William M., In re, Cr. 14469

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation3 Cal.3d 16,89 Cal.Rptr. 33,473 P.2d 737
Decision Date24 August 1970
Docket NumberCr. 14469
Parties, 473 P.2d 737 In re William M., a Minor, on Habeas Corpus.

Milch, Wolfsheimer & Wagner and Andrew G. Wagner, San Diego, for petitioner.

Kenneth Hecht, San Francisco, B. E. Bergesen, III, Peter Bull, Michael S. Sorgen, San Francisco, Armando Menocal and Donald H. Maffly, Berkeley, amici curiae.

James Don Keller, Dist. Atty., Richard H. Bein and A. Bruce Ferguson, Deputy Dist. Attys., for respondent.

TOBRINER, Justice.

This case raises the basis issue of whether a juvenile court may refuse to consider specific facts supporting the release of a juvenile prior to a jurisdictional hearing and, instead, establish a rule that all juveniles accused of a specified type of offense should automatically be detained. We give the reasons why we have concluded that the juvenile court law protects the minor's right to an individualized detention hearing, in which the court may not dispose of cases by mechanical rules on a categorical basis.

1. The facts

On March 17, 1970, the supervising probation officer for the juvenile department of the superior court filed a petition alleging that William M., a minor, came within the provisions of section 602 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. (See Welf. & Inst. Code, § 650.) The petition specified that on January 28, 1970, the minor had violated Health and Safety Code section 11531 by selling marijuana to an officer of the police department. At 6 a.m. on March 19, 1970, an officer to whom William M. had allegedly sold marijuana took the youth into temporary custody pursuant to an arrest warrant. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 625.) 1 The officer did not release the minor on this promise, or the assurance of his parents, that he would appear for further proceedings. 2 Instead, the 16-year-old youth was taken to the county juvenile hall and remained there until the detention hearing. (See Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 627--632.)

At 2 p.m., Thursday, March 19, William M., his parents, his attorney, a family friend who was also an attorney, and the probation officer appeared before the juvenile court for a detention hearing. The court opened the proceedings by reading the charges and the police report. The court then said: 'It looks like it is all pre-arranged, but anybody who sells marijuana or LSD is detained here until his regular hearing, for the safety of others.' (Italics added.) The youth's attorney offered to show that the young man was a good student at a local high school, that he had never had any school disciplinary problems, and that he had never before been arrested. The attorney described the minor's salutary home life with parents who were willing to provide care and guidance and capable of doing so. The attorney offered to show that under these circumstances the youth would not present an imminent danger to himself or others. On this offer of proof the trial court refused to release the juvenile. 3 The attorney then proposed, as an 'officer of this court,' 'to take full responsibility for this boy and let him live in my home until the hearing.' When the court rejected this suggestion the youth's attorney requested a one-day continuance of the detention hearing. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 638.) The court granted the continuance and observed, 'you are just wasting your time. * * *'

On Friday the attorney recited to the court the standards for detention of juveniles under Welfare and Institutions Code section 635, 4 cited the relevant legislative history which prohibits detention for the sake of therapeutic effect, 5 presented the only relevant California appellate court opinion on the detention question, 6 and marshalled the facts which in this case favored the young man's release. 7 Finally, the attorney expressed concern for the deleterious effect that detention might have on the youth and his education.

The court refused this offer of proof and did not permit William M. or his parents to testify. Although the court declared that it tried to avoid holding juveniles in custody, it further stated that it detained, pending a jurisdictional hearing, as a matter of 'philosophy' or 'policy,' every child who was charged with the offense involved in the present case. 8 The court observed: 'The Legislature must have thought it (the offense) was serious, it is five years to life it he were an adult.' The attorney answered, 'If he were an adult, he would be out on bail at this very moment.' The court offered: 'If you want to have him handled as an adult, I will certify him to adult court and you can bail him out * * *. But, as I have already told you, your client is going to be detained, and there is not a thing you can do about it. You can go up and try to get a writ or something, test it, and that is your problem.' The jurisdictional hearing 9 was set for April 7, 1970. 10

William M. remained in juvenile hall over the weekend. On Monday the youth's father filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the Court of Appeal. (Pen.Code, § 1473.) On the same day that court denied the petition without opinion. The father then filed a petition for hearing here; on March 26, 1970, we granted the petition, transferring the matter to this court. We issued an order 'to show cause before this court when the matter is ordered on calendar why the relief prayed for should not be granted.' Pending determination of the petition, we directed that the young man be released from custody until the jurisdictional hearing in the juvenile court. 11 The youth was released to the custody of his parents on the same day, having spent a total of seven days in juvenile hall.

