When the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office charged teen murder suspect Daniel William Marsh as an adult this month, it did so under a California statute that says some crimes are so severe, so sophisticated, that the defendants are deemed unfit for juvenile court.
“In this case, it’s mandatory — there is no option,” District Attorney Jeff Reisig said, referring to section 602(b) of the state’s Welfare and Institutions Code, which says a person age 14 or older who personally commits a murder with at least one special circumstance, or commits any of seven serious sex crimes “shall be prosecuted under the general law in a court of criminal jurisdiction.”
“But even if my hands weren’t tied, this is a proper case for adult court,” Reisig said.
Marsh, 16, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the April 13 stabbing deaths of longtime Davis residents Oliver “Chip” Northup, 87, and his wife Claudia Maupin, 76, at their Cowell Boulevard condominium. The Davis High School student pleaded not guilty at his June 19 arraignment hearing.
Through his court-appointed attorneys, Marsh also denied enhancements alleging that he used a knife to commit the crimes, as well as four special-circumstance allegations: multiple murders, heinous and depraved murder, lying in wait and torture.
In addition to the special circumstances, the criminal complaint cites Marsh’s age at the time of his alleged crimes — 15 — “and that both victims were 65 years or older, and the defendant knew or reasonably should have known this” as the basis for elevating the case to adult jurisdiction.
His next court appearance is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, a pre-hearing conference before Yolo Superior Court Judge Timothy Fall, who has been assigned to preside over the case.
Juvenile justice history
The juvenile justice system in the United States dates back to 1899 — and 1904 in California — with reforms that sought to rehabilitate rather than punish young offenders, says John E.B. Myers, a criminal law professor at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.
“The purpose was to take children out of the criminal justice system altogether,” Myers said. “Over time, because of the heinousness of some crimes, a move came to transfer some juveniles to adult court.”
Typically, those cases were subject to a fitness hearing — a juvenile court proceeding where a judge determined which jurisdiction was best suited to handle the matter.
Then came a “tough on crime” era of 1970s, and “during that time there was a move to make more crimes such that they could be transferred to an adult jurisdiction,” Myers said. That’s when some states, including California, began enacting laws that allowed certain juvenile cases to automatically bypass juvenile court.
The Welfare and Institutions Code also gives prosecutors the discretion to file some juvenile cases directly in adult court, though they are not mandatory filings. The code — 707(b) — covers 30 separate crimes, including murder, assault, kidnapping, weapon, sex and gang-related offenses, involving minors as young as 14.
Yolo prosecutors used that code for about 3 percent of the county’s juvenile offenders last year, “so it’s a really small percentage of the cases we even consider under the discretionary statute,” Reisig said. He reiterated that the Marsh case did not qualify for such consideration.
When it comes to juvenile versus adult court, there are passionate arguments on both sides of the issue, Myers said.
On one side is the belief that “juveniles are different, and that they can be rehabilitated more easily than adults,” Myers said. But others say that “some juveniles cannot be rehabilitated. Some really are hardened criminals, and some crimes are so heinous that some feel it’s inappropriate to hold out the prospect of rehabilitation.”
For some crimes, “the penalties in juvenile court are not sufficient,” Reisig said, noting that jurisdiction over juvenile offenders expires once the defendant turns 25 years old. “In order to protect the public, you need more than that.”
Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson, whose office is handling Marsh’s defense, agreed that some juvenile cases do warrant lengthy sentences. But rehabilitation should remain part of the equation, she said.
“Juveniles possess the unique capacity to change when given appropriate support and guidance,” Olson said. “The adult court system is not equipped to rehabilitate juveniles in a comparable manner.”
Still, there are some key differences for juveniles who are convicted in adult court. While the special circumstances charged in his case would make an adult defendant eligible for capital punishment, Marsh’s young age rules out that possible fate. U.S. Supreme Court rulings have struck down the death penalty and life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile defendants, concluding that both would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
Yolo County prosecutors say Marsh, if convicted of his current charges, faces at most a prison sentence of 52 years to life — 25 to life for each murder count, plus an additional year for each weapon enhancement.
“The charges are based on the evidence presented to us so far from the Davis Police Department, however. There could be additional charges,” Reisig said. “It’s an ongoing investigation.”
Marsh is being represented by not one but two deputy public defenders, a decision Olson said she made “because of the unique issues that are involved when a child must navigate through an adult system.”
“Representing children in adult court is challenging because kids don’t adequately understand the gravity of their situation,” Olson said. “Developmental attributes such as maturity, identity, perspective and judgment are simply under-developed in juveniles, and they have a difficult time making decisions that will affect their futures in the long term.”
At Juvenile Hall
While his case is pending, Marsh is being held without bail at the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodland, which currently operates two 30-bed pods where minors are divided based on their level of risk, said Craigus Thompson, assistant superintendent of the facility.
Though he could not discuss Marsh specifically, Thompson said all the juvenile wards follow the same general schedule: breakfast, then room cleaning, followed by school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. After that comes roughly two hours of free time — which the youths may spend in their rooms or, with good behavior, visiting the library or playing games such as ping-pong, foosball or an XBox video-game system.
“Everyone is eligible to do that, regardless of what they’re in here for,” Thompson said of the recreational activities. “It’s a way for them to feel a little bit normal.”
After dinner, the youths take part in a number of evening programs, some of which — drug and alcohol treatment, anger management, counseling — seek to address the underlying issues that led to their alleged crimes. The facility also offers parenting classes, Bible studies and a mentoring/visitation program led by volunteers from Woodland’s Holy Rosary Church.
The average stay is 17 days, but for kids charged as adults, that can stretch from one to two years.
“Our main goal is to educate them while we have them here,” Thompson said.
That mission continues at the state level, where minors convicted of serious, violent or sexual offenses — including homicide — typically are housed in one of three youth facilities operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Juvenile Justice, CDCR spokesman Bill Sessa said.
Those tried and convicted as adults remain there until age 18, after which they are transferred to an adult prison to serve the remainder of their sentences, according to Sessa. Currently, the state houses 721 juvenile wards, 135 of whom are destined for the state prison system once they reach adulthood.
While at the juvenile level, “the youths are housed according to the treatment program that they’re in,” Sessa said. Some target drug and alcohol abuse, others anger/violence or mental-health concerns. Minors also attend school taught by accredited instructors.
Unlike at the adult prison level, the juvenile education and treatment programs are mandatory, comprising about three-quarters of the youths’ waking hours, Sessa said. The programs also are tailored to address critical thinking skills, recognizing that because the inmates are juveniles, their emotional development and reasoning abilities are still evolving.
“So a majority of treatment programs that we have address those issues,” Sessa said. “The law still recognizes that they’re at a point in their lives where they can change.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene