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In re R.V.

Supreme Court of California

May 18, 2015

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

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Superior Court of Orange County, No. DL034139, Deborah C. Servino, Judge. Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, No. G046961.

Cindy Brines, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Paulino G. Duran, Public Defender (Sacramento), and Arthur L. Bowie, Assistant Public Defender, for the Office of the Public Defender for Sacramento County as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

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Aimee Feinberg; Tamara Lange and Michael Harris for National Center for Youth Law as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Susan L. Burrell and L. Richard Braucher for Youth Law Center and Pacific Juvenile Defender Center as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Steven T. Oetting, Deputy State Solicitor General, Melissa Mandel, Charles C. Ragland, Kathryn Kirschbaum, Lise S. Jacobson and Sean M. Rodriquez, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Opinion by Cantil-Sakauye, C. J., with Werdegar, Corrigan, Liu, Cué llar, and Kruger, JJ., concurring. Dissenting opinion by Chin, J.

OPINION

[187 Cal.Rptr.3d 885] [349 P.3d 70] Cantil-Sakauye, C. J.

A minor who is the subject of a wardship petition under Welfare and Institutions Code [1] section 601 or 602 has, like an adult facing criminal prosecution, a due process right not to be tried while mentally incompetent. Section 709 establishes procedures for juvenile courts to follow so as to ensure that minors are not subject to adjudication while their competency is impaired.

We decide two issues in this case; first, whether under section 709 a minor is presumed competent and bears the burden of proving otherwise by a preponderance of the evidence and, second, what is the proper standard for reviewing on appeal a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the juvenile court's determination that the minor was competent to proceed.

Section 709 is silent regarding the presumption of competency and allocation of the burden of proof, but we find that the most straightforward reading of the statute's text is that the provision contains an implied presumption of competency. This understanding of section 709 is further supported by the legislative materials surrounding that statute's enactment, which show that lawmakers intended the juvenile courts to continue to apply to minors the adult competency scheme's presumption of competency and allocation [349 P.3d 71] of the burden of proof to the party claiming incompetency.

We conclude furthermore that, like a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the verdict in an adult competency proceeding, a claim of insufficient evidence to support a juvenile court's determination in a

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competency proceeding is reviewed deferentially under the substantial evidence test. In the present matter, the evidence before the juvenile court consisted solely of the court-appointed expert's report and testimony, and the materials on which the expert based his opinion, that 16-year-old R.V. was incompetent to stand trial. In these circumstances, we review the juvenile court's determination by asking whether the weight and character of that evidence is such that the juvenile court could not reasonably have rejected it.

Having viewed the evidence presented in the case in the light most favorable to the juvenile court's determination of competency, as we must, we nonetheless conclude that the court could not reasonably [187 Cal.Rptr.3d 886] have rejected the qualified expert's compelling, well-supported, and unequivocal opinion that minor was not competent to proceed to trial.

The Court of Appeal concluded, to the contrary, that the juvenile court's reasons for declining to accept the expert's opinion were supported by substantial evidence in the record, and upheld the judgment below. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal's judgment is reversed.

I. Background

On a weekday morning in March 2012, officers from the La Habra Police Department responded to a 911 call reporting that a juvenile was threatening family members with a knife. Jose Cruz, who resided with minor, minor's stepsibling, and minor's mother, told police that he had awakened minor for school around 7:00 a.m. Minor became angry and started throwing things, saying he did not want to go to school. Cruz argued with minor, warning him that he was going to miss his bus. In response, minor clenched his fists and told Cruz, " I'm going to fuck you up," then continued to throw and kick things around the living room. When Cruz told minor to calm down, minor held out a knife and said he would kill Cruz if he called the police. According to Cruz, minor did not move toward him with the weapon.

Minor's mother confirmed that minor had been throwing things around the living room, and told police that she saw him knock a small television set to the floor. According to minor's mother, minor moved from the living room to the bedroom and started yelling, " I want a house. I want my own space." He warned his mother, " Don't come close to me. I have a knife." Minor's mother saw that he had a small silver knife in his hand.

