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The People v. D. B

IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA THIRD APPELLATE DISTRICT (Butte)


March 1, 2011

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
D. B., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.

(Super. Ct. No. J23871)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blease, Acting P. J.

P. v. D.B.

CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

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 This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Defendant, D.B., petitioned under Welfare and Institutions Code section 781 to seal his juvenile records in this case relating to an admitted charge of committing a lewd act upon a child. (Pen. Code, § 288, subd. (a); Welf. & Inst. Code, § 781.) The juvenile court denied the petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 781, stating from the bench that it did so because D.B. had subsequently been convicted of a felony, and the court was not satisfied D.B. had been rehabilitated.

D.B. appeals from the denial of his Welfare and Institutions Code section 781 petition on the ground the trial court misinterpreted the statute and mistakenly believed that the nature of his juvenile adjudication rendered him ineligible to have the record sealed. We find no abuse of discretion and shall affirm.

BACKGROUND

In 1996, when he was 13 years old, D.B. admitted allegations he sexually molested his six-year-old sister. (Pen. Code, § 288, subd. (a).) The court declared him a ward of the court and placed him on probation.

Following various probation violations, D.B. was terminated from his court-ordered group home placement and committed to the California Youth Authority (CYA).

In 2007, when D.B. was 23, he filed his first petition to seal his juvenile records, pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 781.*fn1 The petition was denied.

In February 2010, when he was 26 and incarcerated on unrelated charges, D.B. filed the instant petition to seal his juvenile records. At the hearing on the petition, the court first indicated it "would be inclined to deny the request to seal pursuant to [section] 781. [D.B.] has been convicted of a felony subsequent to this juvenile adjudication. The Court is not satisfied he's been rehabilitated." After a brief exchange, it stated, "The Court is going to deny the petition to seal the record based on the fact that [D.B.] has a subsequent felony conviction and the Court is not satisfied that he's been rehabilitated."*fn2

The prosecutor then remarked that D.B. had been "sentenced to 2 years['] state prison for gassing someone while he was in the facility." D.B.'s appointed counsel responded, "That's probably for spitting. That's how they charge it down there.

"I'll submit on the issue. This is Mr. B.'s second attempt at sealing the record. His main concern is he wants to be relieved from the requirement to register. Unfortunately, his adjudication that land[ed] him in the youth authority was a sex related offense. He is ineligible by law to have his record sealed and I don't think he discharged honorably. I think he completed his parole. I have communicated this with [D.B.] on three separate occasions. I will communicate it now a fourth time.

"The Court: Thank you."

The minute order of the hearing at which the petition was denied states: "Petition to seal is denied by the court pursuant to 781 W&I. The court finds the minor's juvenile offense is ineligible for sealing. The court finds the minor has been convicted of a felony subsequent to this adjudication."

DISCUSSION

We review a juvenile court's ruling regarding the release of juvenile records for abuse of discretion. (In re Gina S. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 1074, 1082.) But we independently determine the proper interpretation of a statute and, in so doing, we must look to the statute's words and give them their usual and ordinary meaning. (In re Jeffrey T. (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 1015, 1018.) We examine the statutory language in context, keeping in mind the nature and obvious purpose of the statute, harmonizing its various parts, considering the particular clause or section in the context of the statutory framework as a whole, and avoiding interpretations that produce absurd results. (Id at pp. 1018-1019.)

The right to have juvenile records sealed is governed by section 781. It provides in relevant part: "(a) In any case in which a petition has been filed with a juvenile court to commence proceedings to adjudge a person a ward of the court . . . , the person or the county probation officer may, five years or more after the jurisdiction of the juvenile court has terminated as to the person, . . . or, in any case, at any time after the person has reached the age of 18 years, petition the court for sealing of the records, including records of arrest, relating to the person's case, in the custody of the juvenile court and probation officer and any other agencies, including law enforcement agencies, and public officials as the petitioner alleges, in his or her petition, to have custody of the records. . . . If, after hearing, the court finds that since the termination of jurisdiction or action pursuant to Section 626, as the case may be, he or she has not been convicted of a felony or of any misdemeanor involving moral turpitude and that rehabilitation has been attained to the satisfaction of the court, it shall order all records, papers, and exhibits in the person's case in the custody of the juvenile court sealed, including the juvenile court record, minute book entries, and entries on dockets, and any other records relating to the case in the custody of the other agencies and officials as are named in the order. . . . Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court shall not order the person's records sealed in any case in which the person has been found by the juvenile court to have committed an offense listed in subdivision (b) of Section 707 when he or she had attained 14 years of age or older." (§ 781, subd. (a), italics added.)

Thus, as a threshold matter, juvenile court records cannot be sealed pursuant to section 781 unless the court finds the requesting person's "rehabilitation has been attained."

Here, the trial court twice stated at the hearing that it was "not satisfied that [D.B.]'s been rehabilitated." The court did not abuse its discretion reaching this conclusion: D.B. had multiple parole violations; and had been sentenced to two years for "gassing" someone while in CYA. Juvenile court reports also disclosed he had repeatedly failed at group home placements because he was unable to get along with staff or the other wards, and acted aggressively or threateningly in both group home and juvenile hall settings. The court's conclusion D.B. had not attained rehabilitation was reasonable and, absent a finding of rehabilitation, D.B.'s request must fail.

On appeal, D.B. contends the trial made two errors of statutory interpretation.

He first argues the trial court erred -- in reliance on defense counsel's mistaken assertion -- in concluding that D.B.'s molestation offense automatically disqualified him from seeking to seal the records. (Cf. In re Jeffrey T., supra, 140 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1020-1021.) D.B. is correct that the single offense designated by the juvenile court --- the lewd act committed against his sister -- was committed by D.B. before he attained the age of 14, and section 781 disallows sealing of juvenile records of certain convictions only if the offense was committed by someone who was at least 14. (§ 781, subd. (a).) Notes in the court's minute order of the hearing that reflect a finding "the minor's juvenile offense is ineligible for sealing" are therefore error.

But the mischaracterization of the molestation offense was not the basis for the trial court's ruling, and D.B. has not shown he was prejudiced by the error. (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 13.) D.B.'s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, based on his attorney's mistaken concession that the nature of D.B.'s offense precluded his record being sealed, likewise fails. Because the court relied on D.B.'s failure to rehabilitate, it is not reasonably probable that the outcome would have been different; his counsel's misstatement did not prejudice him. (See Strickland v. Washington (1984) 466 U.S. 668, 691-695 [80 L.Ed.2d 674, 696-698].)

D.B. also argues the trial court erroneously denied his petition based on a mistaken belief the felony gassing had been committed "[s]ince the termination of said jurisdiction" as required by section 781, when in fact, D.B.'s gassing conviction occurred during his CYA commitment, not after.

But the record suggests the court did not rely on the mere fact of his conviction, which it noted was "subsequent to this juvenile adjudication." Rather, D.B.'s felony conviction -- occurring in the year preceding his release from CYA -- provided further support for its conclusion D.B. had failed to attain rehabilitation.

As D.B. has failed to show the trial court abused its discretion, the order denying his section 781 petition is affirmed.

DISPOSITION

The judgment (order) is affirmed.

We concur: NICHOLSON, J. MAURO, J.


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