People v. Greg F. (In re Greg F.)

Decision Date27 August 2012
Docket NumberNo. S191868.,S191868.
Citation12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 9786,146 Cal.Rptr.3d 272,55 Cal.4th 393,2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 11873,283 P.3d 1160
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesIn re GREG F., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. The People, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Greg F., Defendant and Appellant.


See 10 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (10th ed. 2005) Parent and Child, § 951 et seq.

Lisa M. Romo, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Susan L. Burrell for Pacific Juvenile Defender Center and Youth Law Center as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Assistant Attorney General, Donald E. DeNicola, Deputy State Solicitor General, Martin S. Kaye, Michael E. Banister, Laurence K. Sullivan, Eric D. Share and Jeffrey M. Bryant, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


This case involves the interplay between two statutes governing juvenile delinquency dispositions. Welfare and Institutions Code section 733, subdivision (c) (section 733(c)) 1 establishes a general rule that a ward cannot be committed to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF), unless the most recent offense alleged in any petition and admitted or found to be true by the court (italics added) is one of the violent offenses listed in section 707, subdivision (b) (section 707(b)). On the other hand, section 782 provides that the juvenile court has the power to dismiss any wardship petition if “the interests of justice and the welfare of the minor require such dismissal.”

These two provisions may both come into play when a ward on probation for a DJF-eligible offense commits a new offense that is not listed in section 707(b). If the prosecution files a notice of a probation violation under section 777 (777 notice), the court has the power to revoke the ward's probation and commit the ward to DJF. However, if the prosecution files a new section 602 petition (602 petition), the plain language of section 733(c) will prohibit the court from ordering a DJF commitment if the allegation is admitted or found true because the new offense is the “most recent offense alleged in any petition” and is not DJF eligible. The question arises whether, under these circumstances, the juvenile court may use its broad discretion under section 782 to dismiss the second petition so that the matter can be treated as a probation violation, allowing the ward to be committed to DJF. Based on the plain language of the statutes, legislative history, and the policies served by the juvenile court law, we conclude the court has that discretion.

A. September 2008 Assault on Joseph C.

On September 16, 2008, 11–year–old Joseph C. was riding his bicycle in Santa Rosa when a car stopped next to him. The minor, Greg F., and two other boys jumped out, yelling Norteño gang slogans and displaying gang hand signs. The minor hit Joseph on the head with a baseball bat, knocking him off his bicycle. The minor tried to take the bicycle, but Joseph clung to it. Joseph was airlifted to the hospital and underwent surgery. He was hospitalized for seven days and suffered lingering neurological damage.

The ensuing 602 petition alleged the minor had committed assault with a deadly weapon and by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (Pen.Code, § 245, subd. (a)(1)), had personally inflicted great bodily injury (Pen.Code, § 12022.7, subd. (a)), and had acted for the benefit of a criminal street gang (Pen.Code, § 186.22, subd. (b)(1)(C)). The minor admitted each of the allegations, and the petition was sustained. Because [a]ssaultby any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury” is one of the offenses listed in section 707(b), the minor was eligible for a DJF commitment. (§ 707, subd. (b)(14); see § 733(c).) The maximum term was 17 years.

The probation department unanimously recommended a commitment to DJF based on “the minor's callous act of violence upon a young victim, who continues to be emotionally and physically [a]ffected by the minor's actions, the minor's lack of remorse for the victim, and the risk he poses to the community.” Due to the severity of his offense, the minor was not considered a suitable candidate for the department's placement services. Moreover, the department believed DJF could best provide him with “appropriate and necessary treatment and rehabilitation services.” The juvenile court declared the minor a ward of the court but rejected the probation department's recommended disposition and instead ordered an out-of-home placement. This placement was terminated after five months because the minor refused to participate in treatment. Staff voiced concern over the minor's entrenched gang involvement and lack of empathy for his victim. On June 11, 2009, the minor was detained in juvenile hall pending identification of another suitable placement.

