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In re Joseph H.

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Second Division

June 8, 2015

In re Joseph H., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
v. Joseph H., Defendant and Appellant.

APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County. No. RIJ1100624 Jean P. Leonard, Judge.

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Latham & Watkins, Amy C. Quartarolo, Nima H. Mohebbi and Liliana Paparelli for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Arlene A. Sevidal and Sean M. Rodriquez, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Best, Best & Krieger, Jack Clarke, Jr., Kira L. Klatchko and Irene S. Zurko for the Riverside County Office of Education as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

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Joseph H., the minor, at age 10, woke up early one morning and shot his father in the head as the latter slept on the sofa. A wardship petition was filed alleging the minor had committed acts which would have been crimes if committed by an adult, specifically, murder (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a)), [1] with a special allegation of discharging a firearm causing death (§ 12022.53, subd. (d)). After a contested hearing, the juvenile court found that the minor understood the wrongfulness of his acts despite the statutory presumption of incapacity (§ 26), had committed an act which would have been second degree murder if committed by an adult, and had discharged a firearm within the meaning of section 12022.53, subdivision (d). The minor was committed to the Division of Juvenile Justice and appealed.

On appeal, the minor argues (1) the court erroneously considered statements obtained in violation of his Miranda rights[2]; (2) his evaluation by a prosecution expert during trial, without counsel present, violated his due process rights; (3) the court improperly weighed the evidence in finding that he knew the wrongfulness of his conduct; (4) the true findings must be reversed due to cumulative errors during the adjudicatory hearing; and (5) the court abused its discretion in committing him to the Division of Juvenile Justice. We affirm.


Although the facts relating to the incident are fairly straightforward, a significant amount of evidence was presented to the juvenile court relating to the minor’s capacity to commit a crime, and his mental health issues. We provide an overview of the historical information in this section. In the discussion of the individual issues, we will discuss additional evidence introduced at trial as it may be relevant.

The minor, born June 19, 2000, and his younger sister Shirley, lived with their biological mother until Joseph was three or four, when they were placed with their father, Jeff, after numerous reports to Child Protective Services relating to neglect by their mother. Joseph had been exposed to heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, marijuana and alcohol ingested by his biological mother prenatally. Joseph had been physically abused and severely neglected by his mother, and was sexually abused by his mother’s boyfriend. By this time, Joseph’s father was married to Krista McC., with whom he had three additional children.

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Joseph was a difficult child. From the time he was three years old, his paternal grandmother could not babysit him because she could not control his outbursts. He suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) resulting in trouble at school due to his inability to sit still; he also engaged in impulsive and violent behavior towards both children and teachers, which included hitting, kicking, biting, scratching, stabbing with pencils or other sharp objects, and hitting with objects, as well as running out of class. At school, he also threw tantrums where he threw over all the students’ desks and chairs. Joseph had an IEP (Individualized Education Program) for a learning disability.

Joseph also turned his wrath on the teacher, kicking, hitting, and scratching the teacher, pulling the teacher’s hair, calling her a “fucking bitch, ” and threatening to kill the teacher. Jeff and Krista got therapy for Joseph, but Joseph was in at least six different schools due to violent outbursts and running out of class. Eventually, Jeff and Krista took Joseph out of school and homeschooled him. Joseph also hit his sisters.

For his part, Joseph’s father Jeff had an unstable work history and was unemployed for the three years leading up to his death, although he had worked for a time as a plumber. He was addicted to Percocet and methamphetamine, and was frequently violent towards both Krista and Joseph. He was worse when he was drunk or high; on those occasions he would just lose control, and start beating on Joseph. Sometimes Jeff’s abuse of Joseph was such that Krista had to intervene. A few days before the shooting, Jeff became violent with Krista, throwing a glass cup at her, which caused a cut. Jeff’s mood swings, and his infidelity, made Krista unhappy.

