the bill.

his bill would allow those who have already been struck in juvenile court to have it overturned and seek a new conviction if they are currently incarcerated.

Michele Hanisee, assistant district attorney and president of the Los Angeles County Association of Assistant District Attorneys, who also fell out with Gascón, said through a spokesperson that she could not comment because the union’s board of directors had not taken a position on the bill.

16- and 17-year-olds “are not fully developed adults” and are much more likely to be motivated by impulsive behavior or their peers, said San Diego-based clinical psychologist Rahn Minagawa. So to make them tougher years later for things they did as teenagers “is just inherently unfair,” he said, arguing for the bill.

It would take a two-thirds vote of lawmakers to change the three-strike law first approved by voters in 1994 and relaxed in a 2012 ballot to avoid imposing life sentences for petty crimes. But Democrats have that margin in the Legislative Assembly.

Gascón beat the holder of the country’s top prosecutor’s office last year as he ran on a reform platform. But he has since faced backlash, including legal action from his own employees, public criticism from the state attorneys association, and could be challenged in an election. revocable.

He also criticized the broader adult three-strikes law, saying it results in excessive and costly penalties without improving public safety.