By Lemuel Herg
On the Friday afternoon in Department 11, the Honorable Timothy L. Fall heard the closing statements on the defense’s motion to transfer the plaintiff, Martin Dario Bermudez, to a juvenile court, to be tried for his murder charges under the jurisdiction of juvenile law.
The plaintiff was charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and criminal street gang activity, with enhancements for participating in a criminal street gang and for the use of a deadly weapon.
The prosecution was simultaneously seeking a motion to transfer the plaintiff to an adult court, and thus proceeded to address the Welfare & Institutions Code section 707’s five criteria.
The first criterion is to prove the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor.
To prove the criminal sophistication of the plaintiff, the prosecution pointed toward Bermudez’s troublesome school records. Allegedly he would spit on teachers, assault students, drive to the homes of his classmates to threaten them in front of their parents, and even enter the wrong classroom and impersonate other students. The prosecution pointed toward Bermudez’s “See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil” tattoo as an obvious gang symbol—more evidence to the plaintiff’s criminal sophistication.
To prove the plaintiff’s maturity, he mentioned that the plaintiff has had many experiences not unlike those of a fully-grown adult: getting a job, getting shot at, and getting ready to have a baby—”He’s a man,” the prosecution proclaimed.
From the time of being incarcerated to now, Bermudez has been a model juvenile prisoner, excelling in his classes and joining religious groups. The pastor testified that “he’s been great from day one.” But the prosecution explained that this is proof of Bermudez’s maturity—he knows to be manipulative and behave when it has a chance of easing his sentence.
The brunt of the argument, however, is about the second criterion: whether the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.
Allegedly, Bermudez’s home life for the past six years has been what the prosecution labeled as a “supportive community,” yet despite this environment, Bermudez’s behavior never improved. In addition, a doctor came to evaluate Bermudez and described him as “violent” and “dangerous.”
The primary issue is that an expert came to testify about the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), explaining that the DJJ will release any juvenile once they reach the age of 25, with a few exceptions. The prosecution claimed that this is not enough time for Bermudez to fully rehabilitate.
The defense quickened to contest this point.
Throughout the trial, ten people have testified that Bermudez has been receptive to rehabilitative training—the defense claimed that Bermudez is just looking for adult role models to follow.
Never having had any role models, plus being in an abusive environment growing up and being shot three times, there is evidence that Bermudez has developed with heavy trauma. Trauma that, as testified by a psychiatrist, can be treated.
In addition, the victim of the murder was actually also the instigator, throwing the first punch and bringing over others with a baseball bat meant to intimidate Bermudez and his cousins, a few of which who were behind him. In that way, the plaintiff was merely acting in self-defense—before shooting, he even yelled “back up” to his surroundings.
The other three criteria from the W&I Code are the minor’s previous delinquent history, the success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor, and the circumstances and gravity of the offense alleged in the petition to have been committed by the minor.
As to the degree of criminal sophistication, allegedly during that time the plaintiff was falling into an emotional down-spiral, with many aspects of his life running out of his control. This emotional down-spiral correlated perfectly with his joining a gang for the previous six months before the crime.
The psychiatrist also testified that Bermudez’s violent school record is consistent with the symptoms of untreated trauma in children—plus, his violent behavior was not seen anywhere else other than at school.
The defense showed how all of Bermudez’s destructive behavior can be traced to back to a dangerous, but treatable trauma. “He’s not beyond redemption,” and can be rehabilitated before age 25.
After the prosecution responded with emphasizing their prior points, it became time for the judge’s ruling.
As a side note, the proceedings of a motion to transfer have been changed as of 2016. Due to Proposition 57, juvenile law has changed to put the burden of proof solely on the People—in other words, even crimes such as murder will stay in the juvenile courts unless the prosecution can prove otherwise.
The judge, following the five criteria of a juvenile transfer as stated by W&I Code section 707, ruled the following:
Bermudez does not have criminal sophistication; he is mature, but also suffers from some form of trauma.
He also has no juvenile history to prove whether he is able to be rehabilitated or not.
Due to the burden of proof being held by the People, and the People not putting forward any direct evidence to prove anything, the court could not rule that the plaintiff would still be a danger to society at the age of 25, the maximum age to be under the jurisdiction of the DJJ.
Thus, the motion to transfer Martin Bermudez to be tried for murder in an adult hearing was denied. He will be undergoing a private hearing in the juvenile courts, and will be tried for the maximum time possible under the DJJ, eight years.