In approximately 2007, after Krista’s sister was killed in a hit-and-run automobile accident involving an undocumented Mexican citizen, Jeff became involved in the National Socialist Movement (NSM, or Neo-Nazis) and the Save Our State (SOS) movement, anti-illegal immigration groups. Jeff owned guns, which he frequently showed off, including a handgun that was kept in the closet of the bedroom. There were no child protection locks for the gun, which was kept loaded. Jeff sometimes took Joseph to the border of Mexico where the NSM group did patrols, and taught Joseph how to use guns.

On April 30, 2011, Jeff and Krista hosted an NSM meeting at their home, described by both Joseph and Shirley as a party, attended by approximately 12 member guests. The meeting started at noon. Alcohol was served, and both Jeff and Krista drank. Between 6:51 and 6:56 p.m., Krista received text messages from Jeff indicating he intended to throw her out of the home. At approximately 7:00 p.m., the meeting ended, and Jeff left with a friend to

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take a woman member home. Krista fell asleep watching television with her three younger children, while Joseph and Shirley went to their own room. Later that same night, Krista heard Jeff return, and heard him talking to someone on the telephone. She went downstairs and found him in the kitchen, drinking, and in a bad mood. They argued because Jeff found out Krista planned to move out.

In the very early hours of May 1, 2011, Krista was startled awake by a loud noise. Thinking that a kitchen shelf had fallen (as had happened previously), she went to the restroom and then went downstairs. Downstairs, Krista found the television on, but the lights were off. When she turned on the lights, she saw Jeff on the couch, bleeding. Joseph came downstairs and told Krista, “I shot dad.” Krista called 911.

At approximately 4:04 a.m., police were dispatched to the residence. All the occupants of the house were required to exit the residence as police performed a safety sweep for other victims or suspects. Jeff was lying on the couch with a large pool of blood emanating from a single gunshot wound to the head. One officer asked Krista what happened while she and the children were outside. Joseph volunteered that he had grabbed the gun and shot his dad in the ear. Joseph explained he did so because his father had beaten him and his mother, and his father had kicked Joseph “in the ass” the day before. Joseph also said he used his father’s gun and that he had put it under his bed after the shooting. When the residence was searched, the gun used in the shooting was found under Joseph’s bed. Joseph’s statements were recorded on a belt recorder and played in open court.

At some point, all the surviving family members were placed in separate police cars. While sitting alone in the back of one patrol car, unhand-cuffed, Joseph talked a lot, although no questions were asked of him. Joseph admitted he had shot his father, said he wished he had not done it, and indicated he knew it was wrong. Joseph asked if his father were dead, or just injured, and explained the events leading up to the shooting. Joseph told the officer his father had abused him and other members of the family repeatedly, and that the previous night, his father had threatened to remove all the smoke detectors and burn the house down, while the family slept. Joseph was aware of his father’s new girlfriend and was concerned that he would have to choose between living with his dad or his mom.[3] Joseph explained that his father returned home and fell asleep on the couch, after which Joseph got the gun from his mother’s bedroom, went downstairs and shot his father in the head. He did not mention being told by anyone else to shoot his father. However, Joseph was worried that his sisters would be angry with him.

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At the police station, Joseph was interviewed by Detective Hopewell, who first asked questions to determine if he understood the difference between right and wrong, before admonishing Joseph of his Miranda rights. A videotape of the interview was played in open court. Joseph admitted shooting his father and explained the circumstances much as he had done in the patrol car. Specifically, Joseph described how his father came home, the family decided to have a movie night, then going to bed where he woke up after a little while and “started thinking that I should end the son versus father thing.”

On May 3, 2011, a wardship petition was filed pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code, section 602, alleging that Joseph had committed an act which would be a crime if committed by an adult. Specifically, the petition alleged that the minor had committed murder (§ 187, subd. (a)), and that in the commission of the crime, he personally discharged a firearm that proximately cause death (§ 12022.53, subd. (d)).

At the initial hearing, Joseph’s counsel requested that the minor be evaluated in anticipation of entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. At a subsequent hearing-still prior to entering a plea on the petition- delinquency proceedings were suspended pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 709, to determine Joseph’s competency.[4] Drs. Miller and Rath, psychologists, were appointed for this evaluation. On March 28, 2012, the reports of the appointed evaluators were read and both counsel stipulated that the issues of competency be submitted to the court. The court considered the psychological evaluations and concluded the minor was competent. Delinquency proceedings were reinstated.