Javier Naranjo, the family's landlord, also spoke with the officers. He told them that he had entered the residence after hearing the sound of something breaking and saw minor kick a DVD player in the living room. He also overheard minor arguing with Cruz and threatening to stab him with a knife.

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When Naranjo likewise told minor to calm down, minor threatened to kill him as well. Naranjo then saw minor go into his bedroom and stab a bed three times.

Minor complied with the officers' order to raise his hands in the air. As minor was being handcuffed, he mentioned that the knife, a multitool with a two-inch blade, was in his front right pocket. Minor explained to one of the officers that he was upset and trying to scare his mother, and indicated that he had trouble with his parents. According to that officer's report, minor appeared to have a difficult time understanding the officer's questions and seemed confused about the incident.

All three witnesses reported to police that minor had psychological problems. His mother indicated that for the past four weeks he had not taken his medication, Abilify. Cruz explained that minor is " different every day" and " with each episode he gets worse." Minor was taken into custody and transported to a juvenile detention facility.

Three days after the incident, the Orange County District Attorney filed a section 602 petition to declare minor a ward of the juvenile court. The petition alleged that minor committed two misdemeanor counts of brandishing a deadly weapon (Pen. Code, § 417, subd. (a)(1)), and one misdemeanor [349 P.3d 72] count of vandalism (Pen. Code, § 594, subds. (a), (b)(2)(A)). About three weeks later, defense counsel expressed a doubt regarding minor's competency [187 Cal.Rptr.3d 887] to stand trial. In accordance with statutory procedures, the court determined there was substantial evidence raising a doubt as to minor's competency, suspended proceedings, and appointed a forensic psychologist, Haig J. Kojian, Ph.D., to evaluate minor. (See § 709, subd. (a).) Although the court also ordered minor released on the home supervision program pending the competency hearing, minor was returned to juvenile detention 10 days later for violating the conditions of his release.

Dr. Kojian's nine-page report concluded that minor presently was not competent to stand trial. Although defense counsel offered to submit the question of competency on the basis of Dr. Kojian's written report, the prosecutor expressed concern that Dr. Kojian had not administered any diagnostic tests to minor and requested a hearing at which Dr. Kojian could be questioned. The court granted the request.

At the hearing held one week later, Dr. Kojian explained, consistently with his written report, the basis for his conclusion that minor was not competent to stand trial. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court expressed its view that the law presumes minor is competent and places on him the burden of proving incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence. The court then

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ruled that minor had not met his burden of proof, found minor competent to stand trial, and ordered the reinstatement of proceedings.

Immediately after the court's competency determination, minor waived his various rights and entered a " slow plea," submitting the matter to the court for adjudication based on the police report. The court found the allegations in the wardship petition to be true, declared minor a ward of the juvenile court, and placed him on probation.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. It first agreed with the juvenile court that a minor is presumed competent and bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is not competent to be adjudicated under the juvenile court law. Applying a substantial evidence standard of review, the Court of Appeal upheld the juvenile court's determination that minor was competent to proceed and affirmed the judgment.

This court granted minor's petition for review.

II. Discussion

A. Presumption of competency and allocation of the burden of proof in proceedings to determine juvenile competency under section 709

We briefly review the law regarding competency to stand trial and some of the legal developments that preceded the enactment of section 709. This history guides our interpretation of the statute.

1. Overview of the law predating section 709

The constitutional right to due process of law prohibits the trial of a mentally incompetent criminal defendant. ( People v. Medina (1990) 51 Cal.3d 870, 881 [274 Cal.Rptr. 849, 799 P.2d 1282]; Drope v. Missouri (1975) 420 U.S. 162, 172-173 [43 L.Ed.2d 103, 95 S.Ct. 896].) Due process principles further require trial courts to employ procedures to guard against the trial of an incompetent defendant. ( People v. Hale (1988) 44 Cal.3d 531, 539 [244 Cal.Rptr. 114, 749 P.2d 769]; People v. Pennington (1967) 66 Cal.2d 508, 518 [58 Cal.Rptr. 374, 426 P.2d 942]; Pate v. Robinson (1966) 383 U.S. 375, 377 [187 Cal.Rptr.3d 888] [15 L.Ed.2d 815, 86 S.Ct. 836].) Under Dusky v. United States (1960) 362 U.S. 402 [4 L.Ed.2d 824, 80 S.Ct. 788] ( Dusky ), the inquiry into a defendant's competency to proceed focuses on whether the defendant " 'has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding--and ... a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.'" ( Id. at p. 402 (the Dusky standard).)