On April 6, 1970, the district attorney, respondent in proceedings before this court, filed a petition for an order staying further proceedings in the juvenile court against William M. We unanimously denied that petition in order to avoid the hardship that would be inflicted upon the boy by the protraction of proceedings pending against him. 12 On April 7, 1970, the juvenile court found true the allegations of the petition filed March 17, 1970, under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, 13 declared the juvenile a ward of the court, and placed him in the home of his parents under probation conditions and the supervision of the probation officer. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 725, 726.) The young man is now living at home with his parents and no further problem of delinquency has arisen.

2. Since this case raises issues of grave public concern this court should resolve them rather than declare the case moot on its somewhat unusual factual background.

At the outset we are confronted with the district attorney's assertion that because the jurisdictional hearing has already occurred 'the matter concerning the Writ of Habeas Corpus is now rendered moot.' When this court issued its order directing that the youth be released from detention pending the jurisdictional hearing in juvenile court, we granted, as a practical matter, the habeas corpus relief which petitioner sought. But if a pending case poses an issue of broad public interest that is likely to recur, the court may exercise an inherent discretion to resolve that issue even though an event occurring during its pendency would normally render the matter moot.

'Such questions (of general public concern) do not become moot by reason of the fact that the ensuing judgment may no longer be binding upon a party to the action.' (County of Madera v. Gendron (1963) 59 Cal.2d 798, 804, 31 Cal.Rptr. 302, 306, 382 P.2d 342, 346.) 14 In similar fashion we adjudicated the case of an arrestee's right to contact a bondsman in In re Newbern (1961) 55 Cal.2d 500, 505, 11 Cal.Rptr. 547, 360 P.2d 43, although he had pleaded guilty and had been sentenced during the pendency of the petition. In People v. Succop (1967) 67 Cal.2d 785, 789--790, 63 Cal.Rptr. 569, 433 P.2d 473, we considered the propriety of a mentally disordered sex offender commitment although appellant had been released from confinement under that order. Witkin has noted the court's declaratory use of habeas corpus in a number of cases. (Witkin, Cal. Criminal Procedure (1963) §§ 789--790, at pp. 762--764; see, e.g., In re Gonsalves (1957) 48 Cal.2d 638, 639, 311 P.2d 483, 484, ('habeas corpus is an appropriate proceeding to enable petitioner to obtain a declaration' of his rights).)

As a further example, in In re Fluery (1967) 67 Cal.2d 600, 63 Cal.Rptr. 298, 432 P.2d 986, we rendered judgment in a case in which the Adult Authority did not credit defendant with time served in jail after revocation of his parole and under a misdemeanor sentence. He petitioned for habeas corpus and we issued an order to show cause. The warden filed a return indicating that defendant had received proper credit for time served and thus had obtained the relief for which he had applied. In an ordinary case we would have discharged the order to show cause on the ground that it had served its purpose, but we proceeded to consider the normally moot issue: '(W)e deem it appropriate in our supervision of the administration of criminal justice to decide the questions he presented. Petitions for habeas corpus filed by other prisoners indicate that sentences are still being computed contrary to the holdings of Patton (In re Patton, 225 Cal.App.2d 83, 36 Cal.Rptr. 864) and Aguilera, (Aguilera v. Calif. Dept. of Corrections, 247 Cal.App.2d 150, 55 Cal.Rptr. 292) and the question expressly undecided by Aguilera is a recurring problem important to other prisoners and the Adult Authority.' (67 Cal.2d at p. 601, 63 Cal.Rptr. at p. 299, 432 P.2d at p. 987; see Witkin, Cal. Criminal Procedure (1967 Supp.) § 790, at p. 247; In re Harrell (1970) 2 Cal.3d 675, 682, 706, 87 Cal.Rptr. 504, 470 P.2d 640; In re Swearingen (1966) 64 Cal.2d 519, 522, 50 Cal.Rptr. 787, 413 P.2d 675; cf. People v. Chasco (1969) 276 A.C.A. 317, 323--324, 80 Cal.Rptr. 667.)

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