Armondo A., In re

Citation5 Cal.Rptr.2d 101,3 Cal.App.4th 1185
Decision Date24 February 1992
Docket NumberNo. E008626,E008626
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
PartiesIn re ARMONDO A., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. PEOPLE of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. ARMONDO A., Defendant and Appellant.

DABNEY, Associate Justice.

A juvenile court petition was filed May 21, 1990 alleging that minor, Armondo A., violated Vehicle Code section 10851, felony automobile theft. Before the petition had been filed, the probation officer had determined, pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 654, 1 that informal supervision would not be appropriate for minor's circumstances. Upon minor's request, the court referred the matter to the probation department for reconsideration of informal supervision. On August 15 and 22, the court held hearings for consideration of informal supervision and denied the minor's request.

On August 23, 1990, the minor admitted the allegation in the petition as a misdemeanor. The court declared minor to be a ward of the court and determined the maximum period of confinement would be one year. Minor was placed on formal probation in the custody of his parents.

On appeal, minor contends the juvenile court failed to properly exercise its discretion in determining his eligibility for informal supervision. He also asserts he was denied due process in the hearing on this matter.


The underlying facts of the petition are not relevant to the issues in this case; however, we set them out briefly as background.

Minor was found in possession of a vehicle which had been stolen. The rear window of the car was broken, and the ignition lock was punched. Minor told police he had found the car in an alley and knew it was stolen. He said he started the car with fingernail clippers and had been driving the car for three or four days.

I Informal Supervision: Court's Determination

Minor contends the trial court erred in failing to make an independent determination of his suitability for informal supervision. The transcript of the hearing on this issue reveals that the court limited its decision to a review of the probation officer's discretionary decision and did not exercise its independent discretion. The court stated, "I will certainly give the discretionary decision by the probation office a fair review, but I don't think I have to hear testimony." The court indicated it understood that it could overrule the probation officer, dismiss the petition and direct that minor be given informal supervision; however, it limited its decision to "whether or not the investigation was fair and that the probation officer exercised her discretion properly."

"If a petition has been filed by the prosecuting attorney to declare a minor a ward of the court under Section 602, the court may, without adjudging the minor a ward of the court and with the consent of the minor and the minor's parents or guardian, continue any hearing on a petition for six months and order the minor to participate in a program of supervision as set forth in Section 654." (§ 654.2, subd. (a).) Section 654 allows the probation officer to delineate a program of informal supervision in lieu of filing a petition or requesting the prosecuting attorney to file a petition to declare the minor a ward. The probation officer is guided in this decision by the factors listed in California Rules of Court, rule 1405(b), formerly rule 1404(e).

Section 654 further provides: "The program of supervision of the minor undertaken pursuant to this section may call for the minor to obtain care and treatment for the misuse of or addiction to controlled substances from a county mental health service or other appropriate community agency. [p] The program of supervision shall require the parents ... of the minor to participate with the minor in counseling or education programs, including, but not limited to, parent education and parenting programs operated by community colleges, school districts, or other appropriate agencies designated by the court if the program of supervision is pursuant to the procedure prescribed in Section 654.2." It further provides for other services which may be designated as part of the minor's informal probation. (§ 654.)

Because the district attorney had filed a petition in this case, the court's decision whether to grant informal supervision was subject to section 654.2. That section was enacted in 1989, and no case law exists which assists us in our determination of whether the court's decision pursuant to this section is merely a review of the probation officer's earlier decision or an independent exercise of its own discretion.

Section 654.2 does not mention a review of the probation officer's discretion. Instead, it suggests the court must exercise its own discretion in its decision whether informal supervision is appropriate. If the language of a statute is clear, its plain meaning should be followed. (Great Lakes Properties, Inc. v. City of El Segundo (1977) 19 Cal.3d 152, 155, 137 Cal.Rptr. 154, 561 P.2d 244.)

In interpreting statutes, the courts must construe them to give effect to the Legislature's intent. (Landrum v. Superior Court (1981) 30 Cal.3d 1, 12, 177 Cal.Rptr. 325, 634 P.2d 352.) The Legislature intended to address juvenile delinquency at its inception and at the earliest signs of delinquency with a less structured program. To meet this objective it gave the courts more authority to deal with minors before they become habitual criminals. Section 654.2 created a new power in the juvenile courts by allowing them to order informal supervision after a petition had been filed. This power is in addition to the probation officer's already existing pre-petition discretion. (Sen. Bill No. 1275 (1988-1989 Reg.Sess.) §§ 1, 11; Sen. Com. on Judiciary Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 1275 (1989) p. 4; Sen. Rules Com. Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 1275 (1989) pp. 3-4; Sen. Floor Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 1275 (1989) pp. 2-3; Assem. Com. on Public Safety Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 1275 (1989) p. 3.)

It appears that section 654.2 creates a new power in the court to grant informal probation supervision in a post-petition setting independently of the probation officer's pre-petition discretion. Therefore, the juvenile court's refusal to exercise its independent discretion in determining whether informal supervision was appropriate was error. The court's failure to exercise its discretion requires that the case be reversed and remanded to the juvenile court where minor may withdraw his admission to the section 602 petition. The juvenile court shall conduct a new hearing on minor's suitability for informal probation supervision. At this hearing, the court shall exercise its independent discretion in determining the matter. (People v. Surplice (1962) 203 Cal.App.2d 784, 792, 21 Cal.Rptr. 826.)

II Evidence Admissible at Section 654.2 Hearing

To assist the juvenile court in the conduct of the hearing on remand, we address minor's second issue. Minor argues he was denied due process when the court refused to consider the evidence he proffered to show that he was a suitable candidate for informal probation. 2 At the hearing on informal probation, the court limited the evidence to the probation officer's testimony concerning her investigation and basis for her decision. The court stated, "If you are suggesting testimony, that I have to endure testimony from witnesses, I don't think that's the law." The court later added, "But to say that the court also must endure all of the testimony, that's not true. The decision is whether or not the investigation was fair and that the probation officer exercised her...

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