There is a good amount of confusion on the Daniel Marsh case, as exemplified by the guest commentary by Lloyd Billingsley.
He writes that the hard-fought conviction “has now been set aside and Marsh has a chance for release in 2023, when he is only 25 years old. This is not due to discovery of new exculpatory evidence or some procedural problem in the trial. It is all due to the 2016 Proposition 57, which ‘reduces the possible punishment for a class of persons, namely juveniles.’”
He noted that the “court reversed Marsh’s conviction for the proceeding in juvenile court.” He adds, “Whatever one chooses to call it, the proceeding is clearly a new trial for a sadist who has never shown the slightest remorse for his savage actions. In effect, the proceeding puts the district attorney and prosecutors on trial for their legal and fully justified decision to try Daniel Marsh as an adult.”
He opines, “The new hearing for convicted murderer Daniel Marsh is an affront to justice, a waste of time and money, and utterly callous to victims of violent crime. Daniel Marsh, meanwhile, is not the only shut-and-open case in the Proposition 57 pipeline.”
The problem is that none of this is really accurate. All that has occurred is that the appellate court ruled that Mr. Marsh, under provisions of Prop. 57, is entitled to a hearing as to whether he should have originally been tried as a juvenile or an adult.
As I wrote a month ago, it all makes for dramatic news coverage, but the reality is that nothing is going to change. Indeed, the appellate court comments that “it could be argued that it is not even remotely probable that the juvenile court would find the present defendant suitable for juvenile court.”
At the time of the original trial, the Yolo County DA’s office had the authority to “direct file” Mr. Marsh’s case in adult court. But, under Prop. 57, passed in November 2016, direct filing of juvenile cases in adult court has been eliminated.
Under Prop. 57, all criminal matters that involve juvenile defendants begin in a delinquency court which has a hearing to determine whether or not to transfer the defendant to adult court.
But here’s the thing: Daniel Marsh’s case may deserve the right to due process under the current law, but this is not a close call.
According to the law, the judge would consider five criteria to determine whether the defendant qualifies for juvenile court. These are the degree of criminal sophistication, capacity for rehabilitation, previous delinquency history, success of prior rehabilitation attempts, and the circumstances and gravity of the alleged offense.
Under at least four of those criteria, any objective evaluation of Daniel Marsh is going to demonstrate there is no possible way that he is going to qualify for juvenile consideration.
In a 12-page court ruling, the appellate justices note: “The People concede that this initiative applies retroactively to defendant’s pending appeal, and that we must conditionally reverse for proceeding in juvenile court.”
They add, “Although it could be argued that it is not even remotely probable that the juvenile court would find the present defendant suitable for juvenile court, the People do not object to a conditional reversal and remand for the juvenile court to rule on the issue.”
Mr. Billingsley says that “the proceeding is clearly a new trial…” Not even remotely. It will be a brief hearing. And then the judge will deny the petition and the original sentence, which was provisionally set aside, will be reimposed.
The problem that I have here is that DA Jeff Reisig used a technical ruling that will have no real impact – to play politics. And, while in an election year that is to be expected, the damage from that political ploy has caused harm to the family of the victims as well as confusion to the community, as embodied within the op-ed by Mr. Billingsley.
The DA was quick to release a statement to the media following the decision by the appellate courts: “It’s really disappointing, because this case highlights one of the serious flaws with Prop. 57.” He added, “I don’t think the voters ever would have contemplated that this killer would be a beneficiary.”
Except that he is not going to be a beneficiary. Yes, he gets his hearing. Yes, it will be a temporary inconvenience, but, once again, as the court indicated, “it could be argued that it is not even remotely probable that the juvenile court would find the present defendant suitable for juvenile court.”
Using the test established by the courts, Daniel Marsh fails four of the five criteria – and blatantly fails.
So why the hand wringing? If the defendant is entitled to a hearing and his due process, let him have it and then let the system work as it is supposed to. In the end, Mr. Reisig wants to be able to make the sole determination as to whether someone should be tried as a juvenile and adult.
In the Daniel Marsh matter, it does not make a difference who makes that call. In other matters, juveniles with no record and fairly minor charges against them have been held in adult court. We have covered numerous cases where the minors spend several years in the system held in custody, charged as adults with no oversight as to whether or not they should be in the adult system. They then get acquitted outright or convicted of lesser crimes and revert to the juvenile system – but they have lost a lot of time and opportunity in the meantime.
Daniel Marsh is not such a case – he’ll quickly be denied, have his sentence reimposed, and go back to serving his time in prison.
—David M. Greenwald reporting