Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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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

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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

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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

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In 2012, Birdsall (age 16) and Nicosia murdered Latiolais in her home and stole a car, guns, jewelry, and marijuana. Birdsall had a distant family relationship with the victim and had done work at her home. Birdsall and Nicosia hid outside the house for several hours; when Latiolais did not leave, they decided to kill her and proceed with the burglary. They later returned and set the house on fire. Police arrested and interrogated Birdsall, who made inculpatory statements. Video recordings of the interrogation were played for the jury at Birdsall’s trial. Birdsall presented a mental state defense but was convicted of first-degree murder and arson. The jury found true the alleged special circumstances. The court sentenced Birdsall to life without the possibility of parole for the murder conviction, plus a consecutive five-year term for arson.After the retroactive application of Proposition 57, which requires that a transfer hearing be held in juvenile court before the initiation of adult criminal court proceedings against a minor, the case was remanded to juvenile court, which conducted a transfer hearing and found Birdsall not suitable for juvenile court adjudication and reinstated the original judgment. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Birdsall’s argument that the court erred by failing to suppress his inculpatory statements, which he claims were obtained in violation of Miranda and were involuntary, and challenges to his sentence and to one of the jury instructions. View "Peope v. Birdsall" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed the juvenile court’s jurisdiction and disposition orders pertaining to her children, citing the court’s findings that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA; 25 U.S.C. 1901) did not apply to the dependency proceedings. She argued that evidence of her children’s Native American ancestry triggered the duty under state law (Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2(e)) to further investigate whether her children come within the federal Act.The court of appeal vacated and remanded. The Department of Family and Children’s Services failed to comply with the statutory duty to further investigate whether the children are Indian children; the juvenile court’s negative ICWA findings were based on insufficient evidence. The social worker’s initial inquiry established a reason to believe the children are Indian children; both the mother and the maternal grandfather stated that “a maternal great grandfather may have Native American ancestry in Minnesota.” The court rejected an argument that further inquiry would be futile, and specifically that contacting the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the State Department of Social Services would be an idle act. View "In re I.F." on Justia Law

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By passing Proposition 83 (Jessica's Law), voters intended to continue to classify the crime of possession of child pornography as a "wobbler" so that juvenile courts could continue to declare it as either a felony or a misdemeanor.In this case, H.N., a minor, appeals an order of the juvenile court sustaining a Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 petition with a finding that he possessed child pornography. The Court of Appeal concluded that the juvenile court erred by not making an express finding per Welfare and Institutions Code section 702 whether the Penal Code section 311.11, subdivision (a) offense was a felony or a misdemeanor. The court struck the maximum turn of confinement finding H.N. was placed on home probation and remanded to the juvenile court to make a finding whether the offense is a felony or a misdemeanor. The court otherwise affirmed. View "In re H.N." on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of special-circumstance murder and sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed when she was 16 years old. The Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's conviction and remanded for resentencing in light of Penal Code section 190.5, subdivision (b). On remand, the trial court mischaracterized the court's mandate as simply directing a clarification of its prior sentencing decision.The Court of Appeal concluded that defendant is entitled to a sentencing decision made in the exercise of informed discretion by the sentencing court, and the court cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the outcome would not be different if she were present at the hearing and she and her counsel had a fair opportunity to provide information concerning the youth-related mitigating factors identified in Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. 460, and People v. Gutierrez (2014) 58 Cal.4th 1354, 1388-1389. However, the court concluded that a different result is not possible before the judge who has previously heard the matter. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment and again remanded for resentencing with all further proceedings to be heard before a different trial judge. View "People v. Guerrero" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed an order terminating her parental rights under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. She argued that the Department of Children and Family Services and the court failed to comply with Code section 224.2 by inquiring whether her child is or might be an Indian child within the meaning of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Mother had “denied Native American ancestry for the family.”The court of appeal affirmed, finding any error harmless. The maternal grandmother is the only person Mother identified as a person who should have been asked about Indian ancestry; she had expressed her desire to adopt the child and to have the child placed with her. Under ICWA, when an Indian child is the subject of foster care or adoptive placement proceedings, “preference shall be given, in the absence of good cause to the contrary, to a placement with .. a member of the Indian child’s extended family,” 25 U.S.C. 1915(a), (b). Maternal grandmother, Mother’s counsel, and the child.’s counsel, each of whom requested placement with the maternal grandmother, would have had a strong incentive to bring to the court’s attention any facts that suggest that she is an Indian child. Their failure to do so implies that the maternal grandmother is unaware of such facts. View "In re S.S." on Justia Law

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Maria appealed the termination of her parental rights over her three children, who all have the same father, arguing that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) failed to interview her extended family members about their Indian ancestry. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, 25 U.S.C. 1901, gives Indian tribes concurrent jurisdiction over state court child custody proceedings that involve Indian children living off of a reservation; where possible, an Indian child should remain in the Indian community. California Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2 lists requirements to effectuate the Act’s policies. The court of appeal affirmed. The record does not support Maria’s argument that readily obtainable information would have shed meaningful light on whether the children are Indian children. There was a prior juvenile court finding that two of Maria’s children are not Indian children, the juvenile court asked Maria, the father, and paternal aunt about Indian ancestry, both parents eschewed Indian ancestry, and Maria was living with extended family members whom she could have asked about potential Indian ancestry. It was unlikely that any further inquiry of family members would have yielded information about Indian ancestry. View "In re Darian R." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Elijah Hall was convicted by jury of six counts of robbery committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang and one count of active gang participation (all committed when he was 15 years old), and he received a sentence of 65 years to life in state prison. Hall appealed, and while his appeal was pending, Proposition 57 raised the minimum age a minor could be tried as an adult in criminal court from 14 to 16. Following the procedure approved in California v. Superior Court (Lara) 4 Cal.5th 299 (2018), the trial judge recalled Hall’s sentence and transferred his case to juvenile court, where the judge “treat[ed the] convictions as juvenile adjudications” and held a hearing to impose an appropriate disposition. After Hall was transferred to the Department of Juvenile Justice, he informed the Court of Appeal he wished to proceed with his appeal, which was reinstated as an appeal of a judgment in a juvenile criminal proceeding. Hall raised two challenges to the criminal trial on which his juvenile adjudications were based: (1) the trial judge violated his due process rights by instructing the jury with CALCRIM No. 315, which covered eyewitness identification evidence and tells the jury to consider, among other factors, the witness’s level of certainty when making the identification; and (2) Assembly Bill No. 333 (2021–2022 Reg. Sess.) required reversal of the true findings on the substantive gang offense and enhancements because the new law increased the proof requirements under the gang statute (Pen. Code 186.22). The Court of Appeal rejected Defendant's first argument under California v. Lemcke, 11 Cal.5th 644 (2021), in which the Supreme Court held that CALCRIM No. 315’s certainty factor did not violate due process. The Court agreed with Defendant's second argument, and remanded the case to give the State an opportunity to retry the substantive charge and enhancement allegations under Assembly Bill 333’s new requirements in a juvenile criminal proceeding, and impose a new disposition in Hall’s case - either at the conclusion of retrial or upon the State's election not to retry him. Judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "California v. Hall" on Justia Law