Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
by
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

by
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

by
Minor N.L. appealed an order adjudging her a ward of the court. She argued: (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the juvenile court’s finding that she willfully and maliciously committed felony arson of property; and (2) the case should have been remanded for the juvenile court to consider informal supervision under Welfare and Institutions Code section 654.2, applying changes to the law that became effective on January 1, 2022 as a result of Senate Bill No. 383 (2021-2022 Reg. Sess.). After review, the Court of Appeal found sufficient evidence to support the true finding, but the Court agreed that N.L. was entitled to a conditional reversal and remand for the trial court to consider informal supervision under the law as amended by Senate Bill No. 383. View "In re N.L." on Justia Law

by
The occupants of a car shot at officers; neither was hit. Ernesto, age 16, and others were apprehended after attempting to escape. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office filed a wardship petition with respect to Ernesto. A juvenile court committed him to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Generally, if a minor is removed from a parent’s physical custody after being adjudged a ward of the court, the dispositional order must “specify that the minor may not be held in physical confinement for a period in excess of the middle term of imprisonment” that could be imposed on an adult convicted of the same offense. If a minor is committed to DJJ, the juvenile court may set an even lower maximum term of physical confinement. The juvenile court applied Ernesto’s precommitment credits (over two years), against the maximum exposure term of 176 months, not the maximum custodial term of three years.The court of appeal modified the judgment. When a minor is committed to DJJ, a juvenile court must apply precommitment credits against the maximum custodial term. Because the juvenile court would have set a higher maximum custodial term had it realized Ernesto’s credits would apply against that term, the court remanded. The juvenile court did not err by committing him to DJJ under section 602.3 and by relying on prior misdemeanors when calculating the maximum exposure term. View "In re Ernesto L." on Justia Law

by
Now four-year-old M.G. is fed through a G-tube due to his diagnoses of esophageal reflux, generalized intestinal dysmotility, and laryngomalacia. He is also eligible for Regional Center Services due to a developmental disability. Both parents are Regional Center consumers due to their developmental disabilities and are former foster children. During a medical appointment, the parents did not know M.G.’s feeding schedule and told the treating physician they were aggressive and hit each other. M.G. was temporarily placed in a medical foster home. DCFS filed a petition. The court found that the parents have violent altercations and mental and emotional problems and developmental delays rendering them incapable of caring for M.G., ordered M.G. removed from the custody of his parents, and ordered reunification services and monitored visitation for both parents. Ultimately, the court terminated their parental rights.The court of appeal reversed. The juvenile court did not conduct a correct beneficial parent-child relationship analysis as set out by the California Supreme Court in “Caden C.” (2021) and instead considered factors Caden C. deems improper. Substantial evidence does not support the finding of “no bond.” The focus is not on whether M.G.’s parents can assume their parental roles but on whether M.G. will be harmed by the termination of the relationship. View "In re M.G." on Justia Law

by
Appellant the mother of six-year-old M.B., appealed the August 31, 2021 order terminating her parental rights, contending the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services failed to adequately investigate her claim of Indian ancestry through interviews with maternal relatives and the notices sent to the Blackfeet Tribe failed to include the birthdates of M.B.’s maternal grandfather and great-grandfather as required by federal regulations implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) (25 U.S.C. Section 1901 et seq.) and related California law.   The Department argued that Appellant’s appeal of the adequacy of its investigation has been mooted by further interviews with maternal relatives and that any omission of required information from the ICWA-030 notices sent to the Blackfeet Tribe was harmless because its post-appeal investigation established ICWA notices were not required.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the May 13, 2021 order denying Appellant’s section 388 petition. However, the court conditionally affirmed the August 31, 2021 section 366.26 order terminating Appellant’s parental rights. The court explained that rather than attempt to moot Appellant’s appeal by belatedly conducting the investigation required by section 224.2, the Department’s proper course of action was to stipulate to a conditional reversal with directions for full compliance with the inquiry and notice provisions of ICWA and related California law.   Further, the court wrote for its part, the juvenile court failed to ensure the Department adequately investigated M.B.’s Indian ancestry, far more is required than passively accepting the Department’s reports as fulfilling its statutory obligations. View "In re M.B." on Justia Law

