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In Re Alonzo J., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court v. Alonzo J

October 10, 2012


(Super. Ct. No. JV130980) APPEAL from the findings and orders of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, Robert M. Twiss, Judge, sitting in the juvenile court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Butz , J.



This juvenile delinquency appeal concerns the legal right of a fully able 13-year-old to accept a plea bargain offer without his counsel's consent.

The juvenile here, Alonzo J., was charged in a petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 (hereafter section 602) with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (a skateboard and a small metal heater) and one count of malicious damage to a door, arising from an argument with his mother. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 602, subd. (a); Pen. Code, §§ 245, subd. (a)(1), 594, subd. (b)(2)(A).)*fn1

The juvenile court foreclosed Alonzo from accepting a prosecution offer to plead to one felony count of assault with a deadly weapon, with home supervision; in doing so, the juvenile court relied solely on Alonzo's counsel's belief that there was no factual basis for the plea. Following a contested jurisdictional hearing, the juvenile court sustained all three charges against Alonzo, continued him as a ward of the court, and directed his placement in either a foster home, group home, residential treatment center, or the home of a relative or friend.

We conclude the juvenile court erred under California Rules of Court, rule 5.778,*fn2 concerning the acceptance of pleas in juvenile court, and thereby failed to respect Alonzo's personal choice over a fundamental decision in his case--whether to accept the prosecution's plea bargain offer (assuming, as here, that the rule 5.778 criteria that protect the juvenile in accepting a plea bargain offer have been met). Consequently, we shall reverse the juvenile court's adjudication and fashion a disposition in line with analogous law.


The procedural facts are more critical to this appeal than the substantive ones. Consequently, most of our focus will be on the procedural facts.

Substantive Facts

On the night of November 1, 2010, police responded to a 911 call of a family disturbance at the residence that Alonzo shared with his mother and sister.

Alonzo's mother told the police that she and Alonzo had argued, that Alonzo had swung a skateboard at her and missed, and that he then hit her in the face with a space heater. At the contested jurisdictional hearing, the mother denied making these statements.

Alonzo's sister confirmed to the police that Alonzo "had hit [their] mom in the face" with a portable heater, but at the jurisdictional hearing, the sister did not recall saying this to the police.

Procedural Facts

Prior to the contested jurisdictional hearing, but apparently with the knowledge that Alonzo's mother and sister were recanting, the prosecution offered Alonzo the following plea: (1) plead to a single felony count of assault with a deadly weapon (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (a)(1)); (2) continue as a ward of the juvenile court (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 725, subd. (b) [previously, in March 2010, Alonzo had admitted a misdemeanor allegation of assault with a deadly weapon against his mother, and was adjudged a ward of the court]); (3) accept home supervision with electronic monitoring; and (4) be credited for time served in juvenile hall.

Alonzo wanted to accept this offer, but his attorney refused to consent. This disagreement spawned an initial Marsden*fn3 hearing on January 25, 2011, over Alonzo's dissatisfaction with his attorney, and a reconvened Marsden hearing on February 2, 2011.

At the initial Marsden hearing, Alonzo stated to the juvenile court that he wanted "to take the felony and get the ankle monitor and go home." Alonzo explained, "Well, I just I'm trying to go home to my family because I've been here for four months [i.e., in juvenile hall], and this is my last year that I get to spend with my sister [(who was 17 years old at the time)]. . . . And she [(Alonzo's attorney)] wants me to take the misdemeanor so I could go to the group home. But then it will be my birthday and I'll miss my birthday with my family. And I just want to spend time with my family. So I wanted to take the felony and get the ankle monitor and go home. But she [(his attorney)] won't agree with me."

Later in the initial Marsden hearing, Alonzo's counsel responded, "I see a little 13-year-old child who's desperate to get out of custody. He wants to be with his family. And he's willing to admit to a felony crime in order to get out of custody even though he himself acknowledges that he did not engage in the conduct of trying to hit or strike his mother with a deadly weapon or assault her with force likely to result in the infliction of great bodily injury."

At the initial Marsden hearing, the juvenile court explained to Alonzo that the prosecution had made a plea offer to Alonzo; that if Alonzo were to accept the offer, that would be how the case would be resolved; and that the offer was "very generous" and "much more favorable" to Alonzo "than the statutory maximums would be in the worst case scenario." Later, the trial court emphasized, in speaking to Alonzo, "Ultimately, these decisions are yours [(regarding the plea offer)] after you get the full benefit of [your attorney's] advice."*fn4

Responding to the juvenile court's last point about Alonzo having the ultimate decisionmaking power regarding the plea bargain offer, Alonzo's attorney noted, "[T]o the extent the Court advised my client that ultimately the decision[] is up to him, there's actually a [rule of the] California Rule[s] of Court [(rule 5.778)] and a Welfare and Institutions Code [section] [(ยง 657, subd. (b))] that indicate[] unless an attorney representing a minor joins in the admission ...

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