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The constitutional prohibition against trial of an incompetent defendant and the requirement of procedures to prevent trial from occurring under those circumstances are mirrored in Penal Code section 1367 et seq. Similar to the Dusky standard, state law [349 P.3d 73] provides that a defendant is incompetent if he or she " is unable to understand the nature of the criminal proceedings or to assist counsel in the conduct of a defense." (Pen. Code, § 1367, subd. (a).)

Under statutory procedures for determining a criminal defendant's competency to stand trial, the defendant is presumed competent unless proved incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence. (Pen. Code, § 1369, subd. (f); People v. Medina, supra, 51 Cal.3d at p. 881.) On its face, the statutory scheme does not expressly impose the burden of proof on any specific party. Rather, the presumption of competency operates to place the burden of proof on the party claiming the defendant is incompetent. (See Evid. Code, § § 605, 606; People v. Rells (2000) 22 Cal.4th 860, 867, 868 [94 Cal.Rptr.2d 875, 996 P.2d 1184].)

Penal Code section 1367 et seq., by its terms, applies to criminal prosecutions, not to juvenile court proceedings. In James H. v. Superior Court (1978) 77 Cal.App.3d 169 [143 Cal.Rptr. 398] ( James H. ), however, the Court of Appeal held that the juvenile had a due process right to a competency adjudication as part of a section 707, subdivision (b), proceeding to determine his fitness to be dealt with under the juvenile court law. ( James H., supra, at pp. 174-176.) The Court of Appeal reasoned that its conclusion was compelled, in part, by the high court's decision in In re Gault (1967) 387 U.S. 1 [18 L.Ed.2d 527, 87 S.Ct. 1428], which held that a juvenile facing possible loss of liberty pending the outcome of a delinquency proceeding is entitled to the same " 'essentials of due process and fair treatment'" ( id. at p. 30) as defendants in adult criminal proceedings, including the right to effective counsel. ( James H., supra, at pp. 173-174; see In re Gault, supra, at pp. 30-31, 35-42.)

The Court of Appeal in James H. acknowledged the absence of existing statutory procedures for juvenile competency determinations. It concluded, however, that the juvenile court has inherent authority to conduct such hearings. ( James H., supra, 77 Cal.App.3d at pp. 175-176.) As the Court of Appeal observed, juvenile courts routinely improvise procedures to meet changing constitutional requirements while awaiting legislative clarification. ( Id. at p. 176.) In this regard, at the time of the James H. decision, juvenile courts appear to have been making use of adult competency procedures in wardship proceedings under sections 601 and 602. (See, e.g., In re Ramon M. (1978) 22 Cal.3d 419, 430, fn. 14 [149 Cal.Rptr. 387, 584 P.2d 524] [noting the People's concession that " the protective reach of Penal Code section 1368 extends to section 602 proceedings in juvenile court" ].) [187 Cal.Rptr.3d 889] The James H.

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decision likewise fashioned a Penal Code section 1368-like procedure for juvenile courts making competency determinations. The procedure required the court to suspend proceedings and conduct a competency hearing in the event it entertained a doubt regarding the juvenile's capacity or ability to cooperate with his or her attorney. With regard to the definition of incompetence, the James H. decision advised juvenile courts either to borrow the formulation in Penal Code section 1367 or to use the test set forth in the high court's decision in Dusky, supra, 362 U.S. 402. ( James H., supra, at pp. 176-177; see Timothy J. v. Superior Court (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 847, 857-858 [58 Cal.Rptr.3d 746] ( Timothy J. ).) The decision did not address the presumption of competency or burden of proof.

