California Proposition 57 Gives Juvenile Justice a Much-Needed Facelift

Dominic Solari 

COL 2020

On November 8, 2016, California’s Proposition 57 passed with a majority vote and will now be implemented into the state’s criminal justice system. Among other clauses of the proposition was a measure that allowed juveniles who commit crimes to obtain hearings before a judge to determine whether or not they will be tried as an adult or as a juvenile. This measure was an extremely important one for the security of the state and for the juveniles themselves, as it ensures they get access to the resources they need and fair trials that will be suitable for their cases and their individual needs.

An important factor in the way juveniles are handled in the California criminal justice system is which court they are tried in. The majority of juveniles, especially those who commit less extreme crimes, are tried in juvenile court, where the juvenile division of the Public Defender’s office handles their case. However, if they commit a serious crime, the District Attorney’s Office can try them as adults in normal criminal court, where the punishments are more severe. The difference between the two courts is diametrically stark. According to Ken Puckett of the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, juvenile courts focus on rehabilitation, whereas adult courts are focused on punishment. In juvenile court, Puckett explains, “the mentality is that they’re kids, and they are allowed to make mistakes because the brain is not developed yet.” [1]

Prior to Proposition 57, the decision to try juveniles of certain ages was solely up to the District Attorney’s office. The ability of the D.A.’s office to try certain juveniles as adults in normal criminal court, a process known as direct filing, was a relatively new practice. Eight years ago, the California legislature approved direct filing for juveniles 16 years and older who commit serious crimes, as denoted in section 707B of the Welfare and Institutions Code. [2] This includes crimes such as assault with a firearm, arson of an inhabited dwelling, and sexual assault. In extreme cases, juveniles as young as 14 can also be tried in adult court, where they can face up to life in prison (the death sentence being the only punishment prohibited for these juveniles). Puckett explains that, in the past, the District Attorney’s office only used these options in extreme cases, taking into account a number of factors such as the nature of the crime and the prior history of the juvenile.   

While few oppose retaining the option for a juvenile to be tried as an adult in certain cases, much of the problem with the previous system was that it is left to the discretion of the District Attorney of each respective Californian county. As Vickie Delph of the San Joaquin County Public Defender’s Office explains, with the restoration of the pretrial hearing, the attorney for the D.A.’s office and the attorney for the Public Defender’s office can provide evidence and argue their reasoning for whether or not the juvenile should be tried as an adult. This change will help to catch more juveniles in the rehabilitation net which has been robustly developed in the juvenile justice system, and will ultimately create a fairer system while maintaining public safety. [3]

This problem is a critical issue within our society since youths are our future. What happens to these juveniles in their critical years of development shapes the kind of people they will be in the future, and therefore ultimately impacts the state of our society for years to come. The improper handling of a juvenile criminal now could have repercussions on that person and on our society fifty years down the line. It is crucial to ensure we handle our juveniles properly and supportively now so they do not get trapped in the system and in a life of criminal activity. It is in our best interest to rehabilitate these juveniles whenever possible so they can contribute to society, and part of that is giving them the best chance to obtain the most fitting and fair trial that will give them access to the tools and help they need.

 

[1] Ken Puckett, California Criminal Justice System (2016). I

[2] California Welfare and Institutions Code, section 707B.

[3] Vickie Delph, California Criminal Justice System (2016).

The Future of the Trump Supreme Court

Jennifer Hepner

COL 2020

Trump’s election to the oval office came as a major shock to most of the nation. With the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the pending retirement of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and perhaps even Anthony B. Kennedy, president-elect Donald Trump now holds the responsibility of appointing at least three new justices to the Supreme Court within his next four years in office. It is clear that the Supreme Court will shift further right than its present standing, inciting fear in liberals and national angst about the future of our judicial system.

It is likely that Trump will fill all vacant seats with justices who are more conservative than Trump himself, ultimately preserving the right-tilting Supreme Court as it has been for decades. While liberals are optimistic that a conservative court will act as a restraint on Mr. Trump’s ambitions, many are concerned about safety rights such as abortion and affirmative action [1].

For example, the Supreme Court struck down a restrictive Texas abortion law in June by a 5-to-3 vote. This decision, the most sweeping statement on abortion since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, which reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade in 1973, declared unenforceable a law that would have significantly reduced the number of abortion clinics in Texas, leaving them only in large urban centers [2]. If Trump appoints just one new justice who opposes abortion rights, the tally would not yet tip all the way, but the court would be close in its decision. An additional appointee could tip the scale to a majority pro-life court that would certainly be resistant toward abortion rights.

Affirmative action seems safe for now as well, as the court upheld a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas by a 4-to-3 vote in 2016. The unexpected decision in this case, Fisher v. University of Texas, allowed admissions officials to continue to use race as one factor among many in creating a diverse student body [3]. Again, a single appointee would not tip this scale, but two or three could certainly change the legal status of race-conscious admissions programs at universities across the country.

In the long term, it is possible that any of Trump’s potential appointees would be more willing to enforce limits on congressional and presidential power than even the late Justice Scalia. Additionally, many younger conservatives that Trump has been considering for the appointments support a position of judicial engagement rather than deference to the political branches [4]. A conservative majority might also restrict the authority of federal agencies and could potentially vote to repeal or revise Obama-era regulations on climate change, health care, consumer protection, and Wall Street. This could also result in legislation that would repeal key parts of the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank [5].

If Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer step down within the next four years, it is likely that we will see a 6-3 conservative majority on the court for the first time since the 1930 [6]. This majority could have even more dramatic effects than a 5-4 court; it could ultimately cut back on abortion rights and eventually strike down Roe v. Wade, which Trump even said in the third presidential debate, “will happen, automatically [7].” It could cut back on the wall between church and state, permitting greater government support for public displays of religion, and it could approve stop and frisk and electronic surveillance policies that Trump has supported [8].

Ultimately, the Supreme Court only handles about 70 cases a year, meaning that in the short term, the lower federal courts, which are currently dominated by Democratic appointees, may still see lasting liberal victories in cases that will never make their way to the Supreme Court [9]. In the end, it is likely that any of Trump’s conservative constitutionalist appointees will impose at least some limits on congressional and executive actions, and for this reason, a Trump Court might ultimately be our greatest protection against any constitutional excess of his presidency [10].

 

Notes

 

[1] Liptak, Adam. “What the Trump Presidency Means for the Supreme Court.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

[2] Liptak, Adam. “Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Restrictions.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 June 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

[3] Liptak, Adam. “Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action Program at University of Texas.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 June 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

[4] Liptak, Adam. “What the Trump Presidency Means for the Supreme Court.”

[5] Rosen, Jeffrey et al. “How President Trump Could Reshape the Supreme Court—and the Country.” POLITICO Magazine, 13 Nov. 2016, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/11/donald-trump-wins-supreme-court-214449

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Liptak, Adam. “What the Trump Presidency Means for the Supreme Court.”

[10] Rosen, Jeffrey et al. “How President Trump Could Reshape the Supreme Court—and the Country.”