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Name: People v. Brewer
Case #: F070564
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 11/17/2017

Proposition 57 does not apply retroactively to juvenile defendants who were tried, convicted, and sentenced before its effective date, but whose cases were not yet final on appeal. Brewer, who was 16 years old at the time of the offense, was convicted in criminal court of a number of sex and other offenses committed during a first degree burglary. A One Strike allegation was found true. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. After his case was affirmed on appeal, he petitioned for rehearing to seek application of Proposition 57 to his case. The court granted rehearing to consider the issue. Held: Affirmed. In 2000, Proposition 21 gave prosecutors the discretion to bring certain charges against specified minors directly in criminal court, without a fitness finding by the juvenile court. Proposition 57, effective November 9, 2016, eliminated this discretion and mandates that all criminal cases against minors commence in juvenile court. The provisions of Proposition 57 affecting only juvenile offenders has no retroactivity provision. Although there is a presumption that statutes operate prospectively, when the Legislature has amended a statute to reduce the punishment for a particular crime, it is assumed, absent contrary evidence, that it was intended to apply to all nonfinal judgments (In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 720). Proposition 57 does have the potential to reduce the range of permissible punishment for a class of offenders, but it does not reduce the punishment for a particular crime. Thus, the principles set forth in Estrada do not overcome the strong presumption of prospective-only application.

Proposition 57 does not create an affirmative defense to a finding of unfitness that was previously unavailable to juvenile offenders. Even though the prosecution could have filed its case against Brewer in criminal court, it proceeded by way of a juvenile wardship petition. The juvenile court found Brewer was not a fit and proper subject to be dealt with in juvenile court. On rehearing, Brewer argued that application of Proposition 57 to his case would have “tipped the scales in favor of [Brewer] remaining in the juvenile court system.” For example, he states he would have been afforded a hearing without a presumption of unfitness and the prosecution would have had the burden of proof on the issue of fitness. While new defenses generally are given retroactive application, Proposition 57 did not create a true defense. Brewer’s argument was based on his personal circumstances and the retroactive application of the Proposition 57 cannot be decided on the basis of the particular facts of a case.

Failing to apply Proposition 57 retroactively to defendant’s case does not deny him due process. There is no express constitutional guarantee giving a minor the right to trial in juvenile court, or affording him a presumption of fitness for trial in the juvenile court. No authority establishes that a rebuttable presumption of unfitness impacts a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. Therefore, neither the removal of the presumption of unfitness nor a change in the burden of proof as to the issue of fitness implicates a juvenile offender’s due process rights.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: