Wednesday, September 21, 2016

In Re: J.G. (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 20, 2016)

The typical day has me read a half dozen or so published opinions, every one of which contains depressing facts about the most marginalized participants in society.  You get to see the bad side of human nature every single day.

Then, once in a blue moon, you come across facts like these:

"Defendant was 17 years old in January 2011 when he committed a residential burglary. He was adjudged a ward of the juvenile court and placed in a youth rehabilitation center for nine months. Defendant was ordered to pay victim restitution of $2,100 and a restitution fine of $100.

Defendant arrived at the youth rehabilitation center in April 2011 and was granted early release in September 2011, graduating from the program in six months. In a later report to the court, a probation officer stated: “According to institutional records and staff, [defendant’s] adjustment to the program was very good. [He] abided by institutional rules; he adhered to staff directions; he interacted well with his peers; and he performed well in school. As part of his therapeutic treatment plan at the [center], [defendant] participated in anger management, impact of crime on victims, life skills, and substance abuse programs.”

Defendant returned home. It was reported at a December 2011 review hearing that defendant “has fully complied with the conditions of his probation. . . . [¶] Regarding his adjustment at home, his attitude and behavior have been good according to his mother. [She] reports that [defendant] had been following her rules, completing household chores, abiding by his curfew, and contributing to household expenses. Each time [the probation officer] has spoken to [defendant’s mother], she has related nothing but positive information regarding her son’s conduct at home. [¶] As to school, [defendant] has been participating in the GED program” and “hopes to take his GED examination within the next few months.” He has been working part time in a restaurant. “As to his other conditions of probation, [defendant] has been drug tested on a regular basis and has not tested positive for any illicit substances. [Defendant] has reported to probation as directed and he has been available for home visits. According to probation records, he has not committed any new law violations.” Defendant had not yet paid restitution but said he “expects to begin making payments in the near future.” The probation officer concluded by noting defendant’s “positive adjustment in the community.” As recommended by the probation department, the court ordered defendant’s parole “terminated successfully” and maintained his wardship. The order was issued on December 29, 2011, when defendant was age 18.

No further proceedings were had until a January 26, 2016 review hearing, when defendant was age 22. The probation department filed a report asking for termination of wardship because defendant’s age put him beyond the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The report stated that defendant “perform[ed] well in the community” from the time of the 2011 review hearing to date. Defendant “continued to follow his parents’ rules at home, obtained his GED,” “obtained employment” at a restaurant, and was free of any law violations."

Hey!  How about that?!  It actually seemed to turn out okay.  Yes, the guy had problems when he was 17, and was put on probation.  But, at least for the next five years, it seems like he turned it around.  He found a job, obtained a GED, didn't commit any more crimes, seems like he has a good attitude, etc.  Well done.

So what's the case doing in the Court of Appeal?  Why this ray of sunshine in the otherwise nearly uniformly gloomy pages of the California Appellate Reporter?

Simple.  The trial court didn't think that it could declare that the juvenile had "successfully" completed probation because he hadn't yet fully paid the $2,100 in restitution he owed.  The trial court said that it would readily declare probation completed if he had paid the restitution (but he hadn't), or even if the trial court could enter a civil judgment for this amount -- which is generally what happens.  But since the former minor was now 22, the trial court didn't think that it had the authority to enter a civil judgment for the restitution amount, which the trial court thought expired once the minor turned 21.

On that basis, the trial court refused to find that the minor had successfully completed his probation.

Thankfully, the Court of Appeal recognizes a good thing for what it is, and reverses.

The minor has done well.  The trial court has the power to enter a civil judgment based on a restitution order even if the minor is now over 21, so long as the restitution order was entered (as it was here) when the minor was still a minor.  No problem.  And since the minor has done well, there's no need to remand the case for further factfinding.  The Court of Appeal orders that the minor be found to have successfully completed probation, which means that his juvenile records are sealed and he's able to get on with his new life.

Well done.