Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Juvenile Law
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After receiving a citizen’s tip that Black males in a Mercedes were “acting shady,” four San Diego Police Department (SDPD) officers drove to the scene in two marked vehicles, activating emergency lights in one. Parking behind the Mercedes, the officers positioned themselves beside each of its four doors and asked the three teenagers inside for their names and identification. A records check later indicated that the driver was on probation subject to a Fourth Amendment waiver. The officers searched the vehicle and recovered a loaded firearm and sneakers linking the minors to a recent robbery. The minors moved to suppress the evidence found in the car, claiming their initial detention was not supported by reasonable suspicion. Finding the encounter was consensual rather than a detention, the juvenile court denied the motions. Two of the minors pleaded guilty to a subset of the charges originally filed. In a consolidated appeal, two of the minors, Edgerrin J. and Jamar D. challenged the denial of their motions to suppress, arguing the juvenile court erred in finding the encounter consensual, and claimed the citizen’s tip did not establish reasonable suspicion to detain them. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed on both points. However, the Court found conflicting evidence as to whether officers knew other facts that might furnish reasonable suspicion for the stop, or justify the detention and search pursuant to Edgerrin’s active Fourth Amendment waiver. Because the rationale for its ruling made it unnecessary for the juvenile court to address these other issues, judgment was reversed and remanded for a new hearing to permit it to assess witness credibility and reach factual findings in the first instance. View "In re Edgerrin J." on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, asserting that the denial of a youth offender parole hearing under Penal Code section 3051 violates his right to equal protection of the laws and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Petitioner, who was 21 years old at the time of the offense, was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and the jury found true the allegation that he personally used a firearm in the commission of the robbery. The jury also found true the special circumstance allegations that he committed multiple murders and murder during the commission of robbery. Petitioner was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).The Court of Appeal held that the amendment to section 3051 did not provide any relief to petitioner who had committed an LWOP offense after he had attained 18 years of age. The court rejected petitioner's equal protection argument, disagreeing that youth offenders sentenced to LWOP and those youth offenders sentenced to parole-eligible life terms are similarly situated with respect to the Legislature's first goal, which is to calibrate sentences in accordance with youthful offenders' diminished culpability. Furthermore, even if the court assumed petitioner is similarly situated to non-LWOP indeterminately-sentenced youth offenders aged 18 to 25, the court still would find no equal protection violation. Finally, the court held that petitioner's LWOP sentence did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. View "In re Williams" on Justia Law

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Kevin was charged in juvenile court with a murder he allegedly committed at age 17. A contested hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(a)(1) lasted several days. The juvenile court was presented with evidence demonstrating both the heinousness of the crime and that Kevin was raised by a loving family, had no prior criminal history, suffered little past trauma, and had no significant psychological or behavioral issues. Kevin’s juvenile hall behavior was exemplary. The juvenile court concluded that Kevin was unfit for the juvenile system and transferred him to criminal court, acknowledging “a certain tragedy” in its ruling. The court of appeal remanded for reconsideration. The court’s findings regarding section 707’s gravity and criminal-sophistication criteria are supported by substantial evidence but the court improperly evaluated section 707’s rehabilitation criterion, which it deemed its “most significant” consideration. A court cannot determine a juvenile’s rehabilitative needs based solely on the gravity of the offense, and the standard seven-year parole consideration period that applies to juveniles committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice for murder does not establish a presumptive rehabilitation period. View "Kevin P. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Lopez was convicted in criminal court of murder and related charges based on his actions at age 17. In 2019, the court recalled his sentence and resentenced him under Penal Code section 1170(d)(1) to remove a gang-benefit enhancement in light of an intervening California Supreme Court decision. Before the resentencing, Lopez moved to have a juvenile court hold a transfer hearing based on 2016’s Proposition 57, which eliminated prosecutors’ ability to directly file charges against minors in criminal court; a juvenile court must first conduct a “transfer hearing” to determine whether a matter should remain in juvenile court or be transferred to adult court. The trial court denied the motion concluding that Proposition 57 did not apply despite the resentencing, because Lopez’s original sentence became final before Proposition 57 took effect.The court of appeal conditionally reversed and remanded for a juvenile court to conduct a transfer hearing. Because section 1170(d)(1) resentencing replaces the original sentence, the only sentence that matters is the new sentence, which is not final because a resentenced defendant can still obtain review from the California Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court. The mere existence of the resentence makes the original sentence irrelevant. Lopez is entitled to a retroactive transfer hearing. View "People v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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Consistent with People v. Elizalde (2015) 61 Cal.4th 523, the Court of Appeal held that the routine booking question exception to Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, categorically applies to all of the core booking questions enumerated in Pennsylvania v. Muniz (1990) 496 U.S. 582, 601-602, and authorizes the admission of the defendant's answers to those specific questions into evidence without the need to assess those questions' incriminatory nature on a case-by-case basis.The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile adjudication in this case, holding that the trial court did not err in admitting the officer's testimony regarding the minor's answers to the booking questions about his age and date of birth, both of which fall squarely within Muniz's categories of basic biographical data. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's adjudication. View "The People v. J.W." on Justia Law

