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California: Felons with Prior Juvenile Strikes Excluded from County Jail Placement Under Realignment Act

The California Court of Appeal held on March 20, 2013 that a prisoner whose prior record includes a juvenile adjudication for a serious or violent felony may not receive a county jail commitment, even if that was the intent when the legislature, in response to a federal court order mandating that the state prison system reduce its population, passed the Realignment Act (Act). [See, e.g.: PLN, Aug. 2013, p.20].

Under the Act, most prisoners with felony convictions are now committed to county jails instead of state prisons. Consistent with the Three Strikes Law, the Act excludes from its provisions prisoners with prior serious or violent felony convictions. Although the Act is silent about prior juvenile adjudications, its legislative history suggests that lawmakers had intended to exclude from prison felons whose prior “strikes” were the result of juvenile adjudications.

Such an interpretation of the Act, however, would conflict with the Three Strikes Law, which requires a commitment to state prison for any felon with a serious or violent strike – regardless of whether or not the strike was a juvenile adjudication.

The Court of Appeal held that this conflict must be resolved in favor of the voter-approved Three Strikes Law, which, as an initiative statute, may only be amended with voter approval or, under its express terms, by a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Thus, prisoners with serious or violent felony convictions as a result of juvenile adjudications are ineligible for county jail placement under the Act. See: People v. Delgado, 214 Cal.App.4th 914, 154 Cal.Rptr.3d 337 (Cal.App. 2d Dist. 2013), review denied.

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