In 1999, the Judicial Council added former rule 1498 to the California Rules of Court in order to establish statewide procedures for conducting a hearing to determine the competency of a juvenile subject to a wardship proceeding under section 601 or 602. The rule was intended to, and largely did, conform to the procedures described in the James H. decision and established as the definition of competency an abbreviated version of the Dusky standard. [2] (Advisory [349 P.3d 74] Com. com., 23 pt. 3 West's Ann. Codes, Rules (2005 ed.) foll. rule 1498(d), p. 630; see Timothy J., supra, 150 Cal.App.4th at pp. 858, 859.) It also authorized, but did not require, the court to appoint an expert to evaluate the juvenile's competency to proceed. (Cal. Rules of Court, former rule 1498(d)(1).)

Subsequent to the adoption of California Rules of Court, former rule 1498, the Court of Appeal in Timothy J., supra, 150 Cal.App.4th 847, held that the rule permitted a finding of incompetence arising from the minor's developmental immaturity. This construction of former rule 1498 distinguished the juvenile competency standard from Penal Code section 1367, subdivision (a), which requires a showing that the adult defendant's incompetence arose from either a mental disorder or developmental disability. ( Timothy J., supra, at pp. 858-861.) In Tyrone B. v. Superior Court (2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 227 [78 Cal.Rptr.3d 569] ( Tyrone B. ), the Court of Appeal held that, notwithstanding the permissive language of the rule, the juvenile court must appoint an appropriate expert to evaluate the minor when the minor's counsel expresses a doubt regarding the minor's competency and the court finds substantial evidence raises a doubt in this regard. ( Id. at p. 231 [construing Cal. Rules of Court, rule 5.645(d), the current version of the rule].)

A decade after the adoption of California Rules of Court, former rule 1498, the Legislature enacted section 709, codifying some of the standards and

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procedures that had been established in the rules of court, and modifying or adding others consistently with the holdings in decisions such as Timothy J., supra, 150 Cal.App.4th 847, and Tyrone B., supra, 164 Cal.App.4th 227. The Legislature also provided for the Judicial Council's continued involvement in this area by expressly delegating to that body the task of developing and adopting rules [187 Cal.Rptr.3d 890] regarding the special qualifications an expert must possess in order to be appointed by the court to evaluate a minor's competency. (Stats. 2010, ch. 671, § 1.)

2. Section 709

Section 709 begins by describing the mechanisms by which the issue of competency arises. The statute provides in relevant part that " [d]uring the pendency of any juvenile proceeding, the minor's counsel or the court may express a doubt as to the minor's competency." (§ 709, subd. (a).) Like the juvenile competency procedures adopted in the rules of court, section 709 uses the Dusky standard to define competency. The statute does not employ an abbreviated form of the standard, however, and establishes the inquiry as whether the minor " lacks sufficient present ability to consult with counsel and assist in preparing his or her defense with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, or lacks a rational as well as factual understanding, of the nature of the charges or proceedings against him or her." (§ 709, subd. (a).)

The statute further provides that if the court finds " substantial evidence raises a doubt as to the minor's competency," the proceedings must be suspended and the court must order a hearing to determine the minor's competency. (§ 709, subd. (a); see id., subd. (b).) Toward that end, the court is required to " appoint an expert to evaluate whether the minor suffers from a mental disorder, developmental disability, developmental immaturity, or other condition and, if so, whether the condition or conditions impair the minor's competency." (§ 709, subd. (b).) In order to qualify for appointment under section 709, the expert must be proficient in child and adolescent development and familiar with the applicable standards and criteria for evaluating competency. As mentioned above, the statute assigns to the Judicial Council the responsibility for developing and adopting rules to implement such requirements. ( Id., subd. (b).)

Section 709 then describes how the court should proceed, depending on the outcome of the competency determination. " If the minor is found to be incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence," the proceedings remain suspended for a reasonable period of time until it can be determined whether there is a substantial probability that the minor will attain competency in the foreseeable [349 P.3d 75] future while the court still retains jurisdiction. (§ 709, subd. (c).)

