Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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In 2017, a juvenile wardship petition was filed (Welfare and Institutions Code 602(a)), alleging that A.J. committed misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence. The probation department supported A.J.'s request for informal supervision under section 654 in lieu of adjudging him a ward of the court, noting that A.J. was remorseful, had no prior delinquency history or significant disciplinary record, had been receptive to receiving services and had taken the initiative to obtain services, and had familial support. The court rejected the request, reasoning that A.J. was statutorily ineligible for informal supervision because “[r]estitution can clearly be over [$1,000] in this case” given the likely burial and other expenses. The court rejected arguments that no permissible claims for restitution had been made and that this case arose from “a tragic accident.” The probation department unsuccessfully recommended informal probation (section 725). The juvenile court adjudged A.J. a ward of the court, placed him on formal probation and ordered him to pay restitution to be determined. A.J. completed his probationary term and the court dismissed the petition, terminated his wardship and ordered his juvenile record sealed. The court of appeal affirmed. The statute does not require the submission of claims, or the presentation of evidence of restitution in excess of $1,000, before the juvenile court may apply the presumption of ineligibility. View "In re A.J." on Justia Law

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A.W. committed five counts of felony vandalism. The court declared minor a ward of the state and ordered him to serve 37 days in juvenile hall. The sole question on appeal was whether the evidence supported a finding that, for each count, “the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction [was] four hundred dollars ($400) or more,” as required to elevate the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. The Court of Appeal determined the only competent testimony on that issue came from an employee of the City of Palmdale who helped prepare an analysis of the average cost to clean up an instance of graffiti. The Court determined: (1) use of an average, by itself, was not enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the amount of damage inflicted by minor was equal to the average cleanup cost, rather than some other number; (2) the calculation included the cost of law enforcement, which, though proper in certain restitution settings, was not a proper consideration in assessing the damage minor inflicted under the applicable statute; and (3) Palmdale’s methodology for calculating the average cost is flawed. The Court reversed adjudication in part with direction to reduce the felony counts to misdemeanors. View "In re A.W." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's finding that R.C. had committed an unauthorized invasion of privacy pursuant to Penal Code section 647, subdivision (j)(3)(A). The court applied the plain meaning of the word "concealed," and held that "concealed" means "to prevent disclosure or recognition of," and "to place out of sight." Similarly, Merriam-Webster defines "concealed" as "kept out of sight or hidden from view." In this case, the court held that substantial evidence demonstrated that R.C. committed the offense of unauthorized invasion of privacy when he used a concealed cellphone to secretly video-record K.V. in a state of full or partial undress, in a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade her privacy. In this case. R.C. did not tell K.V. about his intent to video-record them until after he had begun recording, he positioned the cellphone behind K.V. where it was hidden from her view, and K.V. did not realize the cellphone was present until R.C. announced he was recording and she turned her head. View "In re R.C." on Justia Law

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N.C., born in 2000, and another minor sexually abused a clearly-intoxicated 17-year-old female high school student outside a private house party after a homecoming dance. The juvenile court entered a dispositional order committing N.C. to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) for a maximum period of confinement of nine years following his admission to forcible oral copulation and sexual battery. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting N.C.’s argument that there was no evidence the commitment would be of probable benefit to him or that a less restrictive placement would be ineffective or inappropriate. Conflicting evidence did not render the juvenile court’s commitment order an abuse of discretion or warrant its reversal. The juvenile court found that certain testimony “lacked foundation” and was “clearly biased,” because the witness’s organization would benefit financially were minor placed there. The juvenile court properly considered the proposed less restrictive alternatives before finding them inappropriate or ineffective in his case; the court was appropriately focused on minor’s individual circumstances in light of the potential reformative, educational, rehabilitative, treatment and disciplinary benefits of a DJJ commitment, as opposed to one of the alternative programs. View "In re N.C." on Justia Law

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Nicole, age 13 became a dependent of the juvenile court. Nicole suffered from emotional and behavioral problems and later became “[a] dependent minor who turns 18 years of age” with a permanent plan of long-term foster care, continuing under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction because she agreed that she would continue her education. The designation continued despite her noncompliance, a pregnancy, and living in an unapproved home with a boyfriend who had a history of selling illegal drugs and committing domestic violence. When Nicole turned 20, the Agency recommended that the court dismiss Nicole’s dependency, citing failure to participate in services. In a special writ proceeding, the court of appeal directed the juvenile court to vacate its order requiring Nicole’s therapist to testify about confidential communications relating to whether Nicole has a qualifying mental condition. The juvenile court later terminated its dependency jurisdiction because she had reached the age of 21. The court dismissed Nicole’s case. In her dependency case, Nicole sought an award of attorney’s fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, which codifies the private attorney general doctrine exception. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion; section 1021.5 fees are not recoverable in a dependency proceeding. View "In re Nicole S." on Justia Law

