Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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M.S. and J.G. argued during a high school class. J.G. hit M.S. with a small book. J.G. was suspended for two days. About a month later, J.G. accused M.S. of taking her backpack. M.S. pulled a rectangular device with protruding antennas out of her bag, turned it on, and said “[t]ry that again, I’m going to tase you.” A spark erupted from the device. J.G. thought the device was a taser and retreated. The principal learned of the incident.The school resource officer, Reed, took custody of the device, identifying it as an “over-the-counter” stun gun. He did not know the weapon’s voltage and testified that the “capability” of a stun gun depended on its voltage. He initially opined that M.S.’s stun gun probably could not immobilize a person but later noted that it could immobilize a person of smaller stature, and, depending on their size, age, and medical condition, could “in some cases even cause death.” The juvenile court found that M.S. brought a stun gun into school, sustained the Penal Code 626.10(a) allegation, reduced the offense to a misdemeanor, adjudicated M.S. a ward of the court, and placed her in her mother’s custody with probation conditions. The court of appeal reversed. There was insufficient evidence to support a finding that the weapon was capable of temporarily immobilizing a person and, therefore, that it qualified as a stun gun under sections 626.10(a) and 244.5(a). View "In re M.S." on Justia Law

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The Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition (Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1) and (j)), alleging Deshawn’s and Clairessa’s history of substance abuse and current use of marijuana placed one-year-old Y.W., and one-month-old Y.G., at risk of serious physical harm. At the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the juvenile court sustained the petition and declared the children. dependents of the court, removed them from parental custody, and ordered the parents to complete substance abuse and domestic violence programs and to have monitored visitation with the children. At a hearing to select a permanent plan, the juvenile court terminated their parental rights, finding that returning the children to the parents would be detrimental, that the parents had not maintained regular and consistent visitation and contact, and that the children were adoptable.Based on the parents’ allegation that the Department failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. 1901, the court of appeal conditionally affirm the orders terminating parental rights, with directions to ensure the Department complies with the inquiry and notice provisions of ICWA and related California law. Deshawn and Clairessa had each completed Judicial Council form ICWA-020, Parental Notification of Indian Status. Clairessa checked: “I have no Indian ancestry as far as I know.” Deshawn checked: “I am or may be a member of, or eligible for membership in, a federally recognized Indian tribe. View "In re Y.W." on Justia Law

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In March 2020 LAPD officers responded to a call reporting “screaming, yelling, banging and slamming” at the family home. No one answered their initial requests to enter the residence. Ashley ultimately opened the door. The home was in disarray. The officers observed evidence of a domestic violence altercation. Two children in the home who were under age five were taken to the hospital. Blood and urine tests for both children were negative. Neither child had any marks or bruises that would indicate abuse or neglect. Ashley and Wesley were arrested for suspicion of injuring a child (Pen. Code 273a(a)), a charge that was not pursued. No domestic violence charges were filed.The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a dependency petition (Welfare and Institutions Code section 300(a) (serious physical harm inflicted non-accidentally) and (b)(1) (failure to protect). At the jurisdiction hearing nine months later, the juvenile court sustained both counts, finding “there is a long history of these parents having some domestic violence issues.” The court declared the children dependents of the juvenile court and ordered continued supervision by the Department while the children remained in Ashley’s home. The court of appeal reversed. There was insufficient evidence to support a finding the children were at substantial risk of serious physical harm by the time of the jurisdiction hearing. View "In re Cole L." on Justia Law

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In 2001, Sands was 24 years old when he committed special circumstance murder (Penal Code 187, 190.2(a)(10)) and was sentenced to a prison term of life without the possibility of parole. The trial court denied his motion, seeking to develop a record of mitigating circumstances for an eventual youth offender parole hearing under “Franklin.”The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting his Equal Protection argument. The statute provides an opportunity for release (via youth offender parole hearings) to most persons convicted of crimes committed before the age of 26 in their 15th, 20th, or 25th year of incarceration, depending on the sentence imposed for their “[c]ontrolling offense,” sections 3051(a)(2)(B), (b)(1)-(4). The statute excludes offenders who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed at age 18-25. The Legislature had a rational basis to distinguish between offenders with the same sentence (life without parole) based on their age. For juvenile offenders, such a sentence may violate the Eighth Amendment but the same sentence does not violate the Eighth Amendment when imposed on an adult, even an adult under the age of 26. The Legislature could rationally decide to remedy unconstitutional sentences but go no further. View "People v. Sands" on Justia Law

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In 2003, defendant-appellant Louis Montes was convicted of, among other things, the special circumstance murder of April Peake (the victim) which he committed when he was 17 years old. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). After the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 465 (2012), the California Supreme Court decided that juveniles sentenced to LWOP were entitled to a hearing in order to have an opportunity to present information as to juvenile characteristics and circumstances at the time the offense was committed. Defendant petitioned to recall his sentence pursuant to Penal Code section 1170(d)(2). The superior court granted the petition, recalled defendant’s sentence, and resentenced him to LWOP. In this appeal, defendant contended the superior court abused its discretion by applying the wrong legal standard during resentencing. He further contended the court should have sua sponte transferred this matter to the juvenile court for a transfer/fitness hearing pursuant to Proposition 57 (as approved by voters, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 8, 2016)). The Court of Appeal rejected defendant’s first contention but found merit in the second: in supplemental briefing, the parties agreed, and the Court concurred, the minute order of the resentencing hearing had to be corrected, and a new abstract of judgment should issue. Accordingly, the Court conditionally reversed defendant’s sentence and remanded for defendant to receive a transfer/fitness hearing in the juvenile court. View "California v. Montes" on Justia Law

