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DNA database imperiled by Prop. 47 ruling on juveniles, San Diego D.A. says

San Diego Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis has filed an appeal arguing that Prop. 47 should not apply to juvenile offenders.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

The California Supreme Court should overturn a lower court ruling that juvenile offenders have the same rights as adults to reduced sentences under Proposition 47, according to an appeal filed by the San Diego County district attorney.

Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis argued in a motion filed this week that if the July ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal is allowed to stand, it could force the destruction of thousands of DNA samples taken from juveniles and adults who were convicted of felonies that were reduced to misdemeanors under the measure adopted in November.

The result would be costly to taxpayers as thousands of cases would need to be evaluated to see whether the defendant’s offense was one that qualifies for “reclassification” to a misdemeanor, according to the appeal.

It also could harm the effort of law enforcement officials to use the DNA database to link defendants to other crimes, Dumanis said in an interview Wednesday.

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“Thousands of lawfully obtained DNA samples on file with the Department of Justice are hanging in the balance,” the appeal said.

Proposition 47 does not mention DNA and thus the appellate court’s reasoning that the measure requires the destruction of DNA samples from crimes that have been retroactively classified as misdemeanors is “flawed and difficult to accept,” according to the appeal signed by Dumanis.

Bardis Vakili, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of San Diego, said Dumanis “is still clinging to her mind-boggling position that having a felony record is a good thing for San Diego’s youth.”

Dumanis opposed Proposition 47, which was supported by the California Teachers Assn., the California Democratic Party, the ACLU and the NAACP, among others. She asserts that the law is less applicable to juveniles because juvenile records, by law, are sealed and the goal of the juvenile system is rehabilitation, not punishment.

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She noted that Proposition 47 does not mention juveniles and that it was sold to voters as a way to reduce overcrowding in prisons where only adults are housed.

The day after voters approved Proposition 47, prosecutors in San Diego and throughout the state, as required by law, began charging misdemeanors in cases that would have been felonies. For example, theft of less than $1,000 was reclassified as a misdemeanor.

Dumanis resisted the wholesale reclassification of cases where juveniles had already been found responsible for a crime considered a felony.

The ACLU and the San Diego public defender’s office filed a lawsuit on behalf of a San Diego teenager who had been convicted in juvenile court of a felony for commercial burglary. His sentence was reduced after the passage of Proposition 47, but issues of the DNA sample and the official court record remained.

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In July, a three-judge panel sided against the district attorney. Proposition 47 is “equally applicable to juvenile offenders,” the court ruled.

tony.perry@latimes.com
Twitter: @LATsandiego


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