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If, on the other hand, " the minor is found to be competent, the court may proceed commensurate with the court's jurisdiction." (§ 709, subd. (d).) [3]

3. Statutory construction of section 709

In construing the statute, " we are guided by the overarching principle [187 Cal.Rptr.3d 891] that our task '" is to determine the intent of the enacting body so that the law may receive the interpretation that best effectuates that intent. [Citation.]" '" ( Los Angeles Unified School Dist. v. Garcia (2013) 58 Cal.4th 175, 186 [165 Cal.Rptr.3d 460, 314 P.3d 767].) Our analysis begins with the language of the statute, which " 'generally is the most reliable indicator of legislative intent.'" ( People v. Cornett (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1261, 1265 [139 Cal.Rptr.3d 837, 274 P.3d 456].) " '" 'When the language of a statute is clear, we need go no further.' [Citation.] But where a statute's terms are unclear or ambiguous, we may 'look to a variety of extrinsic aids, including the ostensible objects to be achieved, the evils to be remedied, the legislative history, public policy, ... and the statutory scheme of which the statute is a part.'" [Citation.]' [Citation.]" ( People v. Scott (2014) 58 Cal.4th 1415, 1421 [171 Cal.Rptr.3d 638, 324 P.3d 827];

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accord, Lopez v. Superior Court (2010) 50 Cal.4th 1055, 1063 [116 Cal.Rptr.3d 530, 239 P.3d 1228].)

Minor argues that section 709 does not place the burden of proving incompetence on either party. As he points out, section 709, unlike Penal Code section 1369, subdivision (f), does not expressly provide for a presumption of competency. The Attorney General, for her part, maintains that section 709 contains an implied presumption of competency and allocates the burden of rebutting that presumption to the party seeking a determination of incompetency.

We agree with the Attorney General that the most straightforward reading of the text of section 709 is that minor is presumed competent. Competency procedures are triggered and proceedings are suspended when " the court finds substantial evidence raises a doubt as to the minor's competency ... ." (§ 709, subd. (a).) If no doubt is raised, or there is no substantial evidence to support such a doubt, the minor is treated as competent and subject to adjudication of the wardship petition, and the proceedings simply run their course. Were a minor not [349 P.3d 76] presumed competent, the statute arguably would require an affirmative showing of competency to proceed. The statutory text also suggests that the party asserting the minor's incompetency bears the burden of proof. Section 709, subdivision (c), requires the continued suspension of proceedings on a finding of incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence. By contrast, subdivision (d) provides for the reinstatement [187 Cal.Rptr.3d 892] of proceedings " [i]f the minor is found to be competent," but does not refer to any standard of proof.

We acknowledge that section 709's silence regarding any presumption of competency and allocation of the burden of proof permits other possible interpretations of the statutory text. We find, however, that our understanding of section 709 to include an implied presumption of competency is supported by the provision's legislative history and statutory purpose. (See City of Brentwood v. Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Bd. (2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 714, 722-727 [20 Cal.Rptr.3d 322] [examining extrinsic aids to determine which party bore the burden of proving the applicability of exceptions to a mandatory minimum penalty for violating provisions of a waste water permit when the governing statute was silent as to which party bore the burden of proof].)

a. Legislative history

The materials considered by lawmakers in connection with the enactment of section 709, like the language of the statute itself, do not expressly refer to a presumption of competency or any allocation of the burden of proof. These

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materials demonstrate that in enacting section 709, the Legislature intended to more effectively safeguard a juvenile's due process right not to be subject to adjudication while incompetent. Toward that end, the statute parts company with the adult competency scheme in certain specified ways that tailor the juvenile competency procedures to better fit the significant developmental differences between adults and juveniles and the distinctions between the adult and juvenile criminal justice systems.

At the same time, however, and most significantly, we discern nothing in the legislative materials from which to infer that lawmakers intended to alter juvenile courts' existing practice of relying on the adult competency provisions in other respects. Specifically, nothing in the legislative history suggests lawmakers intended that Penal Code section 1369's presumption of competency for an adult criminal defendant should not apply to a ...


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