APPEAL from orders of the Juvenile Court of Sacramento County, Raoul M. Thorbourne, Judge. Reversed. (Super. Ct. No. JV126952).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scotland, P. J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
Juvenile courts are busy places with limited time to handle the many matters that come before them. In a commendable effort to help streamline the juvenile delinquency proceeding in this case, the minor‟s trial attorney agreed that law enforcement witnesses need not testify twice, first at a hearing on the minor‟s motion to suppress evidence and then give essentially the same testimony at the jurisdictional hearing. If, after hearing those witnesses‟ testimony, the court denied the suppression motion and the minor wanted to "continue" with a contested trial of the charge, the People would call one more witness and the court could consider all the testimony in determining whether to sustain the charge and declare the minor a ward of the court.
The rub is this. The minor was offered deferred entry of judgment, a disposition that would be beneficial to the minor but would be forfeited if he elected to go to trial on the charge. The minor did not immediately agree to this disposition because he thought the charge was based on illegally seized evidence; thus, he exercised his right to ask the court to suppress the evidence. After losing the suppression motion, the minor sought deferred entry of judgment. However, the prosecutor said the offer was no longer available because the trial had begun. The court agreed, saying that disposition was """off the table."‟"
The minor appeals, asserting he remained eligible for deferred entry of judgment. The People acknowledge that an eligible minor can obtain deferred entry of judgment any time prior to the commencement of trial and, therefore, does not forfeit that option by litigating a motion to suppress evidence. Nevertheless, the People continue to insist that said disposition was no longer available in this case because the procedure to which the minor‟s counsel agreed constituted the commencement of trial.
We conclude the minor‟s counsel deserves a pat on the back, not a stab in the back, for agreeing to a procedure intended to benefit the court and the prosecutor by avoiding repetitive testimony that would have unnecessarily burdened witnesses and used up precious juvenile court time. As we will explain, the record shows that, despite ambiguous language used by the court, the jurisdictional hearing did not commence with the suppression hearing and, thus, the minor timely requested deferred entry of judgment after his suppression motion was denied. We caution, however, that to avoid the potential trap from which the minor escapes due to our reading of the record, counsel and the court in other juvenile delinquency cases should unequivocally state on the record that, when the time-saving process employed in this case is used, the trial does not commence until after the ruling on the motion to suppress evidence and an eligible minor then decides whether to agree to deferred entry of judgment.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A.I. (the minor) was arrested for possessing 4.3 grams of marijuana, a digital scale, several dozen plastic baggies, and $512 in cash. He claimed that the marijuana was for his personal use; the scale was to "make sure the seller gave [him] the right amount"; the baggies were to "moderate how much [he] smoke[d]"; and the cash was the proceeds of a check he received from the Sacramento County Office of Education.
After the minor was accused of possessing the marijuana for sale (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 602, subd. (a); Health & Saf. Code, § 11359), the prosecutor determined that the minor was statutorily eligible for deferred entry of judgment. The minor was given written notice of that determination, and the probation department recommended the minor be placed in this status for two years. (Further section references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code.)
The juvenile court found the minor was eligible and suitable for deferred entry of judgment. The following exchange occurred:
"THE COURT: In this matter the minor is charged with a felony. He appears eligible and suitable for [deferred entry of judgment]. [¶] Mr. Baker [defense counsel], that‟s being rejected? We are setting this matter for trial?
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Yes, your Honor."
Two weeks after the minor filed a motion to suppress the marijuana, scale, baggies, and cash seized from him (§ 700.1), the juvenile court found the minor was eligible for deferred entry of judgment but had rejected that option. The court‟s minute order does not mention the suppression motion.
At a hearing three days later, held before a different judicial officer, the court stated that it would "begin by handling the suppression motion." The court explained that, from its discussions with both counsel and with the presiding judge‟s administrative assistant, there was a "trailing trial" and "we‟re kind of going to be hearing it contemporaneously ...