Friday, June 01, 2018

In Re R.W. (Cal. Ct. App. - June 1, 2018)

The glorious month of June (in San Diego, anyway) begins by affirmatively confounding me.

I legitimately don't understand where today's opinion by the Court of Appeal is coming from.

Check that.  I totally understand why it reaches the result the way it does.  I too don't want 16 year old kids who are waiting for their parents to come pick 'em up from the police station to go barging out onto the streets for no reason.

I just don't understand how the Court of Appeal gets there.

The 16-year old minor here was picked up by the police as part of an investigation into a stolen vehicle.  The police arrested the driver of the vehicle, and decided to release the minor female to her parents.  The relevant deputy had other things to do, so he handed her over to another deputy doing some paperwork while the mom drove from her nearby home to pick up her daughter.

Eventually, after a little waiting, the daughter "became frustrated and increasingly impatient."  After some additional words with the "babysitting" deputy, the minor "got upset, grabbed her bags, and walked out of the room . . . headed towards the door" to the street.  But the deputy didn't want her to go, so grabbed her arm; the minor resisted, another deputy got involved, they handcuffed the kid, and then charged her with resisting a police officer.

To which the minor's defense is:  I had a right to leave the police station.  You unlawfully stopped me, and it's okay to resist someone who's doing something unlawful.

Which tees up the case for the Court of Appeal.

Now, if the minor had been arrested, she's obviously not free to leave, so she's not entitled to resist.  Easy peasy.

But here's the critical fact:  The minor hadn't done anything wrong.

The Court of Appeal is crystal clear on this point:  "At the time she was turned over to Deputy Slawson’s custody [the babysitting deputy], minor was no longer under investigation and no charges were being filed against her."  Lest there be any doubt, when the minor started talking to that deputy to try to get her friend (the driver) off the hook, the deputy even expressly told the minor to cut it out:  "When it became clear from minor’s responses that she had no involvement in the car theft, Deputy Slawson told minor that she did not need to lie to make herself a suspect in that case."

In other words, while the minor might have initially been a potential suspect in the stolen vehicle case, at the point she was in the station and waiting for her mother to pick her up, the police had eliminated her as a suspect.  Or, as the Court of Appeal put it, she was "no longer under investigation and no charges were being filed against her."

We have a standard term for that.  It's called "being free to leave."  As in:  "You're not under arrest.  You're free to leave."  Because you're an ordinary citizen who hasn't committed a crime.

Now, admittedly, she's a minor.  You don't have infinite rights as a kid.  We don't generally let two year olds, for example, walk around unattended.  That'd be dangerous.

(The Court of Appeal makes this same point, albeit a little more harshly and universally than I think is warranted, saying that "juveniles, unlike adults, are always in some form of custody" since they are under some degree of control by their parents.)

But here's the rub:  While we don't let kids to whatever they want, and don't let toddlers run around in the streets unsupervised, that doesn't answer the question of whether the police are allowed to detain an innocent citizen who hasn't done anything wrong.  The kid's parents may have certain rights.  But can the police force a 16-year old to stay in a police station when she hasn't done anything wrong and feels like leaving?  Or is she really not "free to go" merely because she's 16?

The Court of Appeal basically says, yeah, since she's a minor, she's not free to leave.

Now, you could maybe see why that might be a good policy call.  Reasonable people might well think that the police should be allowed to detain minors whenever the police feel like it.  (Though I could definitely understand the contrary view as well.)

Regardless of whether that's a good rule or not, what I sincerely don't get about the opinion is how the Court of Appeal legally gets there from the laws we actually have now.

Justice Ramirez quotes the relevant statutes in this regard.  Section 625 of California's Welfare and Institutions Code provides (and I'll highlight the relevant part):

"A peace officer may, without a warrant, take into temporary custody a minor: (a) Who is under the age of 18 years when such officer has reasonable cause for believing that such minor is a person described in Section 601 or 602.”'

Section 602 in turn provides (and I'll again highlight the relevant provision):

"Except as provided in subdivision (b), any person who is under the age of 18 years when he or she violates any law of this state or of the United States or any ordinance of any city or county of this state defining crime other than an ordinance establishing a curfew based solely on age, is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court."

Put those together, and you pretty clearly have -- at least in my view -- what existing law says about when the police can seize a minor.  The police can only detain a kid when they have "reasonable cause for believing that such a minor" has "violate[d] a[] law."  Makes sense, right?

Maybe that meant they could grab the kid (just like any non-kid) initially, when the police were investigating whether she had committed a crime.  But then they cleared her.  They decided that she hadn't committed a crime and weren't going to charge her.

Which, in my view, pretty clearly means that under Section 625 and 602, they had to let her go.  Just like anyone else who was initially detained and then, after investigation, cleared.  Because, under the words of the statute, since the police had now decided that the kid didn't steal the car (and instead had arrested the driver of the thing for doing so), the kid had not "violate[d] any law" and hence was free to leave the police station.  (Whether she got in trouble with her parents is, of course, an entirely separate matter; thankfully, no similar standards of proof apply to parental discipline.)

But the Court of Appeal never seems to engage at all on this substantive point. Justice Ramirez's opinion instead focuses almost exclusively on Section 626, which says that "minors detained under section 625 may be (a) released, (b) delivered to an agency for shelter, (c) released after issuing a notice to appear before a probation officer, or (d) delivered to a probation officer," and that includes (under precedent) "being taken to a curfew center or other facility to await pickup by their parents."

But Section 626 only applies if you're properly being detained under Section 625.  And Section 625 says the kid can't be detained if she's not suspected of committing a crime.

So I truly don't understand how Section 626's allegedly implicit permission for police to keep a kid in the station awaiting their parents (by analogy to taking 'em to an agency for shelter) matters.  Since it seems to me that the kid's basic argument is that you can't do any of the things listed in Section 626 since it wasn't permissible to continue detaining her under Section 625 since she hadn't done anything illegal.  I honestly don't see how or where the Court of Appeal responds to this basic statutory point.

Imagine that Section 625 says (as it does) that you can only detain a kid when you reasonably suspect them of a crime, and then Section 626 said that if a kid is detained under Section 625, she can either be "released, insulted, or spanked by the officer" (different options than the existing Section 626, but the same basic statutory structure).  Imagine further than a kid -- like this one -- is initially detained, cleared by the officers of any crime, but then the officers spank the kid anyway.

There's no doubt whatsoever that we'd all say:  "Whoa, Nelly.  You can't do that.  The statute doesn't allow it."  But it's the exact same thing here.  The reason you can't spank the kid, even though Section 626 says you can, is because you can only spank someone (under Section 625) who you think actually committed a crime.  Once you've decided they didn't commit the crime, you can't spank 'em.  That's what the statute says.

Ditto for holding them in the police station to await their parents.  Section 626 may perhaps list that as an (implicit) option.  But only when the kid can permissibly be detained under Section 625, which she can't, since no one thinks she actually committed a crime.

Maybe there's a policy justification for having a different type of law.  Maybe there's a "community caretaking" or some other constitutional exception to the Fourth Amendment legality of the seizure.  Maybe we should want police to keep kids in their custody awaiting their parents even if they haven't done anything wrong.

That's all well and good.  But at least the way I read Section 625 -- which sets forth our actual rules on when kids can be detained -- that's not the law as it currently reads.

Which is the thing we're supposed to enforce.

So I totally understand the legitimate desires of the Court of Appeal in reaching the result it does.  But I legitimately don't understand how it somehow reads the relevant statutes in a way to ostensibly permit such a result.