For all of the angst generated by the Prop. 57 juvenile transfer hearing, there was never a real chance that Daniel Marsh would have his matter handled in juvenile court. However, that is of course not the end of story and the next battle will begin once the newly-signed SB 1391 takes effect on January 1 – if it takes effect. More on that shortly.
Having listened to a portion of Daniel Marsh’s testimony, I felt like I was in a time warp. One thing that appears missing in all of this discussion is perspective – perspective by Daniel Marsh, perspective by the court, perspective by all involved.
Perspective because the murder happened in 2013, the trial happened at the end of 2014, and thus for the most part, he has not even been in prison for four years – and yet, to listen to him talk, he talks about his life journey.
When he took the stand, he was very articulate in his ability to describe his state of mind. He described his state of mind as rapidly spiraling out of control. He could not sleep or eat. He was bombarded with perpetual thoughts of violence. He used drugs and alcohol as a way to dull the thoughts and provide relief – he said that that, along with watching gore movies, worked for a time but was less and less effective, even as he was consumed by such behavior for more and more of his time.
He was crying out for help. His friends for the most part enabled him, rather than trying to intervene. His thoughts centered on violence, killing people, hurting people and doing horrible things.
“I told everyone,” he said. His friends were of no help. “We were all damaged kids.”
He explained, “I felt like I was losing my mind. I didn’t want what was happening to me to happen to me.”
Mr. Marsh was able to talk about treatments, things that didn’t work, things that he seems to feel are working. But, while he talked about empathy, he also talked about how he couldn’t bear to think about the horrible things he did – I didn’t feel remorse or passion behind what he said.
He was able to intellectually explain that what he did was horrible, but it is not clear there are any feelings or emotion behind it.
Judge McAdam in his ruling noted: “Based on the record before the Court and given that he has not addressed the main traumas in his life at all in the five years since the crime, there is virtually no chance that Marsh will be rehabilitated before he turns 25 years old – it is certainly not a likelihood.”
The judge interestingly noted that the court reached this conclusion “while giving credit to Marsh’s testimony” and it “did not find him to be making an effort to manipulate or mislead the court in any way.”
The judge noted: “His tone and demeanor were appropriate and matched the seriousness the moment.”
The judge further added: “Marsh is coping well with being incarcerated: he is not exhibiting the signs of a serious mental illness. He has gained some insight and become more mindful, as Dr. Soulier concluded. This is a positive development. But this is merely coping in the most controlled environment; he has not made any meaningful progress on addressing the triggers of childhood and incident trauma that pose a risk to society. Even Dr. Soulier could not say beyond a reasonable medical certainty that Marsh was likely to be rehabilitated within the time.”
In the testimony, it was easy to see from hindsight that Daniel Marsh was headed into a very dark and disturbing place. Judge McAdam writes: “In retrospect, it is easy to criticize both parents for failing to co-parent and not supporting a more robust treatment plan.”
But the judge adds, “But placing the blame on the mother and father really misses the point. No one is to blame for the crimes except Daniel Marsh.”
Here I find myself troubled by this comment a little bit. On the one hand, I think that blaming the parents is unfair – even if there is blame to go around here. There are many situations where there is childhood trauma, poor choices or bitter divorces, and it doesn’t lead to double murder and torture of the victims.
On the other hand, part of the entire problem here is we are talking about the actions of a 15-year-old child. To say that no one is to blame for the crimes except for Mr. Marsh satisfies us in one respect in that it moves the focus back to the individual, but it ignores that something went terribly wrong to create a 15-year-old who ended up committing such a heinous crime.
The questions that the court must grapple with, however, are how to reconcile the gravity of this offense against the age of the offender, during a time when we are starting to much better understand the impacts of childhood trauma and brain development on the commission of crime.
That becomes all the more urgent because this issue is not going away. Judge McAdam intentionally deferred discussion of SB 1391, but clearly that now looms large.
SB 1391 eliminated any 14- or 15-year-old minors to be tried in adult court. SB 1391 goes into effect on January 1, 2019, and the DA believes it “may overturn the Marsh sentence and ruling by Judge McAdam and will require that Marsh be released at the age of 25.”
Not everyone agrees with that assessment. In his signing statement, Governor Jerry Brown wrote that “in reviewing this bill I have considered the fact that young people adjudicated in juvenile court can be held beyond their original sentence if necessary.”
He noted, “Welfare and Institutions code sections 1800 and 1800.5 allow either the Director of the Division of Juvenile Justice, or the Board of Juvenile Hearings, to petition for extended incarceration if a youth is deemed truly dangerous. This mechanism exists under current law, and has been used in the past when circumstances have warranted. It will continue to be used when needed, and there are no time limits prescribed in statute.”
DA Jeff Reisig questions that evaluation. He wrote in his release, “Proponents of SB 1391 have argued that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation can keep Marsh in prison longer based on a provision that has never been applied.”
Then there is the legal challenge.
Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen filed an appeal to the Sixth Appellate District, arguing that SB 1391 violates the California Constitution, saying that “it is not consistent with Proposition 57 and does not further the intent of Proposition 57 as it was approved by the voters.”
Like Jeff Reisig, his Yolo counterpart, Jeff Rosen argues that, while he sees the need for rehabilitating teen offenders, he believes that SB 1391 “does not take into account people who are past redemption.”
He said, “There are dangerous exceptions.”
But are there, and if so, how would we know at this early point in time? These are all issues that will have to be sorted out by the courts.
As Mr. Reisig conceded in his press release: “This appeal will take many months to reach its conclusion.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting