Defense lawyers argued Wednesday that a judge, not prosecutors, should decide whether three teens accused in last year's killing of a Glendale high school senior are tried as adults.
The lawyers asked the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles to find that the teens had been improperly charged with murder because California law does not permit minors to be indicted by a grand jury. With an indictment, a judge does not have an opportunity to review the prosecutor's decision to try a minor as an adult.
"What the drafters [of the law] wanted to do here was put a judge in the mix," argued attorney Mark J. Geragos, who represents Karen Terteryan, now 18. "They want judges to make the determination."
An appellate court decision is expected within a few weeks.
If the court agrees, attorney Andrew Flier said he will move to dismiss murder charges against his clients, Rafael Gevorgyan, 16, and Anait Msryan, 15.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Matthew Monforton, however, promised the case will go forward.
During the 40-minute hearing, all three justices battered Monforton with procedural questions on Proposition 21, the ballot measure approved by voters last year that allows minors to be tried as adults.
"Why do you have to go by route of indictment?" Associate Justice Reuben A. Ortega asked. "No matter how heinous the crime, they are still juveniles."
Defense lawyers argued that California law states that a judge shall decide during a preliminary hearing whether a minor should be tried as an adult or juvenile.
As a result, they argued, a grand jury cannot indict juveniles because they would lose their right to a preliminary hearing.
But prosecutors contended that such hearings are optional.
The state Supreme Court is considering a separate constitutional challenge to Proposition 21.
The defense in a San Diego case argues that Proposition 21 violates the separation-of-powers doctrine by curtailing a judge's authority to decide if minors should be tried as adults and transferring that power to prosecutors.
While the procedural issues are decided on appeal, the Glendale murder case is on hold.
It has been more than a year since 17-year-old Raul Aguirre was clubbed and stabbed to death as he tried to break up a fight.
All three defendants--the first juveniles in Los Angeles County to be tried as adults under Proposition 21--have been in custody since their arrests in May 2000.
Initially, the trio was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and street terrorism, which would have entitled them to a preliminary hearing.
Three months later a grand jury indicted the defendants on the same charges, circumventing the need for a preliminary hearing.
But L.A. County Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler ruled that minors could not be indicted. He later ruled that Terteryan could be indicted and tried as an adult.