Michael G., In re

Decision Date25 January 1988
Docket NumberS.F. 24917
Citation44 Cal.3d 283,747 P.2d 1152,243 Cal.Rptr. 224
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 747 P.2d 1152, 56 USLW 2482, 43 Ed. Law Rep. 1194 In re MICHAEL G., a minor, on Habeas Corpus. MICHAEL G., Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Fresno County, Respondent; The PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest.
Edward Sarkisian, Jr., Public Defender, and [747 P.2d 1154] Jose Villarreal, Deputy Public Defender, for petitioner

Wilbur F. Littlefield, Public Defender (Los Angeles), Alan H. Simon, Albert J. Menaster and Susan L. Burrell, Deputy Public Defenders, as amici curiae on behalf of petitioner.

No appearance for respondent.

Edward W. Hunt, District Attorney, and Kenneth Hahus, Deputy District Attorney, for respondent and for real party in interest.

Christopher N. Heard, George Nicholson and Myron Moskovitz as amici curiae on behalf of respondent and real party in interest.


In this case we decide whether a minor made a ward of the court pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 601, subdivision (b) 1 as a result of his truancy, and later found in contempt of court for wilfully disobeying a juvenile court order to attend school, may be punished with confinement in a secure facility during nonschool hours, or whether sections 601, subdivision (b) and 207 prohibit such a disposition. Like the majority of other state courts which have addressed similar statutory schemes, we conclude that a juvenile court retains the authority, pursuant to its contempt power, to order the secure, nonschool-hours confinement of a contemptuous section 601 ward. At the same time, in order to harmonize the juvenile court's exercise of its contempt power with the legislative determination that status offenders, including truants, 2 should not ordinarily be confined in secure facilities, we conclude--again following the lead of a number of out-of-state decisions--that before a juvenile court orders such incarceration pursuant to its contempt authority, it should make a number of specified findings establishing the necessity of such a course of action.


Petitioner Michael G., a minor, was adjudged a ward of the Fresno County Superior Court, Juvenile Division, pursuant to section 601, subdivision (b)--truancy. As a condition of probation he was ordered, inter alia, to "attend school regularly and not be tardy or absent." Following numerous unexcused absences from school, the court ordered petitioner to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court. A demurrer and alternative motion to dismiss the order to show cause were filed in which petitioner acknowledged receiving a copy of the probationary order and that Hearings were held on November 26 and December 3, 1984, after which the juvenile court concluded petitioner wilfully disobeyed the order of the court to attend school regularly and not be tardy or absent. Rejecting petitioner's demurrer and alternative motion to dismiss, the court ordered petitioner be delivered to the custody of the Director of Institutions of the Fresno County Probation Department for confinement for a 48-hour period. The court also ordered petitioner be held out of sight and hearing of any section 602 wards and that the 48-hour period would commence on Friday at 6 p.m., and end at 6 p.m., the following Sunday.

"he was able to comply with each order and failed to comply with such orders."

However, the juvenile court thereafter ordered petitioner to deliver himself into custody some 11 days hence "[t]o afford the minor the opportunity to ask review by the appellate court." Indeed, the juvenile court "earnestly" asked petitioner's counsel to seek writ review, stating: "[a]nd if it is determined that contempt proceedings or sanctions cannot be imposed against a Section 601(b) ward and that the Court cannot enforce its orders, then I certainly think that it's high time that the Court got out of the truancy business, [and] the [L]egislature place the Court in the position where it will have some dignity again. Certainly nothing is to be gained by the courts sitting here and pronouncing meaningless orders." The matter was later stayed by the Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District but upon reflection, that court vacated the stay and denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and/or prohibition. We then granted review.


