DA Jeff Reisig has been pushing back on Senate Bill 1391, and he has enlisted the family of Daniel Marsh’s victims to help. They believe if Governor Brown signs the legislation on his desk, that means Daniel Marsh will be released.
Back in early September, led by Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig and Sacramento County DA Anne Marie Schubert, the California District Attorneys Association held a press conference to push for Governor Brown to veto SB 1391. The press conference featured family members of the victims of Daniel Marsh.
In a letter to Governor Brown, they argued, “Senate Bill 1391 eliminates the authority for a court to decide whether a 14- or 15-year-old charged with certain serious offenses is unfit for the juvenile system.”
They called the bill “well-intentioned” but argue that it “inappropriately applies a one-size-fits-all approach to situations that call for individual and unique examinations. In so doing, SB 1391 puts our communities at risk.”
The poster child case for this pushback is the murder by Daniel Marsh, at the time 15 years old, who “savagely tortured and murdered an elderly couple in their home.” The DAs write: “He had methodically planned his attack, targeted the victims at random, and committed his heinous acts out of morbid curiosity.”
They add, “The details of the murders shocked even the most hardened professionals in the Yolo County criminal justice system.”
One of the family members of the victims, Victoria Hurd, told the local paper that, while she supports efforts to rehabilitate certain juvenile offenders, “this isn’t the kid that got caught with pot three times,” she said of Marsh. “He’s a psychopath. This was a calculated murder.”
“Every person that could come into contact with this person is in jeopardy,” added Sarah Rice, Ms. Hurd’s daughter.
This bill leads to lots of questions. The first is whether the release of Marsh is automatic under this bill and the second is one of some irony – the people leading the press conference just happen to be prosecutors in two of the counties that most use direct file as a way to circumvent the juvenile justice system with child defendants.
Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig – an opponent of most if not all the reform efforts – has pushed back on Proposition 57, for instance. Daniel Marsh is back in Yolo right now and they will have hearings starting October 1 on whether Mr. Marsh’s case will be re-heard as a juvenile matter.
In the case of Prop. 57, it would appear that is merely a matter of formality. And Mr. Marsh will likely be denied reclassification.
SB 1391 has more teeth than Prop. 57. But that still doesn’t mean that Daniel Marsh will be released. DAs are worried that it will take away discretion from judges or power from prosecutors and they believe – or are attempting to scare people to believing – that “dangerous people will be released from the juvenile system.”
This is enough to convince people like Marcos Breton, Sac Bee columnist, that the legislation goes too far, even though it addresses a real concern.
SB 1391 states: “Children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing. Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, we explained, ‘they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.'”
Mr. Breton argues: “The Senate analysis isn’t wrong. The intentions of Mitchell and Lara are not wrong. But SB 1391 is too broad. It offers a one-size-fits-all approach to juvenile crime cases that are complex and different.”
But Jan Levine and Brian Burwitz point out, in their Sac Bee op-ed this week, that’s not exactly true.
They push back that the DAs “fail to mention that existing California laws allow a judge to indefinitely keep a person in Division of Juvenile Justice custody.”
What SB 1391 means, in their view, is that “judges could make a decision about a case when they have the most information. Instead of asking judges to decide at the front end who a 14- or 15-year-old will be in 10 or 25 years, they would be able to examine a teenager’s behavior and evaluation over a 10-year period, and then determine whether he or she was rehabilitated or needs to remain incarcerated.”
So that means the exception – if Daniel Marsh really is an exception – should not invalidate this law.
They also point out something more important. DA Jeff Reisig is not just protecting the public from Daniel Marsh, he is also trying to protect his department’s prosecution policies.
Jan Levine and Brian Gurwitz point out something else… In Sacramento, the number of minors sent to adult court is twice the state average. Here in Yolo County, the authors note, “the rate is four times the state average.”
Sacramento and Yolo Counties, therefore, are well above state average in terms of trying juveniles as adults, and they just happen to be pushing back on a bill that would make that more difficult. Is the Marsh case a real threat to public safety, or an excuse to attempt to convince the governor to veto efforts at badly needed reform?
—David M. Greenwald reporting