Our View: DA owes the community explanation

Our View
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The story of the three Colfax teens who threw rocks off an Interstate 80 overpass has come to an end. Hunter Perez — who is also known as Hunter Owens —Samuel Quinlan and Sean Steele were recently sentenced to time in juvenile hall but also each received a felony strike on their record. This combination seems odd and confusing. Were they treated as teens or adults or both? And why? And why hasn’t the District Attorney’s Office offered answers to those questions? The final sentence was part of a plea deal reached between the prosecution and the defense. But the decision as to whether the teenagers should receive a strike was left to the District Attorney’s Office and not the judge, which is who defense attorneys argue should have had the ultimate say. If the District Attorney’s Office is charged with this responsibility, then prosecutors need to take responsibility in their decision and explain it to a tight-knit community that was shocked and devastated by the actions of three of its own. Explaining their reasoning would help the community understand and provide a teachable moment for parents. After the Oct. 14 sentencing, the District Attorney’s Office offered no comment when contacted for a Journal story. They made no statements in the courtroom, either, justifying their decision. The total sentence included 10 months in juvenile hall, with the last 50 days eligible for alternative sentencing. The teens must also fulfill 300 hours of community service and were placed on three years of formal probation. The overall time incarcerated and community service requirement seem fair. The teens’ decisions to throw rocks and a barricade off the Canyon Way overpass on the night of July 26 were reckless and dangerous. Their actions had serious consequences when a rock heaved from above crashed through Sacramento resident Jose Palmero’s front windshield and hit his face. Palmero’s jaw was broken and was wired shut for six weeks after. Giving the teens a chance to stay out of lockup with more hardened and sophisticated offenders appears to be the right call. The teens have a chance to restart their lives, as Judge Garrett Olney said during their sentencing. But if keeping them out of prison was an acknowledgement of their youth and how they shouldn’t be treated as adults just yet, why give them a strike? The questions linger, the answers to do not appear to be forthcoming. Just as it’s right to hold the three defendants accountable for their actions, so is it right to hold our public officials accountable. District Attorney Brad Fenocchio, or soon-to-be District Attorney Scott Owens, should explain to the public why they decided to treat two 16-year-olds and one 17-year-old as both juveniles and adults. What was their rationale? They should also go a step further and set a policy that their staff of deputy district attorneys needs to explain their decision for a fair judgment during the sentencing process in court. Because they have the power to determine the future of a person’s life, they owe the defendant and the public an explanation as to why.