In finding petitioner in contempt for violating a valid court order, the juvenile court exercised the traditional power inherent in judicial officials. "We start with the premise that the right of courts to conduct their business in an untrammeled way lies at the foundation of our system of government and that courts necessarily must possess the means of punishing for contempt when conduct tends directly to prevent the discharge of their functions." (Wood v. Georgia (1962) 370 U.S. 375, 383, 82 S.Ct. 1364, 1369, 8 L.Ed.2d 569.) "It is well established that a court has inherent power to punish for contempt of court [citation]." (In re Buckley (1973) 10 Cal.3d 237, 247, 110 Cal.Rptr. 121, 514 P.2d 1201, cert. den. 418 U.S. 910, 94 S.Ct. 3202, 41 L.Ed.2d 1156.) The contempt power thus exists independent from legislative sanction although in this case the Legislature has specifically recognized that the juvenile court retains the ordinary contempt powers. (§ 213.) 3

Although petitioner concedes that the juvenile court in general retains authority to hold wards who disobey its orders in contempt, he argues that, with respect to truants and other status offenders, the Legislature has specifically proscribed the incarceration of such juveniles even as a sanction for contempt. He relies on sections 601, subdivision (b) and 207. In response, the People argue (1) that the limitations of those sections are inapplicable to the contempt setting, and (2) that if the sections were intended to limit the contempt power, they could not constitutionally do so. As we shall explain, we find that there is no need to reach the constitutional question in this case because we conclude that the applicable statutes can and should be harmonized to both preserve the trial court's contempt authority and at the same time give recognition to the legislative policy reflected in sections 601, subdivision (b) and 207.

We begin with the actual language of those sections. The relevant portion of section 601, subdivision (b) states "it is the intent of the Legislature that no minor who is adjudged a ward of the court pursuant While the language of the statutes clearly indicates that the Legislature has determined that no juvenile is to be detained in jail or juvenile hall "solely upon the ground that he or she is a person described in section 601," neither statute expressly indicates that it was intended to apply to the contempt setting. Although the ascertainment of legislative intent is the paramount principle of statutory interpretation (Pollack v. Department of Motor Vehicles (1985) 38 Cal.3d 367, 372, 211 Cal.Rptr. 748, 696 P.2d 141; see also People v. Craft (1986) 41 Cal.3d 554, 559, 224 Cal.Rptr. 626, 715 P.2d 585), the statutory language does not reveal whether the Legislature intended sections 601, subdivision (b) and 207 to apply to the contempt situation.

solely to this subdivision shall be removed from the custody of the parent or guardian except during school hours." Section 207, subdivision (a) states in pertinent part: "[n]o minor shall be detained in any jail, lockup, juvenile hall, or other secure facility[747 P.2d 1156] who is taken into custody solely upon the ground that he or she is a person described in Section 601 or adjudged to be such or made a ward of the juvenile court solely upon that ground...."

A consideration of "the legislative history of the statute as well as the historical circumstances of its enactment" (People v. Black (1982) 32 Cal.3d 1, 5, 184 Cal.Rptr. 454, 648 P.2d 104) is similarly unhelpful. Truancy has long been a concern of the state but section 601 was codified in largely its present form in 1961. (Stats.1961, ch. 1616, § 2, pp. 3471-3472.) Over the years, the statute was altered and renumbered several times in ways not material to our present inquiry. The most important overall change was to require referral of truants to school attendance review boards before juvenile court intervention. In 1975, the Legislature added the school hours limitation to section 601, subdivision (b). (Stats.1975, ch. 1183, § 2, pp. 2917-2918.)

The Legislature's move towards utilizing the school attendance review boards as a condition precedent to the juvenile court's intervention is understandable and in keeping with legal commentary calling for greater participation of school and social welfare professionals, even to the exclusion of the juvenile court's jurisdiction. 4 However, no legislative statement of purpose exists concerning the Legislature's imposition of a school-hours limitation. More to the point, there is no evidence suggesting the Legislature intended this new provision to either include or except juvenile contemners.

The history of section 207 and its prohibition on secure detention for status offenders also fails to inform us whether the Legislature intended to affect the juvenile court's contempt power. Section 207 was first added to the code as part of This initial version of section 207 permitted the secure detention of status offenders if no other option was available. However, the Legislature amended the statute the next year to prohibit such detention of status offenders. (Stats.1977, ch. 1241, § 1, p. 4180.) Slight alterations were made in the following years but none of these amendments shed light on the applicability of section 207 to juvenile contemners. Thus, an examination of the history of sections 601, subdivision (b) and 207 yields no clue as to whether the Legislature intended these sections to limit a juvenile court's power to place a contemptuous status offender in secure...

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