In what appears to be an unprecedented case in California, the attorney for a man accused of sexually assaulting three underage girls in Berkeley in 2008 when he was 16 argued Friday that the juvenile system doesn't have jurisdiction over him anymore because he's now 27.
Johnny Dunbar is charged with four felony counts, including two counts of forcible rape and one count each of forcible oral copulation and attempted forcible copulation, for incidents in Berkeley on June 21, July 8 and July 21 in 2008.
Dunbar is accused of using knives in two of the incidents and a gun in the other incident.
Dunbar also is accused of committing two of the alleged sexual assaults during the course of first-degree burglaries. Prosecutors allege that two of the victims were under 14 at the time they were assaulted and the third was under 16.
Berkeley police weren't able to solve the case until 2016, when they arrested Dunbar, who was 24 by then, for a traffic warrant.
The fingerprints they obtained from Dunbar during that jail booking process matched the ingerprints that police obtained at one of the crime scenes in 2008.
The Alameda County District Attorney's Office charged Dunbar as an adult on July 7, 2016, but in November 2016 California voters passed Proposition 57, which took away prosecutors' ability to charge minors accused of serious crimes such as murder and rape directly in adult court.
Instead, judges must now hold hearings to determine whether adult or juvenile court is the most appropriate for youths accused of serious crimes.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Rhonda Burgess, who currently is overseeing Dunbar's case, hasn't yet ruled whether he should stand trial in adult or juvenile court.
But Dunbar's lawyer Ernie Castillo argued on Friday that Burgess should just dismiss Dunbar's case now before she even rules on which court is most appropriate for him.
Castillo noted that juveniles who are convicted in the juvenile court system can only be held at the California Youth Authority until the age of 25, even for serious crimes such as murder and rape, and pointed out that Dunbar is now 27.
"Because of his age there's nothing this court can do," Castillo said.
But Alameda County prosecutor Melissa Demetral said, "The issue is which court if best for Mr. Dunbar and for society and that's not juvenile court."
Demetral also said, "The victims in this case have a right to be kept safe and society has the right to be kept safe."
Castillo said Dunbar had turned his life around between the time of the alleged offenses in 2008 and when he was arrested in 2016.
Castillo said that although Dunbar had a difficult childhood in which he was a victim of child molestation and suffered from a learning disability he was able to go to community college and start his own business.
"He had his whole life together" before he was arrested, Castillo said.
Burgess will rule on the motion to dismiss the charges against Dunbar on March 1. If she denies that motion she will then rule on whether he should stand trial in adult court or juvenile court.
Castillo said after the hearing that there's no case law in California on the issue of whether defendants charged with crimes as teenagers can be prosecuted when they're over the age of 25.
He said if Burgess denies his motion to dismiss the case he probably will take the issue to the appellate courts because there's no legal precedent on the issue.