RANCHO CUCAMONGA (CBSLA) — As part of his final legislative actions as governor of California, Jerry Brown on Sunday signed a pair of bills limiting how minors are prosecuted for crimes.
One of those, Senate Bill 1391, prevents prosecutors from trying a juvenile in adult criminal court for acts committed while they were 14 or 15 years of age, even for serious offenses like murder and rape.
Dan Middleton is wondering how the new law will affect the case of the teen accused of killing his granddaughter Madyson. He says there is not a day that goes by he doesn’t think about her.
“She was very vibrant and questioning and talkative. ‘Chatty Maddy’ was her name,” says Middleton.
In 2015, Maddy’s neighbor Adrian Gonzalez allegedly lured the 8-year-old into his mother’s Santa Cruz apartment, raping and killing her.
“He was an acquaintance, some might say, almost a friend of hers, so it’s hard,” says Middleton.
A judge last year said Gonzalez would be treated as an adult given the seriousness of the crimes, to which he pleaded not guilty in May. “He had experts on the stand that said he has all the indications of a psychopathic, violent, sexual deviant predator,” Middleton contends.
However, proponents of the law say juveniles should have the opportunity to be rehabilitated for their crimes.
“For a person who’s 15, when he does a crime, no matter how bad it is, you ought first to go get the treatment in therapy available through the juvenile system, rather than being locked up for 50 years to life with a bunch of adults,” said Ted Fairbanks, an attorney with the Santa Cruz Public Defender’s Office.
Middleton sympathizes, but disagrees when it comes to the severity of Gonzalez’s crimes.
“I feel sorry for kids that have problems, get into trouble, but up to a certain point,” says Middleton. He says people like Gonzalez are just too dangerous to release when they turn 25 and that he’s working with the families of other victims to get the law amended or repealed through Maddy Child Angel of Santa Cruz, a nonprofit dedicated helping “prevent child abduction, abuse and violence by predators known by the potential victim.”
“We wanna protect our communities, whether it’s from this fellow or anybody else,” says Middleton.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-33) of Long Beach authored the bill.
“Thirty years of harsh sentencing laws resulted in overcrowded prisons without improving public safety,” Lara said in a statement. “We need to be tough but smart on crime. With these laws, California is reducing mass incarceration through research-based reforms that will contribute to public safety.”
Brown also signed SB 439 into law, which makes 12 years the minimum age for prosecution in juvenile court, except in extreme cases like rape or murder. State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-30) of Los Angeles authored that bill.