Mitchell bill moves forward to give jury trials when minors may later face felony penalties

May 04, 2012

(Sacramento, CA) AB 1709, authored by Assemblymember Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and requiring that a minor have the right to a jury trial if the verdict or decision in the case may legally affect his sentence or status in future criminal cases, has passed the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

Our juvenile justice system is supposed to protect and rehabilitate minors to prevent future incarceration, noted Assemblywoman Mitchell. But if a juvenile crime is serious enough to count later as a third strike, the minor should get a jury trial. Adult rights must be afforded where there are adult consequences.

AB 1709 has been introduced because many youths are subject to inequitable justice through the juvenile court system, which does not allow for jury trials, even when a minor is being tried for offenses that would count as a strike against their criminal record. Instead of protecting minors, the current system prevents minors from having the same level of protection that would be afforded to adults.

Since Proposition 21 passed, minors have been subjected to increased criminal penalties and incorporated into the adult system, swelling the courts' backlog and the prison system. Currently, juvenile adjudications that are strikes can be used as factors to determine in future conviction sentences. Implementation of this law has subjected juveniles to a system that treats adults with greater fairness and benefit of the doubt than children. Potentially, minors can be subjected to life in prison based on offenses committed while they were under the age of 16, despite the reality that he/she was not entitled to have a jury decide his innocence or guilt. AB 1709 proposes to correct this inequality by assuring that minors have a right to due process through the jury trial system.

At its core, this bill is about fairness, said Assemblymember Mitchell (D-47) California's prisons and jails are filling up with youths who will find it forever difficult to be accepted back into society at large. The least we can do, having failed to rehabilitate them, is ensure that they get the same due process to which hardened, career criminals are entitled in court.

AB 1709 will now be considered in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.