Monday, April 24, 2017

People v. Vela (Cal. Ct. App. - April 24, 2017)

Here are the underlying facts from today's opinion:

"When they arrived in Santa Ana, Martinez drove around 7th Street’s territory. As they were cruising the area, they talked about Ochoa’s gun and were looking for rival gang members and rival graffiti. Vela and Ochoa asked Martinez to stop because they saw two males (later identified as Martin Herrera and David Frias) whom they suspected to be rival gang members. Martinez made a U-turn and pulled into the parking lot of an apartment complex. When Martinez stopped the car, Vela got out and said that he was going to “hit these guys up.” . . .

Martinez stayed in the car and could not clearly see what was going on because there was a tree blocking his view. But Martinez was able to see some gesturing as if words were being exchanged between Vela, Ochoa, Herrera, and Frias. During the confrontation, Vela and Ochoa stood side-by-side, about three feet away from Herrera and Frias. Ochoa then pulled out his gun and Herrera raised his hands in surrender. Ochoa shot Herrera in the head, killing him. Ochoa shot Frias in the face.

Vela and Ochoa immediately ran back to Martinez’s car and got in. Ochoa was still holding the gun and placed it in his lap. Ochoa told Martinez to hurry up and leave. In an excited voice, Vela said, “Did you see those fools crying for their life?”

One victim was killed; the other survived.  Vela was sentenced to 72 years to life.  He was 16 at the time of the offense.

Here's the Court of Appeal's holding:

"In the published portion of this opinion, we conditionally reverse the judgment. Due to the electorate’s recent approval of Proposition 57, which emphasized juvenile rehabilitation, prosecutors can no longer directly file charges against a minor in an “adult” criminal court. Only a juvenile court judge can determine whether a minor can be prosecuted and sentenced as an adult, after conducting a transfer hearing, taking into account various factors such as the minor’s age, maturity, criminal sophistication, and his or her likelihood of rehabilitation.

We find that Vela is retroactively entitled to a transfer hearing because his case is not yet final on appeal. If, after conducting the hearing, the juvenile court judge determines that Vela’s case should be transferred to a court of criminal jurisdiction, then his convictions and sentence will be reinstated. But if the juvenile court determines that Vela is amenable to rehabilitation, and should remain within the juvenile justice system, then his convictions will be deemed juvenile adjudications. The juvenile court is then to impose an appropriate disposition within its discretion under juvenile court law."

Any doubt as to what the decision is going to be on remand?

I'd be glad for the victory in the Court of Appeal were I Mr. Vela, but I would simultaneously have a realistic view of the likely limited nature of today's victory.