Manuel L., In re

Decision Date31 January 1994
Docket NumberNo. S030597,S030597
Citation7 Cal.4th 229,865 P.2d 718,27 Cal.Rptr.2d 2
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 865 P.2d 718 In re MANUEL L., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. MANUEL L., Defendant and Appellant.

Daniel E. Lungren, Atty. Gen., George Williamson, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Ronald A. Bass, Asst. Atty. Gen., Ronald S. Matthias and Mark S. Howell, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

PANELLI, Justice.

Penal Code section 26 articulates a presumption that a minor under the age of 14 is incapable of committing a crime. (Pen.Code, § 26, subd. One.) 1 To defeat the presumption, the People must show by "clear proof" that at the time the minor committed the charged act, he or she knew of its wrongfulness. This provision applies to proceedings under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602. 2 (In re Gladys R., supra, 1 Cal.3d at p. 867, 83 Cal.Rptr. 671, 464 P.2d 127.) Only those minors over the age of 14, who may be presumed to understand the wrongfulness of their acts, and those under 14 who--as demonstrated by their age, experience, conduct, and knowledge--clearly appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct rightly may be made wards of the court in our juvenile justice system. (Ibid.)

This case requires us to determine whether the term "clear proof," as used in Penal Code section 26, refers to a burden of persuasion akin to clear and convincing evidence, as the People urge and the Courts of Appeal in this case and in In re Clyde H. (1979) 92 Cal.App.3d 338, 154 Cal.Rptr. 727 held, or whether it must be interpreted to mean proof beyond a reasonable doubt, as appellant Manuel L. argues and several other Courts of Appeal have held. (See In re Billie Y. (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 127, 131, 269 Cal.Rptr. 212; In re Francisco N. (1986) 186 Cal.App.3d 175, 178, 230 Cal.Rptr. 475; In re Richard T. (1985) 175 Cal.App.3d 248, 252-253, 220 Cal.Rptr. 573; Shortridge v. Municipal Court (1984) 151 Cal.App.3d 611, 618, 198 Cal.Rptr. 749.) We conclude that the former standard governs. Hence, for a section 602 petition to be sustained, the People must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the minor appreciated the wrongfulness of the charged conduct at the time it was committed. Accordingly, we affirm.


On June 19, 1991, Linda Burrow discovered her bicycle was missing. After a neighbor told Ms. Burrow she had seen Manuel riding the bicycle, Ms. Burrow confronted him. He denied taking the bicycle, but admitted he had some of its parts and knew they were stolen. After waiving his Miranda rights, 3 11-year-old Manuel told a police officer that another minor had given him the parts. He also said he had bought his bicycle from Deon Watts, but Watts claimed Manuel was not telling the truth. Manuel was placed on informal supervision.

On October 29, 1991, Manuel approached some minors and, using a slingshot or rubber band, shot sharp pieces of glass at one of them. When questioned about the incident, Manuel denied shooting or throwing any glass.

After the glass incident, Manuel's informal supervision was terminated. A section 602 petition was filed, alleging that Manuel had violated Penal Code sections 496 (receiving stolen property) and 245, subdivision (a)(1) (assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury). The parties agreed to submit the matter to the court based on the probation report and the juvenile contact reports, and stipulated that the offenses be reduced to misdemeanors. The trial court ordered a psychological evaluation of Manuel, asking the psychiatrist to determine whether Manuel understood the wrongfulness of his conduct. The psychiatrist reported that Manuel knew it was wrong to possess stolen bicycle parts and to throw broken glass at people.

The court found the allegations of the petition to be true and adjudged Manuel a ward of the court. Although the court did not think it necessary to make a specific finding beyond a reasonable doubt, it found, based on the psychiatrist's report, that Manuel understood the wrongfulness of his conduct.

Manuel appealed, contending the trial court erred in not requiring a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Manuel knew the wrongfulness of his conduct. Manuel also urged there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that he knew his conduct was wrongful. The Court of Appeal rejected his contentions.


Our first task is to determine the proper standard of proof applicable to findings under Penal Code section 26. As will appear, we conclude the Court of Appeal correctly held that the prosecution must present clear and convincing evidence that the minor knows the wrongfulness of his conduct in order to sustain a finding that he is a person falling within section 602. We will then consider whether due process demands application, instead, of the more rigorous standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that governs determinations of guilt in criminal cases generally. (See In re Winship (1970) 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368.) We hold that the clear and convincing evidence standard satisfies constitutional due process requirements in this context.

