Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Police arrested 18-year-old high school student Ismael Avalos on a murder charge and questioned him in an interrogation room at a police station. During the interview, a forensic technician removed his shirt, pants, socks, and shoes. The technician gave him a paper gown to wear. After about five hours of questioning by police, Avalos said, “I wanna talk to a lawyer.” After some further dialog, a detective said, “I respect your decision that you wanna talk to a lawyer, but if for some reason you want to change your mind and you wanna talk to me, you can, just ask for me. I don’t care if it’s 2:00, 3:00 in the morning I’ll come back. Okay? Because I care about you getting your story the right way out. Okay?” After spending the night in a holding cell, Avalos told one of the jailers he wanted to speak to the detectives again. Avalos was brought back to the same interrogation room for a second interview, still apparently wearing the same paper gown from the day before. Avalos asked, “Whatever I tell my lawyer, he’s going to tell you the same thing, right?” After waiving his Miranda rights, Avalos admitted shooting the murder victim, stating: “I, I self-defended myself, you know?” Avalos was convicted of murder with a firearm enhancement and a substantive gang crime. On appeal, Avalos contends the trial court erred by admitting the second interview into evidence over his objection. Avalos also argues that due to a recent change in the law, his substantive gang conviction must be reversed. The Court of Appeal concluded after review of the trial court record that Avalos did not make a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent Miranda waiver prior to the second interview. The Court further found the admission of the interview into evidence was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Attorney General conceded Avalos’ substantive gang conviction should have been reversed and the Court of Appeal agreed. Thus, it reversed the judgment. View "California v. Avalos" on Justia Law

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In December 2018, the juvenile court committed Jhonny to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) for a maximum term of confinement of four years after he admitted on a petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 committing felony assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury. In November 2020, Jhonny’s wardship and probation were successfully terminated; in October 2021, the DJJ granted him an honorable discharge. Jhonny sought to have his juvenile record sealed and his petition dismissed under sections 781 and 782, arguing that under section 1179(d), dismissal of his juvenile petition was mandatory based on his honorable discharge. The juvenile court granted Jhonny’s petition to have his juvenile record sealed but declined to dismiss his petition, citing section 782.The court of appeal reversed. The cited statutes deal with the same subject matter (dismissal of a juvenile petition) but there is a conflict arising from the use of mandatory language in section 1179(d) (the court “shall” dismiss) and discretionary language in sections 782 and 1772 (the court “may” dismiss). Under these circumstances, the specific statute must prevail. Only section 1179(d) addresses the specific issue raised here of the dismissal of the petition of an individual who has obtained an honorable discharge from the DJJ. View "In re Jhonny S." on Justia Law

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In 2005, fifteen-year-old Davion Keel and eighteen-year-old Ariel Bolton held Barry Knight at gunpoint and robbed him of twenty dollars on the streets of San Bernardino. One of them shot and killed Knight when he resisted the robbery and tried to flee. Keel and Bolton were both prosecuted in adult criminal court and convicted of first degree murder in connection with Knight’s death. More than a decade later, Keel petitioned to vacate his murder conviction and to be resentenced under Penal Code section 1172.6 based on legislative changes to California's murder laws. The trial court denied the petition for resentencing, finding Keel was not entitled to relief because he remained liable for Knight’s murder because he was a major participant in the underlying robbery and he acted with reckless indifference to human life. Keel appealed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support the trial court’s finding that he was a major participant in the underlying robbery who acted with reckless indifference to human life. In the alternative, he contended the court applied an incorrect legal standard when it adjudicated his petition for resentencing. The Court of Appeal agreed with Keel’s first argument, which rendered it unnecessary to reach his second argument. Because there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s determination, the Court reversed the order denying Keel’s resentencing petition and remanded the matter to the trial court with directions to grant Keel’s resentencing petition and vacate his murder conviction. Further, the Court concluded Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, and Senate Bill 1391 (2017–2018 Reg. Sess.) would apply retroactively to Keel once his petition for resentencing was granted and his murder conviction was vacated. Therefore, on remand, the Court instructed the trial court to transfer the matter to the juvenile court for resentencing in accordance with those measures. View "California v. Keel" on Justia Law

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In September 2019, the Department filed a dependency petition after taking six-year-old A.H. and her younger half-siblings into emergency protective custody and placing them in foster care. The petition alleged that the children’s mother had allowed A.H. to have unsupervised contact with an older relative suspected of having sexually molested the child. A.H.’s alleged father, J.H., had failed to provide care, support, or supervision for more than a year and it was indicated that his whereabouts were unknown, although the Department did have an address.The court of appeal reversed an order terminating J.H.'s parental rights. From the outset of the dependency proceedings through the jurisdiction and dispositional hearing, the Department’s efforts to locate J.H. and provide him notice requirements fell far short of the statutory requirements and left him in the dark about his parental status, how to assert his parental rights and how to participate in the proceedings. While its efforts may have improved later in the case, the Department never rectified its earlier failures by advising J.H. of his right to request counsel and his need to elevate his status to "presumed parent" to assert his parental rights. The Department violated his right to due process. View "In re A.H." on Justia Law

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The State of California appealed after a juvenile court declared defendant-respondent T.O. a ward of the court and placed him in a secure local facility for committing a sexual offense against his seven-year-old cousin. The State contended the juvenile court erred in refusing to impose mandatory sex offender registration pursuant to Penal Code section 290.008 because the court improperly relied on a strict interpretation of section 290.008 without adequately considering the illogical or consequences and harmonizing the statutory scheme. Based on the legislative intent in enacting changes to the juvenile delinquency provisions and the plain language of section 290.008, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "In re T.O." on Justia Law

