Reisig Pushes Back against Reform while Yolo Leads the Way on Juvenile Prosecutions as Adults


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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 thoughts on “Reisig Pushes Back against Reform while Yolo Leads the Way on Juvenile Prosecutions as Adults”

  1. Robert Canning

    C’mon Jim, these kinds of either/or questions don’t really help the discussion. Moving the meter toward one group over the other – no matter which way, is not a good thing. It’s the balance that counts.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        The problem is that you see two of the worst offenders of the current imbalance reflected in the fact that Sac is twice the state average and Yolo is four times the state average. I’ve seen a lot of the direct file cases, most of them didn’t need to be charged as adults. Ironically the one guy who really did, Marsh, might get caught up in the abuse of the system.

        1. Howard P

          You single out an individual… yet leave out those who murdered Mockus… and Huynh…

          Fascinating…  guess you are too much of a “newbie”, or never knew Daniel, who a few years earlier, got a special award from the Red Cross for saving a life…

          Guess you are OK with trying some kids with MH issues as adults, for murder, other crimes, and not others… where do you draw the line?

          Apparent that you’d not want any minor under your care, or related to you, tried as an adult, no matter what…

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          Howard: This bill applies to 14 and 15 year olds.  Were the perps in those cases that young?  That’s why this discussion is focused on Marsh.  Although tomorrow, I will have a good counter-example to illustrate.

          “Apparent that you’d not want any minor under your care, or related to you, tried as an adult, no matter what…”

          What in the world are you even talking about?

  2. Tia Will

    Who is more important? Victims/potential victims or kids who commit crimes?”

    they ( children) are less deserving of the most severe punishments.’”

    I believe the current issue arises from asking the wrong questions. We do not have to decide who is more “important” if we focus on the central issue of how to keep all of us as safe as possible.

    The second error IMHO  is attempting to decide “who deserves the most severe punishments”. Again, this misses the central point of how to keep our society as safe as possible. I do not see “punishment”as a route to safety. If it were,with our high rate of incarceration, surely we would be the safest comparable country on earth, yet we are not.

    Those who are guilty of lesser crimes or non violent crimes should be rehabilitated, not punished. Often with ankle bracelets, no incarceration at all would probably be the best choice.

    Those, perhaps such as Mr. Marsh, who are factually guilty of heinous crimes, may not be able to be rehabilitated in the sense of being able to safely integrate into society. That does not mean any benefit will come from “punishing him”. If he is indeed “a psychopath” no amount of “punishment” is going to change that.

    If that is true then the only option we have is provision of housing that ensures he is not able to harm others, nor be harmed by others. My point at the time of his conviction and now is that we need safe, secure, but non punitive housing for those for whom we will never approve re entry into our society. For cases in which mental health is an issue, a psychiatric hospital might be a better choice than either juvenile or adult detention centers for Mr. Marsh and those like him whose brains are functioning outside the norms of our society. In that case, we would not have to be considering this issue using his particular case and re-traumatizing the victim’s family at all.


    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think a key question – at least in most cases – is why does over-charging or over-punishing kids protect or help victims or potential victims?

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