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In 2018, the court of appeal held that a juvenile court’s order committing a minor to the Department of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) must be supported by “some specific evidence in the record of the programs at the DJF expected to benefit a minor.” Citing that case, A.M. challenged the juvenile court’s order committing him to the DJF. A.M. had admitted to driving his brother to a park, knowing his brother intended to commit murder. The court of appeal upheld the commitment order, noting testimony by a DJF official about the programs offered by DJF and DJF publications further describing the programs. The juvenile court could reasonably find that certain DJF programs would benefit Minor: group sessions with other youths, a program to help identify negative peers, impulse control therapy, anger management, and/or individual therapy. Minor apparently argued that he has no need for any of these programs, based on the descriptions in the letters from his family and others. The juvenile court found otherwise, discounting those descriptions as irreconcilable with the nature and circumstances of the offense and with Minor’s performance on probation. Substantial evidence supports that finding. View "In re A.M." on Justia Law

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For the reasons stated in People v. Superior Court (T.D.), the Court of Appeal rejected the district attorney's claim that Senate Bill No. 1391 unconstitutionally amended Proposition 57. The court also addressed issues not before the court in T.D., and held that Senate Bill No. 1391 is not an unconstitutional amendment of Proposition 21, the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act of 1998 (Proposition 21); is not unconstitutionally vague; and applies retroactively. In this case, the court held that the murder charge against real party in interest I.R. allegedly committed when he was age 15 cannot be transferred to criminal court based on a separate felony offense he allegedly committed when he was age 17. Therefore, the court denied the petition for writ of prohibition and/or mandate. View "People v. Superior Court (I.R.)" on Justia Law

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Senate Bill No. 1391 does not unconstitutionally amend Proposition 57. Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, eliminated a prosecutor's ability to directly file charges in criminal (adult) court against minors who were 14 years of age or older at the time of their alleged offenses, and instead required prosecutors to obtain juvenile court approval to do so. SB 1391 prohibits the transfer of 14- and 15-year-old offenders to criminal court in virtually all circumstances. The Court of Appeal held that voters intended Proposition 57 to extend as broadly as possible; the amendatory language of section 5 of the Act was ambiguous; and, when the court construed the language and the Act as a whole consistently with the voters' intent, SB 1391 was constitutional. Accordingly, the court discharged the order to show cause previously issued and denied the petition for writ of mandate. View "People v. Superior Court (T.D.)" on Justia Law

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A.L. was in a fight with her sister violent enough for police to be called. An officer grabbed A.L.’s arm, stating “I saw you kick her when she was down.” She pulled away. Another officer took her other arm. She dropped to the pavement, kicking and scratching the officer before biting him. He punched A.L. and put her in handcuffs. The District Attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition under Penal Code sections 243(b) (battery on a peace officer); 69 (resisting a peace officer by force); and 148(a)(1) (resisting a peace officer). Resisting an officer and forcefully resisting an officer require actual knowledge that an officer is engaged in the performance of duty. The juvenile court stated: “Whether you think the police have the right to detain you or stop you or hold onto you, the law in this state says you don’t get to resist” and sustained the allegations. The court of appeal affirmed, finding the judge's comment not so ambiguous as to require reversal. The court may have found that the statutes were violated so long as the officers were performing their duty, without regard to A.L.’s awareness of that fact, or may have been referring only to section 243(b) and correctly describing the law. The court expressly found that the necessary elements for all three offenses had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt; those elements include the actual knowledge requirement of sections 69 and 148(a)(1). View "In re A.L." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that Local Rule Seven of the McCourtney Courthouse Policies, effective August 13, 2019, is invalid; the rule was adopted in violation of state law; the local rule conflicts with California law; the goal of expediting proceedings cannot justify denying mother the opportunity to present relevant evidence; and the court may control courtroom proceedings through case-specific orders. In this case, the juvenile court refused to permit mother to testify or to call witnesses in a juvenile dependency matter set for a contested dispositional hearing, because her counsel had not filed a joint trial statement as required by the local rule. The court also held that, even had the local rules here been properly adopted and enforceable, the juvenile court's ruling barring mother from testifying and examining her daughter on the statements contained in a report to the court because she had failed to submit the joint trial statement would run afoul of Code of Civil Procedure section 575.2. Furthermore, the sanction imposed was disproportionate to the conduct it punished. Accordingly, the court reversed the dispositional orders and remanded to the juvenile court with instructions to conduct a new dispositional hearing without reference to the local rule. View "In re Harley C." on Justia Law