Earlier today the California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Spolin Law P.C. on an appeal that will have lasting positive effects on one of the firm’s clients.
A Spolin Law client was accused of a homicide crime based on a killing that occurred when the 17-year-old female client was confronted by an adult gang member. The prosecution filed a motion seeking to move the case to adult court. Aaron Spolin, representing the minor, opposed the motion. After an approximately two-week hearing, the juvenile court judge ruled in favor of the Spolin Law client and found her “fit” for juvenile court.
The ruling was significant because the client would have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison in adult court. Instead, now in juvenile court, the client faces a maximum sentence of seven years in a juvenile rehabilitative facility. Juvenile court is also focused primarily on rehabilitation.
To read about the original juvenile judge’s decision, click here: “Minor Charged with Homicide Crime Found ‘Fit’ for Juvenile Court.”
The prosecution appealed the judge’s decision to the California Court of Appeal. Specifically, they filed a “petition for a writ of mandate” asking the court to overturn the original juvenile judge’s decision. Prosecution appeals are extremely rare because juveniles charged with homicide crimes are almost always sent to adult court; this case was a rare exception.
The Court of Appeal was faced with two legal issues.
- What effect did the recent Proposition 57 have on how juveniles should be evaluated in deciding whether to send them to adult court?
- Did the juvenile court judge “abuse her discretion” in keeping the minor in juvenile court?
The prosecution argued that Proposition 57 (passed by California voters in November of 2016) did not change the criteria for evaluating minors and that the juvenile court judge, in this case, had abused her discretion. Spolin Law’s opposition brief argued that Proposition 57 had substantively changed the law in key areas and that the judge’s decision was supported by the defense evidence presented.
The stakes were high for the Spolin Law client. If the prosecution had won the appeal, the client would have been sent to adult court where she would have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison (instead of the current juvenile court maximum of effectively seven years).
Announcing their decision this morning, the California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Spolin Law client. They denied the prosecution’s petition and are allowing the case to proceed in juvenile court. This means that the client will remain in juvenile court.
Given the circumstances of the case and the unique background of the client, this was an eminently fair outcome. The client will now be in the juvenile court system, which has a primary focus on rehabilitation.
(Update 1/1/2019: The prosecution ended up appealing this issue to the California Supreme Court. The California Supreme Court eventually denied the prosecution’s petition and thereby effectively ruled in favor of the Spolin Law client. To read about the subsequent events in this case, read the updated article posted here.)