DA Price Gets Blasted for Trying Accused Killer of Teens as a Juvenile – But Others Argue We Need to Treat Kids as Kids

Pamela Price at a press conference back in September 2021

Reformers Believe Juvenile Murder Case Should Spur Discussion of Appropriate Ways to Handle Juvenile Crime

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Berkeley, CA – An article in the Berkeley Scanner reported that the family of murder victims is angry at the Alameda DA’s office decision to try a teenager as a juvenile rather than an adult.

The result, the article claims is that the teen, charged with two murders and two attempted murders, will be “out of custody by the age 25” if not sooner.

“It feels like it’s not enough,” cousin Melani Garcia Macias said to the Scanner.  “You killed two of my family members and you are getting what feels like a slap on the wrist. You just took a whole lifetime away from two people.”

The Scanner notes that the DA’s office filed murder charges in juvenile court despite the fact that the teen was just six weeks shy of 18 when the shooting happened—October 1, 2022.

“I implore you not to lose sight of the victims in this narrative. The defendant is not a victim; he is a perpetrator of heinous acts,” the mother wrote in a letter to the DA’s office. “The defendant’s age should not shield him from the consequences of his actions; it should underscore the urgency to address the threat he poses to society.”

“The defendant knew what he was doing from the first moment he left his house that night, the second he acquired the weapon, and he entered the house to shoot and kill,” she wrote. “I stand before you, pleading for justice not just for my sons but for the countless lives disrupted by the defendant’s actions.”

Family members called this the wrong approach, believing this to be a case that should have been exception enough to be heard in adult court.

One mother said, “I am not a tough-on-crime person. I am totally progressive.”  She added, “It’s not that I believe that he should be in prison for life.”  But she called it disturbing and offensive “that two lives are only worth seven years or less.”

But while this was a tragic murder, Michael Collins of Color of Change told the Vanguard, “I think it’s often in the most challenging cases where you need to make sure that you keep that commitment,” in this case a commitment made by then incoming DA Pamela Price to “treat kids as kids.”

Collins said, “This a fulfillment of that commitment.” He noted “that’s a commitment that’s grounded in racial justice and social justice because we know the ways in which children, especially black children, have been treated in this country via the criminal justice system. That’s why there are so many jurisdictions who’ve undertaken reforms to try and keep children out of the adult system as much as possible because it is such a damaging system.”

While the Berkeley Scanner highlights the heartbreak of the families, it ends up presenting a very one-sided telling of the complex issues involved here.

Collins expressed sympathy for what the families are going through.

“I have huge sympathy for the families. I cannot even begin to imagine what they have gone through. But in this country, we have this mistaken belief that justice is measured by the length of punishment and the severity of the punishment,” he said.

He believes that this mentality has led to the mass incarceration problem and “it’s led to these huge racial disparities that we have.”

Collins pointed out, “We also recognize that children are fundamentally different from adults and should be treated as such.”

The courts have been relatively slow to catch up to research on juvenile brain development—which most researchers do not believe reaches maturity until the age of 25.

A University of North Carolina law review article in 2023, noted that “the question of how the science of adolescent brain development does or does not connect to the mens rea requirements of various offenses is not well litigated.”

However, beginning in 2005, in the Roper v. Simmons decision, the Supreme Court banned the death penalty for crime committed by anyone under the age of 18.

For the first time, the Court held “there are fundamental differences between juveniles and adults.”

These include, accounting to the law review, “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility that result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions,” “Increased vulnerability to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure,” and “Personality traits that are not as well formed and are more transitory.”

In Graham v. Florida in 2010, the court expanded this to ban life without parole sentences for juveniles who did not commit homicide and held that “these juveniles must be given a meaningful opportunity to obtain release.”

Here the court noted “it is difficult to distinguish between a juvenile whose offending reflects transient immaturity and a juvenile whose offending reflects irreparable corruption.”

The court additionally recognized “that psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds.”

The Court took this further two years later in Miller v. Alabama where it struck down mandatory life without parole for juvenile homicide offenses.

Here, “The Court pointed to transient rashness, a proclivity for risk, and an inability to assess consequences as distinctive attributes of youth that render imposition of the most severe penalties on youth too great a risk for disproportionate punishment. “

None of this of course gets discussed in the Berkeley Scanner article.

Collins explained, “I think that article is symptomatic of the 1990s Super Predator scale tactics. It’s a very lopsided piece that doesn’t take into account any of the academia on juvenile justice to read that article.”

He added, “You would think that DA Price is the first person on the planet to ever charge a juvenile as a juvenile in a homicide case.  It’s actually something that’s happened in a number of other jurisdictions throughout the country. But just the article is completely one sided and missing a lot of context and deliberately.”

In addition to research on juvenile brain development, there is also a body of research that shows the Black and brown children are more likely to be charged as adults.

A report in 2018 for example, by the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) found, “Black youth are approximately 14% of the total youth population, but 47.3% of the youth who are transferred to adult court by juvenile court judges “who believe the youth cannot benefit from the services of their court.”

The report added, “Researchers, system stakeholders, and advocates have reported on the disproportionate representation of black youth at nearly every contact point in the juvenile justice system. Some research indicates that even when accounting for the type of offense, black youth are more likely to be sent to adult prison and receive longer sentences.”

A 2021 Brennan Center report found, “Persistent and longstanding racism has fueled harsher treatment of young Black people in the justice system.”

Black youth are more likely to be criminalized overall than their white counterparts.

In late 2023, the Sentencing Project noted that despite long-term declines in youth incarceration, “Black youth remain vastly more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers. Black youth are almost five times as likely as their white peers to be held in juvenile facilities.”

For Collins, these problems have led “to these huge racial disparities that we have and none more so in our treatment of children in the criminal justice system.”

For him, Color of Change was keen to respond because, “if you read that article you come away with a very warped understanding of juvenile justice.”

He called for an evidence-based approach.

Collins explained, “There is an abundance of evidence when it comes to juveniles, whether it’s racial disparities or the brain, or the ways in which we have made really, really terrible mistakes with putting juveniles, especially young black men in the adult system.”

Pamela Price, he said, “is trying to move us away from that.  Not everybody is going to agree on it.  (But) she’s not the only person doing this.  It is something that isn’t motivated by ideology, it’s grounded in science, it’s grounded in human rights, and it’s grounded in compassion.”

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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1 Comment

  1. Jeff Shaw

    How is the Berkeley Scanner article “one-sided?”    I read the linked article.   She reported on the decision, reported on the letters the DA Office asked the family to write (the word “angry” does not appear anywhere, by the way), and she includes campaign platform statements and text from a directive in place of comment from the DA Office (who cannot comment on juvenile cases).

    On the merit of the case itself- the grandmother in her letter makes a valid point- this was a mass shooting.   While the two killed happened to be brothers (and were outside because they had just phoned their mom to be picked up) others were wounded as well (the “one mother” you quote above is the mother of a victim that survived)-  everyone was shot at indiscriminately.  It follows that if indiscriminate shooting at a party is a mass shooting, the person being charged (who has been linked to other violent crimes) is a mass shooter.    Michael Collins makes the point that it is “often the most challenging cases” where the commitment to “treat kids as kids” should be kept.   A mass shooting is certainly a challenging case.    

    Here is more from the mother of the two brothers killed:   https://www.berkeleyscanner.com/2023/11/08/jazy-and-angel-sotelo-garcia/angel-jazy-anniversary-scholarship/

     

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