Our aim in construing a statute has often been articulated: We attempt to ascertain the intent of the Legislature, looking first to the statutory language itself. (Adoption of Kelsey S. (1992) 1 Cal.4th 816, 826, 4 Cal.Rptr.2d 615, 823 P.2d 1216.) With that goal in mind, we turn to the statute.

In 1872, at the time of the adoption of Penal Code section 26, the term "clear proof" meant something other than beyond a reasonable doubt. When the Legislature intended to invoke the latter standard, it did so explicitly. The same year, the Legislature also adopted Penal Code section 1096, which provided that "[a] defendant in a criminal action is presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proved, and in case of a reasonable doubt whether his guilt is satisfactorily shown, he is entitled to an acquittal." Contemporaneously, in adopting former Penal Code section 262 the Legislature applied the reasonable doubt standard to a fact not ordinarily an element of the crime, applicable to boys under 14: "No conviction for rape can be had against one who was under the age of fourteen years at the time of the act alleged, unless his physical ability to accomplish penetration is proved as an independent fact, and beyond a reasonable doubt." (Pen.Code, former § 262, repealed by Stats.1978, ch. 29, § 1, p. 115.) That the Legislature could and did prescribe differing burdens of persuasion for cases involving minors under 14 is especially significant here, suggesting as it does that had the Legislature intended the more stringent standard to govern determinations of juvenile capacity, it would have said so with clarity.

What, then, does "clear proof" mean? The term has been interpreted to mean "clear and convincing evidence." In People v. Terry (1960) 180 Cal.App.2d 48, 59, 4 Cal.Rptr. 597, the court considered whether the evidence Manuel argues, however, that section 701, read together with section 602 and Penal Code section 26, demands application of the reasonable doubt standard. In 1961, when separate procedures were adopted for juvenile cases, section 701 provided in pertinent part as follows: "At the hearing, the court shall first consider only the question whether the minor is a person described by [section] ... 602, and for this purpose, any matter or information relevant and material to the circumstances or acts which are alleged to bring him within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court is admissible and may be received in evidence; however, a preponderance of the evidence, legally admissible in the trial of criminal cases, must be adduced to support a finding that the minor is a person described by [s]ection 602...." (Stats.1961, ch. 1616, § 2, p. 3482, emphasis added.) Then, following the United States Supreme Court's decision in In re Winship, supra, 397 U.S. at pages 364-368, 90 S.Ct. at pages 1072-1075, that due process requires proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in juvenile proceedings, the Legislature in 1971 amended section 701. The statute now provides: "[P]roof beyond a reasonable doubt supported by evidence, legally admissible in the trial of criminal cases, must be adduced to support a finding that the minor is a person described by Section 602...." (§ 701, as amended by Stats.1971, ch. 934, § 1, p. 1833.)

                was sufficient to support a conviction of violating Penal Code section 286, in part because the 11-year-old witness allegedly was an accomplice whose testimony was uncorroborated.  The court determined that clear and convincing evidence demonstrated the witness was capable of committing the crime by virtue of his knowledge of the wrongfulness of the [7 Cal.4th 235] act.  (180 Cal.App.2d at p. 59, 4 Cal.Rptr. 597.)   Similarly, the Court of Appeal in In re Michael B.  (1983) 149 Cal.App.3d 1073, 197 Cal.Rptr. 379 equated "clear proof" with clear and convincing evidence.  (Id. at p. 1087, 197 Cal.Rptr. 379 [noting, at fn. 6, that "[a] persuasive constitutional and statutory argument" could be made that the "clear proof" standard of Pen.Code, § 26, subd.  One, requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt].)

Manuel notes that when it amended section 701 in 1971, the Legislature presumably was aware of our opinion in In re Gladys R., supra, 1 Cal.3d at page 867, 83 Cal.Rptr. 671, 464 P.2d 127, in which we conditioned wardship under section 602 on meeting the capacity test articulated in Penal Code section 26. (See In re Michael G. (1988) 44 Cal.3d 283, 293, 243 Cal.Rptr. 224, 747 P.2d 1152 [Legislature is presumed to be aware of preexisting law.].) Consequently, according to Manuel, when it enacted the reasonable doubt standard in 701, the Legislature implicitly...

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