People v. Ronald P. (In re Ronald P.)

Decision Date01 September 2015
Docket NumberA143335
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesIn re Ronald P., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Ronald P., Defendant and Appellant.


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

(Solano County Super. Ct. No. J-42326)


Defendant Ronald P., a 15-year-old ward of the juvenile court, was riding with three adult companions in a white Pontiac. Two Vallejo police officers on patrol pulled the Pontiac over because it had no rear license plate. The officers smelled the odor of marijuana and observed a marijuana cigarette in the center console of the car. After the driver told the officers that there was marijuana in the car, the officers decided to search the vehicle and placed the occupants—including defendant—in handcuffs. One of the officers did a pat-down search of defendant and found a loaded .40 caliber firearm in his front waistband. The district attorney filed a wardship petition charging defendant with possession of a firearm and possession of live ammunition by a minor. Following acontested jurisdictional hearing pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, the court found the allegations true.1

On appeal, defendant raises three issues. First, he contends that the juvenile court erred in denying his motion to suppress the firearm as the result of an unconstitutional search. Second, he argues that the juvenile court abused its discretion in choosing to have defendant's case proceed as a delinquency proceeding under section 602 as opposed to a dependency proceeding under section 300. Finally, he contends that the probation condition requiring him to "maintain acceptable grades, behavior and attendance" is unconstitutionally vague.

We find the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in deciding to have defendant's case proceed as a delinquency matter and did not err in denying the motion to suppress. We agree, however, that the challenged probation condition is unconstitutionally vague and will modify it.


On August 24, 2014, defendant was riding in a white Pontiac car with three adult companions. Vallejo Police Officer David McLaughlin and his partner saw the car and, after noting that it did not have a rear license plate, initiated a traffic stop. The driver failed to stop the car immediately despite passing multiple safe locations to pull over. The officers activated their lights and sirens, at which point the vehicle pulled over. As the officers approached the vehicle, they smelled the odor of marijuana and saw a marijuana "blunt' in the center console of the car. The driver admitted that there was marijuana in the vehicle, but asserted he had a "card."

The officers decided to search the vehicle and, pursuant to Vallejo Police Department policy, individually handcuffed the four occupants while they were seated in the vehicle. The officers then told the occupants to step out of the car. While defendant was stepping out of the front passenger seat, Officer McLaughlin conducted a pat downsearch of defendant. Officer McLaughlin felt the butt of what turned out to be a loaded Smith & Wesson .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun in defendant's front right waistband. Defendant told Officer McLaughlin "[t]hat's my 40."

On August 26, 2014, the Solano County District Attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition against defendant pursuant to section 602, subdivision (a). The petition charged defendant with possession of a firearm by a minor in violation of Penal Code section 29610 and possession of live ammunition by a minor in violation of Penal Code section 29650.

At arraignment, defendant's counsel requested that a joint assessment report be prepared pursuant to section 241.1 to determine whether the case should proceed as a juvenile delinquency or a juvenile dependency matter, and the court granted the request. On September 17, 2014, the Probation Department and the Child Welfare Services Division filed their Agreed Joint Assessment Report (Joint Assessment Report). The report contained an extensive discussion of defendant's family situation, including his mother's numerous neglect referrals, the conflict between his mother and the great-aunt with whom defendant had lived for most of his life, and his mother's struggle with maintaining stable housing. The report also noted that defendant avoided the enforcement of rules or discipline in the homes of his various family members simply by leaving and going to stay at another family member's home. Ultimately, the agencies recommended that defendant's case proceed as a delinquency action under section 602 rather than as a dependency action under section 300. After a hearing on September 17, 2014, the juvenile court agreed with the joint assessment and decided that the case would proceed as a delinquency action "given the nature of [the] offense and [defendant's] ability to play one family member off against another."

At a combined suppression/jurisdiction hearing, defendant moved to suppress the gun, arguing that Officer McLaughlin's search of defendant violated the Fourth Amendment. Officer McLaughlin testified at the suppression hearing as to his safety concerns during the traffic stop: "[E]very traffic stop is inherently dangerous. When there's marijuana inside of a vehicle, to me it ups the danger because people, from myexperience, involved with narcotics or marijuana are sometimes armed with firearms." The juvenile court denied defendant's motion to suppress. It found Officer McLaughlin credible and stated that the two officers were confronting a "car full of people and drugs were present." The court concluded that "given the fact that drugs were present, . . . it raised a significant concern as to officer safety, making the pat-search reasonable under the circumstances." In the alternative, the court held that because defendant was on probation2 and had a probationary search condition, the discovery of the gun could be justified under the doctrine of inevitable discovery.

At the jurisdiction hearing the juvenile court sustained both counts of the petition. At the subsequent disposition hearing, the juvenile court committed defendant to Solano County Juvenile Hall for 130 days with credit for time served and placed him on probation. Defendant's conditions of probation include the requirement that he "[a]ttend school regularly and maintain acceptable grades, behavior and attendance."

A. Defendant's Motion to Suppress
1. Standard of Review

"The standard of review of a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress is well established and is equally applicable to juvenile court proceedings. ' "On appeal from the denial of a suppression motion, the court reviews the evidence in a light favorable to the trial court's ruling." ' " (In re Lennies H. (2005) 126 Cal.App.4th 1232, 1236, quoting In re William V. (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 1464, 1468.) We defer to the trial court's factual findings, express or implied, when supported by substantial evidence. (People v. Superior Court (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 1004, 1011.) We then exercise our independent judgment in applying the law to the factual findings to determine whether the factual record supports the trial court's conclusions. (People v. Rogers (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1136, 1157.)

2. Analysis

Defendant contends that the juvenile court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Defendant does not contest the validity of the underlying traffic stop or the officers' decision to remove him from the vehicle. Instead, he makes two arguments. First, he argues that Officer McLaughlin's use of handcuffs transformed the initial detention into a de facto arrest that had to be supported by probable cause.3 In the alternative, he contends that even if there was no de facto arrest, the pat-down search of defendant was unconstitutional because the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that defendant was armed and dangerous. We address each contention in turn.

a. De Facto Arrest

" 'Detentions' " for Fourth Amendment purposes are seizures of an individual which are "strictly limited in duration, scope and purpose" and which "may be undertaken by police 'if there is an articulable suspicion that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime.' " (Wilson v. Superior Court (1983) 34 Cal.3d 777, 784, quoting Florida v. Royer (1983) 460 U.S. 491, 498.) However, "courts have long recognized that an investigative detention may, at some point, become so overly intrusive that it can no longer be characterized as a minimal intrusion designed to confirm quickly or dispel the suspicions which justified the initial stop. [Citation.] When the detention exceeds the boundaries of a permissible investigative stop, the detention becomes a de facto arrest requiring probable cause." (In re Carlos M. (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 372, 384.)

There is no " 'hard and fast line to distinguish permissible investigative detentions from impermissible de facto arrests. Instead the issue is decided on the facts of each case, with focus on whether the police diligently pursued a means of investigation reasonably designed to dispel or confirm their suspicions quickly, using the least intrusive means reasonably available under the circumstances.' " (People v. Celis (2004) 33 Cal.4th 667, 674-675, quoting In re Carlos M., supra, 220 Cal.App.3d at pp. 384-385.) Accordingly, an officer's use of handcuffs "for a short period does not necessarily transform a detention into an arrest." (In re Antonio B. (2008) 166 Cal.App.4th 435, 441.) At the same time, " 'handcuffing substantially aggravates the intrusiveness' " of a...

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