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Name: People v. Superior Court (Lara)
Case #: E067296
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 03/13/2017

Fitness hearing under Proposition 57 available for juvenile offenders whose cases were directly filed, but not yet tried, in adult court prior to the effective date of Proposition 57. In March 2016, the People directly filed a criminal complaint in adult court against Lara, a minor. Following the passage of Proposition 57, the trial court granted Lara’s petition for a fitness hearing to have the juvenile court decide whether he should be tried in adult court. The People filed a writ of mandate/prohibition on the ground that Proposition 57 could not be applied to the minor’s case retroactively. Held: Petition denied. Proposition 57 eliminated the People’s ability to directly file charges against a juvenile offender in adult court and instead requires the juvenile court to decide whether a minor should be transferred to adult court. (Welf. & Inst. Code § 707, subd. (a).) Although changes in the law ordinarily apply prospectively, but not retroactively, a statute does not apply retroactively merely because some of the facts or conditions upon which its application depends came into existence prior to its enactment. A law addressing the “conduct of trials” governs conduct in the future and is applied prospectively, rather than retroactively, when it is applied to a trial occurring after the law’s effective date, regardless of when the underlying crime occurred. (Tapia v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 282.) Proposition 57’s requirement that a juvenile court assess whether the minor should be tried in adult court or juvenile court is a “law governing the conduct of trials,” which can only be applied to trials occurring in the future. Here, the trial court properly granted the minor’s request for a fitness hearing because the minor’s trial had not yet occurred when Proposition 57 became effective. [Editor’s Note: The court did not consider whether In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740 applies to Proposition 57 and did not address Lara’s equal protection argument.]

Under the unique circumstances of this case, the Court of Appeal created a “cause” and “law of the case” even though the People’s mandamus petition was denied without the setting of an order to show cause. “When an appellate court considers a petition for a writ of mandate or prohibition, it is authorized in limited circumstances to issue a peremptory writ in the first instance, without having issued an alternative writ or order to show cause.” (Lewis v. Superior Court (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1232, 1236, citing Palma v. U.S. Industrial Fasteners, Inc. (1984) 36 Cal.3d 171.) It is generally recognized that while a mandamus petition may be granted on a peremptory basis without the setting of an order to show cause (thereby creating a cause and law of the case), a petition that is denied without an order to show cause fails to create a cause and cannot constitute a law of the case. In light of this maxim, the court here considered whether its denial of the People’s petition without setting an order to show cause, or hearing oral argument, failed to create a cause and law of the case. In this case, the court took jurisdiction and consolidated five emergency stay petitions filed by the People in a two-week period and received briefing on each petition. After issuing an initial opinion denying the People’s petition, the court granted rehearing on its own motion, solicited further briefing, and issued the instant opinion denying the People’s petition. The court’s order requesting an informal response and published opinion on the merits of the case explicitly informed the parties of the court’s view that the opinion created a cause and law of the case. Finding no authority to the contrary, the court concluded that, under the unique circumstances of this case (which required expedited review), a cause and law of the case were created.

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