Seventeen year old Marquese is what members of the juvenile
justice system call a "frequent flyer." He has been in and out of the system
for years, and has seven juvenile felony convictions, all theft-related. He has
been on probation and spent time in juvenile hall, at the juvenile camp, and at
the California Youth Authority. He was most recently charged with auto theft
and residential burglary.
Because of his repetitive criminal behavior, the fact that he was less than two
months short of being 18, and the fact that he re-offended while on parole from
the California Youth Authority, prosecutors sought to have Marquese tried in
adult court for his latest offenses. At his fitness hearing, one of his
probation officers described him as a "career criminal," who despite receiving
multiple rehabilitative services over the years continues to break the law as
soon as he is released from detention.
Defense Attorney Gilda Valeros disagrees. She sees him as exactly the
sort of kid that the juvenile system could help, primarily because of his
personality. He is still very young emotionally, she says, and very dependent
on adults for guidance and approval. He is very bright, and has does well when
he is in an institutional setting: he does not cause trouble, does his school
work, and does not participate in gang activities. He reoffends when he is
released, she believes, because he is not given adequate support and
supervision. She speculated that, in fact, he may unconsciously be trying to
get caught in order to be brought back into the system, which is the safest
place he has known. She said, "It's a very profound thing when you have such a young man not really seeing anything in either his immediate family or his community that he can become invested in, legitimately and productively and legally. . . . Unfortunately, the most stable environments he ever had were in institutions."
Marquese's mother has serious substance abuse problems, and some of Marquese's
younger siblings had been temporarily removed from her care by the state. (By
the time this happened, Marquese was already in the juvenile justice system,
serving time in facilities.) She was in and out of jail during his childhood, and says that she taught Marquese to steal when he was young. She told FRONTLINE that her drugs of choice were heroin and crack cocaine. At the fitness hearing, a probation officer described their home as "a crack house." Despite all this, Marquese loves his mother very
much and is very protective of her.
At one point, Marquese was paroled from CYA to the custody of his aunt. She was
a young woman in her twenties and had also served time in the CYA - for murder.
At the fitness hearing, Valeros argued that this and other placements were
indicative of how the system had failed Marquese over and over. Because he did
so well and was so cooperative with authorities while institutionalized, she
believes he repeatedly fell through the cracks and did not receive the
assistance he needed to reenter society in a productive way.
Prosecutors disagreed vehemently with her characterization of Marquese,
claiming that his repeat offending indicated that he was obviously not going to
be rehabilitated by yet another stint in the juvenile system. His fitness
hearing dragged on over a span of one month, one of the longest running fitness hearings that anyone involved could remember.
Judge Nancy Hoffman eventually determined that Marquese should get one more
chance at rehabilitation in the juvenile system. Since he was charged with a nonviolent felony, in order to be transferred to the adult system, Judge Hoffman could not find him unfit based on just one criterion. She could only send him to adult court if she found him unfit overall, weighing all the criteria set out by California law: the
level of the offender's criminal sophistication, whether the minor can be rehabilitated within the time the juvenile system has jurisdiction over him or her, previous delinquent history, the success
of prior attempts at rehabilitation, and, finally, the seriousness of the
crime. Hoffman found that he was unfit under the first criterion of criminal
sophistication, since he had planned the burglary. She also
found him unfit in terms of his prior record of rehabilitation within the
juvenile system, since he had reoffended so often after treatment. However, she
found him fit under the remaining three criteria. In terms of his prior
history she found that his criminal history was mitigated by his
"horrendous childhood" during which he received "little or no guidance," and
was therefore fit under that criterion. On the fifth criteria, the gravity of the offense, she found him fit. Therefore, Judge Hoffman ruled that he was still amenable to treatment within the juvenile system. Marquese was returned to the California Youth Authority and will be up for parole in the fall of 2001.
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