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In 2014, a jury convicted Lizarraga of second-degree murder and found that he personally used a firearm in connection with the shooting of a rival gang member. Lizarraga was 17 years old when he committed the crime. He was sentenced to 40 years to life in state prison. After his first appeal, Lizarraga filed a “Franklin” habeas corpus petition, requesting an opportunity to make a record relevant to his eventual youth offender parole hearing. The court granted the petition and set a hearing date. Lizarraga next moved for a transfer hearing in juvenile court under the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 (Proposition 57). The trial court denied the motion.The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that Lizarraga’s case was final when he requested the transfer hearing. Proposition 57 does not apply to final judgments. The Franklin hearing aside, Lizarraga’s case was final in June 2016, upon expiration of the time to seek U.S. Supreme Court review. The court rejected an argument that whenever a Franklin hearing is scheduled, finality is undone and all intervening changes in the law are in play. Lizarraga’s equal protection challenge is without merit. No “equal protection violation aris[es] from the timing of the effective date of a statute lessening the punishment for a particular offense.” View "People v. Lizarraga" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's sentence of life without the possibility of parole plus one year for robbery and felony murder with a special circumstance finding under Penal Code section 190.2, subdivision (a)(17), which mandates a sentence of death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Defendant was 18 years old at the time that he stabbed and killed a 15 year old boy.The court held that the felony murder special circumstance statute is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to defendant where the trial court instructed the jury on the independent felonious purpose rule, and defendant had notice of the conduct proscribed by section 190.2 and does not claim discriminatory prosecution. The court explained that the fact that the prosecutor had discretion to charge defendant under two statutes with different penalties does not render the statutory scheme unconstitutional. The court also held that defendant's sentence is not cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment; defendant forfeited his right to challenge the restitution fine and assessments; and the trial court's sentencing minute order and the abstract of judgment must be corrected because the trial court erred in imposing a parole revocation fine. View "People v. Montelongo" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to a plea bargain, minor K.W. admitted one count of robbery; counts alleging kidnapping, brandishing, and vandalism were dismissed. After he completed probation, he moved to seal the record under Welfare and Institutions Code section 786. He was not eligible for sealing, because robbery was one of the crimes listed in section 707(b). The trial court reduced the adjudication to the lesser included offense of grand theft, which was not a section 707(b) offense. The court then granted the motion to seal. The State appealed, contending: (1) the juvenile court lacked the authority to reduce the adjudication; and (2) reducing the adjudication violated the plea bargain. The Court of Appeal determined the statutes the juvenile court cited did not give it authority to reduce the conviction. Further, the Court held Welfare and Institutions Code section 782, which would allow the juvenile court to “set aside the findings and dismiss the petition” in the interest of justice, did not authorize the juvenile court to reduce an adjudication, at least when doing so would violate a plea bargain, as it would have here. Judgment was therefore reversed. View "In re K.W." on Justia Law

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After police arrested their mother, 10-year-old J. and her half-brothers were found at a homeless encampment and detained by the Alameda County Social Services Agency, which filed a juvenile dependency petition. At a paternity inquiry, Mother testified that Father is J.’s father. Mother and Father lived together until J. was two years old. Father had participated in Nevada child support proceedings, acknowledged J. as his child, and was subject to a child support order. Father had regular visits with J. After the Agency filed an amended petition naming Father as J.’s alleged father, the court declared the children dependents of the court, and placed the children with their maternal grandfather. The court held a later hearing, ordered a legal guardianship by the grandfather, then dismissed the dependency.During the proceedings, Father maintained his relationship with J. and consistently stated that he wanted custody. Father repeatedly contacted the Agency and provided a birth certificate showing his name as J.’s father. Court-appointed attorneys represented Father but he was unrepresented during critical proceedings and none of the attorneys took action on his behalf. At the dismissal hearing, the court noted that no counsel was present on Father’s behalf and acknowledged that the prior proceeding, without Father's counsel present "was an error.” Contrary to Welfare and Institutions Code 316.2(b), and California Rule 5.635(g), the court clerk never provided Father with notice of the procedure he should follow to establish that he is J.’s father and to protect his parental rights. The court of appeal reversed the juvenile court orders, finding that Father was prejudiced by the failure to comply with the notice requirements. View "In re J.W.-P." on Justia Law

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Deputies responded to a domestic violence report. J.E. had left the house. J.E.'s Mother signed a citizen’s arrest form for battery. The deputies saw J.E. outside, went to J.E. in their marked patrol car, identified themselves, and told J.E. they needed to escort her home. J.E. ignored their commands. The deputies grabbed her arms. J.E. began “flailing,” spit at the deputies, and kicked another vehicle, causing a dent. The deputies placed J.E. in the patrol car. J.E. kicked an officer in the stomach.A juvenile wardship petition alleged misdemeanor battery upon a peace officer and misdemeanor resisting, obstructing, or delaying a peace officer. Mother reported that J.E. had previously hit her and threatened to kill her. School records showed J.E. was suspended twice for being physically aggressive and making threats toward staff and was disciplined several times for unexcused absences, disrupting class, using profanity, and being under the influence of marijuana. Mother testified that J.E. was 11 when she began living with Mother, having previously lived with her grandmother. Mother stated she never taught J.E. the difference between right and wrong and never taught J.E. to respect police commands. The court found that J.E. understood the wrongfulness of her conduct, sustained the wardship petition, and placed J.E. on probation. The court of appeal affirmed, finding sufficient evidence that J.E. appreciated the wrongfulness of her conduct, as required for minors under the age of 14. (Pen. Code 26). View "In re J.E." on Justia Law