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In re M.R.

California Court of Appeal, First District, Third Division

September 27, 2013

In re M.R., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law
M.R., Defendant and Appellant THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,

Superior Court Alameda County Super. Ct. No. SJ2019358 Hon. Rhonda Burgess, Judge

Defendant and Appellant: L. Richard Braucher, Staff Attorney First District Appellate Project, under Appointment by the Court of Appeal Jonathan Soglin Executive Director First District Appellate Project

Plaintiff and Respondent: Ronald E. Niver Deputy Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris Attorney General of California, Dane R. Gillette Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler Senior Assistant Attorney General, Eric D. Share Supervising Deputy Attorney General

McGuiness, P. J.

A minor declared a ward of the juvenile court solely as a result of the minor’s habitual truancy may not be placed in secure confinement during nonschool hours except under limited circumstances. (Welf. & Inst. Code, [1] §§ 207, subds. (a), (b), 601, subd. (b).) Notwithstanding the statutory limitations on the confinement of truants, in In re Michael G. (1988) 44 Cal.3d 283, 287 (Michael G.), our Supreme Court held that the juvenile court retains the authority to order the secure confinement of a habitual truant who is found to be in contempt of court.

This appeal presents the question of whether the juvenile court must comply with statutory procedures governing civil contempt proceedings (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 1209-1222) before ordering the secure confinement of a contemptuous habitual truant pursuant to Michael G., supra, 44 Cal.3d 283. We conclude that title 5 of part 3 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which governs civil contempt proceedings, applies in truancy cases. Because the juvenile court in this case did not comply with those statutory procedures, we shall annul the order of contempt.

Factual and Procedural Background

On August 2, 2012, the Alameda County District Attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition alleging that 15-year-old M.R. was a habitual truant under section 601, subdivision (b). It was alleged that M.R. had missed 255 school periods during the previous school year without a valid reasoN.M.R.’s alleged truancy was the sole basis for the juvenile wardship petition.

M.R. admitted the allegations of the petition at a hearing conducted on October 19, 2012. The court declared him a ward and ordered that his care, custody, and conduct were to be supervised by his probation officer. He was directed to reside in the home of his parents. The court imposed a number of probation conditions, including that M.R. attend school daily, comply with a 6:00 p.m. curfew, and not stay away from home overnight without the prior permission of his probation officer.

The court conducted a progress report hearing on November 30, 2012. In the report prepared for that hearing, the probation officer stated that M.R. had failed to attend school daily and had failed to abide by his 6:00 p.m. curfew. According to the report, M.R. had attended only two of the 15 school days since the last court hearing and arrived home at around 11:00 p.m. almost every night. At the progress report hearing, the court imposed an additional condition requiring M.R. to attend Weekend Training Academy (WETA) three times. WETA, a weekend program that is an alternative to detention, provides wards with community service opportunities as well as social values training. The court also imposed but suspended 26 additional “WETAs.” At the conclusion of the hearing, the court put the matter over for 30 days and told M.R. it could “have you remanded today” as a result of his violation of the court’s orders. The court warned M.R. that “I’m going to have you do the WETAs and give you fair warning that if I get another report like this in 30 days that you can expect to spend the weekend here with us, all right?”

The court conducted the next progress report hearing on January 4, 2013. In the report prepared for that hearing, the probation officer stated that M.R. had gone to only one out of the three WETA’s he was ordered to attend. M.R. called his probation officer and told him he was unable to attend any further WETA’s due to illness. However, M.R.’s mother reported that he was not ill when he claimed to be. The probation officer directed M.R. to attend a special weekend of WETA for violating the court’s order. The probation officer also reported that M.R. continued to violate his 6:00 p.m. curfew, had gone to Reno without his permission, and continued to be absent from school. For the one-month period ending December 13, 2012, M.R. had missed six full days of school in addition to 19 period absences. M.R. had received all F’s in the previous quarter and was described as “immature and not taking responsibility for his actions.” The probation officer recommended continuing the matter for 30 days. The probation officer’s report made no mention of remanding M.R. to juvenile hall or holding him in contempt of court for violating the court’s orders.

At the progress report hearing on January 4, 2013, it became clear that the juvenile court intended to incarcerate M.R. in juvenile hall for a weekend, stating: “He[] doesn’t want to go into custody. That’s what he’s looking at at this point.” M.R.’s counsel argued that the court lacked authority to incarcerate M.R. except under its contempt power, which is governed by the civil contempt provisions in the Code of Civil Procedure. Counsel also argued that a commitment order would violate Michael G., supra, 44 Cal.3d 283, because the court had not tried GPS monitoring as a less restrictive alternative to secure confinement. The court denied counsel’s request to file points and authorities with the court, stating that it had been addressing the issue of its authority to have minors remanded “for probably at least the last couple of months.”

The court remanded M.R. to serve the weekend in juvenile hall. As support for its decision, the court stated that it sought a less restrictive alternative to secure confinement by ordering M.R. to complete three WETA’s, which he failed to do. The court also cited M.R.’s continuing violation of his curfew and his trip to Reno in violation of the condition that he seek his probation officer’s permission before staying away from home overnight. The court clarified that M.R. was not to be placed with any of the “602’s”—i.e., juveniles who had been made wards of the court under section 602 as a result of committing acts that would be considered crimes if committed by adults. Although the court remanded M.R. to serve the weekend in juvenile hall and referred repeatedly to its power to “remand” M.R., the court did not actually state that it found M.R. in contempt of court. M.R. filed a timely appeal from the court’s order.


1. Moot ...

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