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Name: People v. Superior Court (Walker)
Case #: D071461
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 06/08/2017

The Estrada qualification to the presumption of prospective application of statutes does not apply to Proposition 57. In 2012, Walker was charged by direct filing in adult court with attempted murder and related crimes committed when he was 17 years old, and was awaiting retrial when Proposition 57 passed in November 2016. Walker subsequently filed a motion to transfer his case to juvenile court in light of Proposition 57, which eliminated the People’s ability to directly file criminal charges against juvenile offenders in adult court and requires a transfer hearing in front of a juvenile court judge before a juvenile can be tried in adult court. The trial court granted Walker’s motion and the People filed a petition for writ of mandate/prohibition seeking to vacate the trial court’s transfer order. Held: Petition granted. Generally, laws operate prospectively only. However, In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740, sets forth an exception to that rule and provides that a new law that lessens punishment should apply to all defendants whose judgments are not yet final on the statute’s operative date. Here, the court concluded that Estrada does not apply because Proposition 57 does not mitigate the penalty for a particular offense, its procedure for transferring a case from juvenile court to adult court does not resemble the clear-cut reduction in penalty involved in Estrada, and applying Proposition 57 to cases pending in adult court and on appeal would, in many case, be procedurally complex. The court disagreed with People v. Vela (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 68).

Application of Proposition 57 to defendant awaiting retrial when Proposition 57 passed is retroactive, not prospective, application of the law. Walker also argued that the trial court properly applied Proposition 57 to his case because applying the proposition to a juvenile offender who has yet to be tried in adult court constitutes a prospective application of the law. The Court of Appeal disagreed. While a law governing the conduct of trials is applied prospectively when it is applied to conduct in the future (such as a trial that has not yet occurred), applying a change in the law to a pretrial procedure that has already occurred constitutes an impermissible retroactive application of the law. (See Tapia v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 282.) The amendments brought about by Proposition 57 pertain to the filing of charges. In Walker’s case, the filing of charges was complete several years before Proposition 57 became effective. Thus, applying Proposition 57’s filing provisions to Walker is retroactive application of the law. The court disagreed with People v. Mendoza (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 327 and People v. Superior Court (Lara) (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 753 to the extent those cases held to the contrary, and vacated the trial court’s order transferring Walker’s case to adult court.

The adult court still has jurisdiction over Walker’s case notwithstanding the amendments to Welfare and Institutions Code section 602. As amended by Proposition 57, section 602 provides that “except as provided in section 707, any person under 18 years of age when he or she violates [the law] . . . is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.” Walker argued that under the language of section 602, the moment Proposition 57 became effective all juvenile defendants prosecuted in adult court without a transfer hearing fell under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, and the adult court no longer had jurisdiction over those cases. The Court of Appeal disagreed, concluding that section 602 does not contain any express restriction on the jurisdiction of the adult court or any language indicating that the juvenile court’s jurisdiction is exclusive. Thus, section 602 does not “oust the Adult Court of jurisdiction” over cases that were pending in adult court when Proposition 57 was enacted.

Refusing to apply Proposition 57 retroactively does not violate defendant’s equal protection rights. The right to equal protection requires that people who are similarly situated with respect to the law’s legitimate purpose must be treated equally. However, even assuming that Walker is similarly situated to juveniles who committed offenses and/or had felony complaints filed against them after the effective date of Proposition 57, the disparate treatment has a rational basis: a rational voter could reasonably conclude that prospective application of the law would serve the legitimate goal of judicial economy by avoiding invalidation of proceedings already conducted in adult court for juvenile defendants against whom charges were properly directly filed in adult court under the law in effect prior to Proposition 57. The court disagreed with Walker’s argument that strict scrutiny should apply, observing that the classification at issue was based not on age but on when the crime was committed or when the complaint was filed. Walker also failed to establish that Proposition 57 impinged on any fundamental rights of children. Thus, rational basis scrutiny applied.

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