B. August 2009 Battery in Juvenile Hall

On August 16, 2009, during dinner at the juvenile hall, the minor and two other Norteño gang members suddenly stood up and attacked three Sureño gang members sitting nearby. Punches were exchanged. Juvenile hall staff members were initially unable to break up the fight.

The district attorney filed a new 602 petition on August 18, 2009, alleging the minor had committed two offenses: (1) battery for the benefit of a gang (Pen.Code, §§ 186.22, subd. (d), 242); and (2) knowing participation in a gang (Pen.Code, § 186.22, subd. (a)). Neither offense is “described in subdivision (b) of Section 707.” (§ 733(c).) At the detention hearing the next morning, the minor admitted the battery offense and associated gang enhancement. In return, the district attorney dismissed the gang participation count. The juvenile court accepted the admission and set the matter for a disposition hearing.

Three days later, with the probation officer's concurrence, the district attorney filed an ex parte request to calendar a motion to “withdraw” the minor's plea. The following Monday, the prosecutor filed a notice of probation violation under section 777, based on the assault in juvenile hall. The prosecutor admitted having filed the 602 petition in error, rather than proceeding by way of a probation violation. He asked the court to withdraw the minor's plea and strike the petition, explaining that the prosecution was “trying to get to a [DJF-eligible] offense” related to the prior petition because of the probation department's concerns. In particular, he noted, “there aren't any placements that are willing to accept Greg and we don't have anywhere to put him.” With the court's permission, the prosecutor filed a formal motion to set aside the minor's admission and dismiss the August 18, 2009 petition. After full briefing and argument, the court granted the motion, dismissing the August 18, 2009 petition in the interests of justice and the minor's welfare. (§ 782.) The court explained that it dismissed the new 602 petition to create the “best options” for disposition.

The minor subsequently admitted the section 777 probation violation. The court referred the matter to probation for an updated recommendation on disposition. The matter was continued several times to determine whether the minor could be successful in juvenile hall or in another placement short of DJF. When the disposition hearing was held on February 3, 2010, the probation officer reported that the minor had been involved in yet another assault on a rival gang member in juvenile hall. Moreover, in light of his gang involvement and violent behavior in juvenile hall, none of the placement programs the probation officer had contacted were willing to accept the minor. The court committed the minor to DJF and set the maximum term of confinement at 17 years.

This dispositional order was reversed on appeal. The Court of Appeal held that section 733(c) limits a juvenile court's authority to dismiss a petition under section 782, and the court could not commit the minor to DJF based on the August 18, 2009 petition. In reaching that conclusion, the appellate court agreed with V.C. v. Superior Court (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 1455, 93 Cal.Rptr.3d 851( V.C.) and rejected the contrary reasoning in In re J.L. (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 43, 85 Cal.Rptr.3d 35( J.L.). We granted review to resolve the conflicting case law. We now hold that section 733(c) does not deprive the juvenile court of its discretion to dismiss a 602 petition and commit a ward to DJF when, in compliance with section 782, such a dismissal is in the interests of justice and for the benefit of the minor.


The minor argues the juvenile court lacked authority to dismiss his 602 petition for two reasons. First, he asserts the limitation on DJF commitments in section 733(c) is a more specific, later-enacted statute that overrides section 782. Second, he contends section 782 may only be used to terminate jurisdiction over a minor. Because the dismissal here was used to “reach back” to an earlier petition and commit an otherwise-ineligible ward to DJF, the minor claims the dismissal was not “in the interests of justice,” as required by section 782. We reject both of these arguments.

A. Summary of Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings

Although juvenile delinquency proceedings have been called “quasi-criminal” ( Joe Z. v. Superior Court (1970) 3 Cal.3d 797, 801, 91 Cal.Rptr. 594, 478 P.2d 26), we have also observed that they are ‘fundamentally different’ from adult criminal proceedings” and require “that a ‘balance’ be struck between the ‘informality’ and ‘flexibility’ necessary in juvenile proceedings and attention to the juvenile's constitutional rights. ( Alfredo A. v. Superior Court (1994) 6 Cal.4th 1212, 1215, 26 Cal.Rptr.2d 623, 865 P.2d 56.) One important difference between juvenile delinquency and adult criminal...

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