On June 5, 2012, Joseph entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI). The court ordered an NGI evaluation to be conducted by two experts, appointing Dr. Kania and Dr. Rath. Between May 3, 2011 and May 18, 2012, three separate applications regarding psychotropic medications were made and granted to address Joseph’s ADHD. On July 9, 2012, Dr. Rath submitted his report finding Joseph was not insane. On July 24, 2012, Dr. Kania submitted his report, reaching the same conclusion.

The contested jurisdictional hearing commenced on October 30, 2012. Minor’s counsel objected to the admission of Joseph’s responses to questions asked by Detective Hopewell, pursuant to a section 26 questionnaire (see In re Gladys R. (1970) 1 Cal.3d 855, 862 [83 Cal.Rptr. 671, 464 P.2d 127] (Gladys R.)), because the inquiry was conducted before he was admonished

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of his Miranda rights. The court was concerned about two questions and their responses and struck them. However, the court eventually reconsidered and ruled that the response to one question was admissible.

Counsel also argued that the minor’s statements were obtained in violation of Miranda because there were two people present, [5] the minor was admonished that the decision to answer questions was his choice and his mother’s choice, and the detective did not adequately explain that Joseph did not have to talk to her. The court overruled these objections.

Additionally, on the third day of trial, the minor objected to any testimony by Dr. Rath as to Joseph’s capacity to commit the crime on the ground Dr. Rath was inappropriately appointed to conduct evaluations both as to the minor’s capacity as well as on the issue of sanity. The court sustained the objection, but allowed the prosecutor to retain another expert on the issue of the minor’s sanity. The court granted the prosecution’s request that Dr. Salter be permitted to interview the minor and that she would be permitted to testify for the purpose of impeaching the minor’s expert. Defense counsel requested to be present when Dr. Salter interviewed the minor, but the court denied the request. Later, minor’s counsel objected to Dr. Salter’s report on the ground of late discovery, which objection was overruled.

In the end, the parties stipulated to the admissibility of the reports of Dr. Salter and Dr. Geffner (defendant’s expert), and, after the People rested, the minor withdrew his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The minor made a motion to dismiss pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 701.1, which was denied. The court found by clear proof that the minor knew the wrongfulness of his acts, within the meaning of Penal Code section 26. The court ruled the minor came within Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 upon a finding that the allegations of the petition were true, specifically, that the minor had committed second degree murder, a felony, and that he personally and intentionally discharged a firearm.

The probation officer’s dispositional report recommended commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) because the minor was screened by 15 different county and private placements, and had been rejected by all but one, which referral was still pending. The probation officer indicated that the minor appeared to be beyond the scope of any private or county facilities, including the Youthful Offender Program (YOP), because he posed a serious risk to the community, and because he was in need of a long term, highly structured, well-supervised environment. The average commitment to YOP

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was seven months, and the average age of the minors at YOP was 17. At YOP, Joseph would not be eligible for most of the programs because they were not age appropriate. Most significantly, Joseph was not eligible for probation because of the true finding on the gun discharge enhancement.

The probation officer noted that DJJ had screened the minor, but a diagnostic study pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 704[6] would have to be completed first, because of Joseph’s age. Additionally, the Screening Committee decided to have the minor’s case screened by the State Department of Mental Health (DMH) for a Rate Classification 13/14 Level (RCL) placement, [7] requiring more time. The court continued the disposition hearing to facilitate the diagnostic study.

On February 15, 2013, the DMH submitted its assessment for the RCL 13/14 level of care. The assessment indicated Joseph qualified for an RCL 14 level, but had not been certified. DMH believed Joseph had neurological issues and would benefit from participating in an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to determine the extent of damage done to his brain due to his past history[8]. To this end, the probation officer requested that the court order a functional MRI, although the record does not indicate whether this was ordered or performed. The report also indicated that on the date of the shooting, Joseph was not taking his psychotropic medications. The ...

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