by
Petitioner, a journalist, petitioned to obtain the juvenile case file of a deceased child, whose adoptive mother was convicted of her torture and murder. Although the Madera County Department of Social Services/Child Welfare Services (“department”) filed an objection to the disclosure of the juvenile case file, the juvenile court denied Petitioner’s petition finding release of the file would be detrimental to another child directly or indirectly connected to the deceased child.   The Fifth Appellate District granted the petition for writ of mandate and directed the juvenile court to vacate its orders, hold a hearing on Petitioner’s petition after ordering the department to produce the deceased child’s juvenile case file in accordance with In re Elijah S. (2005) 125 Cal.App.4th 1532, 1538–1539, 1556 (“Elijah S.”), review the responsive documents in camera, and reconsider the petition applying the appropriate standards.   The court wrote that it agreed the juvenile court erred when it did not allow Petitioner time to file a reply to the department’s objection and failed to hold a hearing on his petition. However, the court rejected the department’s contention that the deceased child was not within the juvenile court’s jurisdiction when she died and concur with the decision Elijah S. The court also rejected Petitioner’s contention that, contrary to its’ decision in Pack v. Kings County Human Services Agency (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 821, 831–834 (“Pack”), the juvenile court was required to make specific factual findings when making a detriment finding. But the court found the juvenile court’s failure to comply with the other procedures set forth in Pack also was prejudicial. View "Therolf v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
Parents of the two children at issue in a juvenile dependency case repeatedly denied having any American Indian heritage. The social services agency spoke with several of the parents’ relatives but never asked those relatives whether the children had any American Indian heritage. Nearly 30 months into the proceedings and on appeal from the termination of her parental rights, the biological mother objected that the agency did not discharge its statutory duty to inquire whether her children might be “Indian children” within the meaning of the state’s broader version of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”).   The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The court explained that there is no dispute that the agency did not properly discharge its statutory duty. However, the critical inquiry is whether the error was harmless and how harmlessness is to be assessed. The court offered a fourth rule: An agency’s failure to discharge its statutory duty of initial inquiry is harmless unless the record contains information suggesting a reason to believe that the children at issue may be “Indian child[ren],” in which case further inquiry may lead to a different ICWA finding by the juvenile court.   Here, the court held that the error was harmless, because the record contains the parents’ repeated denials of American Indian heritage, because the parents were raised by their biological relatives, and because there is nothing else in the record to suggest any reason to believe that the parents’ knowledge of their heritage is incorrect. View "In re Dezi C." on Justia Law

by
Santa Cruz County Human Services Department filed a juvenile dependency petition, Welfare & Institutions Code section 361(c), concerning an 11-year-old girl, then residing with her father. The whereabouts of her mother were unknown. It was alleged that father had physically abused the minor. The juvenile court ordered the minor detained, found the allegations of the petition true, and adjudged the minor a dependent of the court. Father received family reunification services for 17 months. The court found legal guardianship with the minor’s maternal grandparents to be the appropriate permanent plan, found that visitation of the minor by father would be detrimental, and ordered that father have no contact with the minor.After a contested six-month post-permanency review hearing in which the court heard testimony, it reaffirmed the detriment finding and denied visitation. Father renewed his request for visitation at the 12-month post-permanency review hearing. The juvenile court denied father’s request for a contested hearing, reaffirmed the detriment order, and denied his request for visitation. The court of appeal affirmed. Father, as the parent of a child where the permanent plan is legal guardianship, did not have an unqualified statutory right nor an unfettered due process right to a contested post-permanency review hearing. The juvenile court did not err in requiring him to make an offer of proof in support of his request for a hearing. View "In re A.B." on Justia Law

by
The issue presented by this appeal was whether youthful offenders who are statutorily ineligible for early parole consideration were nevertheless entitled to a "Franklin" proceeding to preserve evidence for their eventual parole hearing. During his early 20’s, appellant was involved in three separate criminal incidents. s a result of those incidents, appellant was convicted of kidnapping for robbery and multiple counts of robbery, burglary, false imprisonment and illegal gun possession. He was also found to have personally used a firearm during the offenses and suffered a prior strike conviction. The trial court sentenced him to 59 years to life in prison under the “Three Strikes” law. In 2020, appellant requested a Franklin proceeding to present mitigation evidence in anticipation of his youth offender parole hearing (YOPH). However, the trial court correctly determined appellant was not eligible for a YOPH because he was sentenced under the Three Strikes law. Therefore, it denied his request for a Franklin proceeding. Appellant admitted he was statutorily ineligible for a YOPH because he was sentenced under the Three Strikes law. However, he contended he is entitled to a YOPH – and a concomitant Franklin proceeding – as a matter of equal protection. Although the Court of Appeal rejected appellant’s equal protection argument, both parties concluded he was entitled to a Franklin proceeding under the standard rules applicable to all parole hearings. The trial court's judgment was reversed and the case remanded for such a proceeding. View "California v. Delgado" on Justia Law