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Frank Heard was serving a sentence of 23 years plus 80 years to life for two counts of attempted willful, deliberate and premeditated murder for a drive-by shooting he committed at age 15, and one count of voluntary manslaughter for a homicide he committed just after he turned 16. After 15 years of incarceration, he petitioned the trial court to recall his sentence and resentence him to a lesser sentence under Penal Code section 1170 (d)(1) (formerly (d)(2)). The trial court denied Heard’s petition, finding him ineligible for relief because he was not sentenced to an explicitly designated term of life without the possibility of parole. Heard appealed, presenting two issues of first impression: (1) the resentencing provision should be interpreted to apply not only to juvenile offenders sentenced to explicitly designated terms of life without parole, but also to a juvenile offender, like him, who have been sentenced to multiple terms that are the functional equivalent of life without parole; and (2) a contrary interpretation of the resentencing provision would violate his constitutional right to equal protection of the laws. The Court of Appeal rejected Heard's his first contention, instead interpreting section 1170 (d)(1)(A), to limit eligibility to petition for recall and resentencing to juvenile offenders sentenced to explicitly designated life without parole terms. But the Court concluded denying juvenile offenders, who were sentenced to the functional equivalent of life without parole, the opportunity to petition for resentencing violated the guarantee of equal protection. The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "California v. Heard" on Justia Law

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The juvenile court assumed jurisdiction over M.A. upon his admission that he had committed a felony sexual battery (Penal Code 243.4). The juvenile court granted him probation for one year. At the recommendation of the probation officer—who noted that sexual battery was among the offenses referenced in section 29805—and over M.A.’s objection, the court ordered “[t]hat [M.A.] shall immediately surrender any and all firearms … and refrain from possessing, owning, or controlling any and all firearms until his . . . 30th birthday.” Under Penal Code 29820, a minor adjudged a ward of the juvenile court for certain offenses—including “an offense enumerated in Section 29805”—shall be prohibited until age 30 from possessing firearms. Under section 29805, adults convicted of certain misdemeanors are subject to a 10-year prohibition against possessing firearms.The court of appeal affirmed the order. The prohibition against firearms for certain juvenile offenders applies to M.A. because he committed an offense that is “enumerated” in section 29850; to the extent M.A. challenged the imposition of the prohibition as a probation condition, the prohibition against firearms is statutorily authorized and required under section 29820. The term “enumerated” must be interpreted as including both felony and misdemeanor violations of the statutes listed in section 29805. View "In re M.A." on Justia Law

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The boys were removed from the custody of their (married) parents by the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services in 2020, after a string of child abuse and neglect referrals stemming from repeated bouts of domestic violence between the couple, concerns over parental substance abuse and, in mother’s case, mental health concerns. The boys, then 19 months and 6 months old, were placed into foster care together, later joined by a sister who was detained in a separate case after mother tested positive for drugs at her birth. The juvenile court sustained allegations that the boys were at substantial risk of serious physical and emotional harm.Mother appealed a subsequent termination of her parental rights, arguing that the juvenile court erred in its consideration of the beneficial relationship exception (Welf. & Inst. Code 366.26(c)(1)(B)(i)), under “Caden C.,” a 2021 decision. The court of appeal affirmed the orders terminating parental rights, without reaching the merits. The record does not contain evidence that would support the application of the beneficial relationship exception. When a juvenile court applies the wrong legal standard in rejecting the beneficial relationship exception, reversal is not warranted if the parent did not introduce evidence that would permit a finding in their favor under the correct legal standard. View "In re J.R." on Justia Law

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In May 2021 the Agency received a report of general neglect of an infant. A social worker met with Mother and her partner, Anthony; both reported that there was no known Native American ancestry. The dependency petition stated that a social worker had completed an Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. 1901, ICWA) inquiry. At a hearing, Mother’s counsel reported no known heritage. Based on Anthony’s response, the court ordered further inquiry (Welf. & Inst. Code 224.2(e)). A social worker received a voicemail from Anthony, who apparently accidentally left his phone on, and discussed with Mother a plan to claim that the minor had Indian ancestry to delay the child's removal. In August, Mother stated she was not sure whether she had Native American ancestry. A maternal great-grandmother reported that the minor’s great-great-great-great grandparents “told her she has Blackfoot Cherokee,” but she had no documentation regarding the possible affiliation.The Agency recommended that the juvenile court find that there was “no reason to believe or reason to know” that the minor was an Indian child. The minor was placed with a maternal relative. At a September 2021 disposition hearing, the court found, without prejudice to future research, that ICWA did not apply. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the Agency erred by not interviewing additional family members, reversal of the early dependency order was not warranted simply because the Agency’s ongoing obligations had not yet been satisfied. View "In re S.H." on Justia Law

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After June 30, 2021, juvenile courts were no longer able to commit juveniles to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Jason V. was committed to DJJ prior to June 30, 2021, but the trial court erroneously ordered an impermissible maximum term of confinement. In July 2021, the court entered a nunc pro tunc order stating the correct maximum period. Jason contended the commitment order had to be vacated because judicial error could not be corrected by a nunc pro tunc order and, on the date the order was entered, he could not be committed to DJJ. He also contended he was entitled to additional days of credit for time spent in local confinement that the juvenile court failed to award. The Court of Appeal remanded the case for recalculation of the credits Jason was entitled to, but otherwise affirmed the dispositional order. View "In re Jason V." on Justia Law