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Before committing a minor to the California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the state’s most restrictive placement for its most severe juvenile offenders, the law required the juvenile court to find both that the placement would probably benefit the minor, and that less restrictive options would be either ineffective or inappropriate. In this case, we address an issue anticipated, but not decided, in In re Carlos J., 22 Cal.App.5th 1 (2018), namely, what constitutes substantial evidence to support a DJJ commitment when the minor has submitted reliable evidence that such a placement would undermine the minor’s specific rehabilitative needs, and where the minor’s own history does not demonstrate that less restrictive options would not work? The Court of Appeal concluded the State had to provide some contrary evidence that would enable the juvenile court to make a comparative analysis of the placement options before it concludes the minor will probably benefit from DJJ, and that less restrictive options would be ineffective or inappropriate. Here, expert testimony indicated that placing this minor in DJJ would be counterproductive because it would likely assure his entrenchment in gang culture and, due to the ready availability of drugs in DJJ facilities, undermine efforts to treat and improve a significant substance abuse disorder that led to a single episode of violent criminal behavior over the course of a few hours. Beyond identifying that substance abuse treatment was available at DJJ, the State introduced no responsive evidence. So, as in Carlos J., the Court reversed and remanded in an opinion that focused "not on the substantive correctness of the juvenile court’s conclusion, but on the procedural requirement that there be evidence in the record to support whatever conclusion the court reaches." On remand, given intervening changes to the juvenile court law, the trial court had to first make a threshold finding as to whether juvenile justice realignment now precluded commitment to DJJ. View "In re Miguel C." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal concluded that Penal Code section 3051, subdivision (h) does not violate equal protection, and the exclusion of offenders sentenced under the Three Strikes law from youth offender parole consideration is rationally related to a legitimate penal interest. The court also concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to rule on appellant's clam that the imposition of the five-year enhancement under Penal Code section 667, subdivision (a) resulted in an unauthorized sentence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the postjudgment order. View "People v. Moore" on Justia Law

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S.H.R. petitioned the superior court for the appointment of a guardian of his person and for judicial findings that would enable him to petition the USCIS to classify him as a special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) under federal immigration law. The superior court denied both petitions.The Court of Appeal concluded that S.H.R. had the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence the facts supporting SIJ status. Because the trial court found his evidence did not support the requested findings, S.H.R. has the burden on appeal of showing that he is entitled to the SIJ findings as a matter of law. In this case, S.H.R. has failed to meet his burden by failing to prove parental abandonment or neglect and that reunification was not viable. Therefore, the court affirmed the superior court's denial of the SIJ petition. The denial of the SIJ petition rendered the guardianship petition moot, and thus the court also affirmed the denial of that petition. View "S.H.R. v. Rivas" on Justia Law

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Moore was convicted of murder (Penal Code 187) and robbery (section 211); a jury found true the special circumstance that the murder was committed during a robbery (190.2(a)(17)). Moore sought habeas relief, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence for the robbery-murder special-circumstance finding.The California Supreme Court ordered the court of appeal to consider “whether [Moore’s] youth at the time of the offense should be one of the factors considered under” precedent in which the California Supreme Court examined the felony-murder special circumstance, Penal Code 190.2(d). Under that provision, a person who is guilty of murder but is not the “actual killer” and who aids or abets the commission of certain felonies that result in death may be sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole if that person is a “major participant” and acts with “reckless indifference to human life.”On remand, the court of appeal vacated the conviction. A defendant’s youth at the time of the offense should be a factor in determining whether that defendant acted with reckless indifference to human life under section 190.2(d). Considering the totality of the circumstances, including the fact that Moore was only 16 at the time of his offenses, the court found insufficient evidence to establish that Moore acted with the requisite reckless indifference to human life. View "In re Moore" on Justia Law

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N.B. was removed from her parents’ care in 2008 when she was one year old. Her grandmother, Catherine, cared for her became her legal guardian in 2012. A maternal aunt also became a co-guardian. Years later N.B. struggled with her mental health and Catherine had trouble managing her care. The juvenile court found that N.B. was suffering serious emotional damage. Services were provided. She was released to her maternal aunt’s care after she said she did not feel safe returning to Catherine’s care. The maternal aunt became “overwhelmed” and returned her to Catherine. N.B. continued to suffer mental health issues.A petition under section 388 sought to terminate the guardianship rights of the maternal aunt and the family maintenance services. Catherine and the aunt had lied about N.B.’s whereabouts and well-being, and asked N.B. to lie during home visits. N.B. was placed in a foster home. N.B. “stabilized.” The Agency recommended terminating Catherine’s legal guardianship. Catherine objected.The juvenile court observed that there was not “any doubt on anybody’s part that [Catherine] loves [N.B. and] that she is committed to [N.B.]” but expressed concern that Catherine’s behavior was contributing to N.B.’s problems. The court terminated the legal guardianship of Catherine and the maternal aunt. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Catherine’s argument the Agency was required to “follow the procedures and requirements of section 387” to terminate her guardianship. View "In re N.B." on Justia Law