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A.T. v. Superior Court (The People)

California Court of Appeals, First District, Second Division

March 30, 2017

A.T., Petitioner,

         Superior Court Solano County, No. J43654 Hon. D. Scott Daniels Judge

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Solano County Alternate Public Defender Michiko K. Yamamoto Damian Carl Douglass Spieckerman Deputy Public Defender

          Attorneys for Respondent: Office of the Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Attorney General of California Joan Killeen Deputy Attorney General

         THE COURT:[1]

         Petitioner A.T. filed a writ petition asking us to direct the juvenile court to vacate its November 3, 2016 order denying her request to be released to her mother's custody pending the disposition of criminal charges. The petition alleges the court improperly considered her refusal to accept a “package-deal” plea bargain, as well as the suitability of the Vallejo neighborhood where her mother lives in a two-bedroom apartment, in deciding to detain her. The Attorney General urges us to dismiss A.T.'s petition as moot, noting the girl was released on November 10, 2016, upon pleading guilty to a misdemeanor, after serving 16 days in custody.

         We exercise our inherent jurisdiction to resolve the issues presented by this writ petition because they are of broad public interest, likely to recur, generally “encountered... at a level of ‘low visibility' in the criminal process... and involve[] asserted errors... not ordinarily reviewable on appeal.” (In re William M. (1970) 3 Cal.3d 16, 24-26 (William M.); see also In re Yvonne W. (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1394, 1403-1404; In re Raymond G. (1991) 230 Cal.App.3d 964, 967.) Further, we note that, after pleading guilty, A.T. filed a motion to withdraw her November 9, 2016 plea of guilty. That motion is still pending, in accordance with a stay we issued on December 23, 2016. This opinion is intended to guide the juvenile court in considering A.T.'s motion to withdraw her plea.


         A.T. is enrolled in high school in Fairfield, California, where her attendance is regular, and she earns passing grades. She has no prior delinquent history. On October 24, 2016, she was riding with another minor in a car driven by her brother, who is also a minor with no delinquent history. Police stopped the car because its registration had expired. When they learned that no one inside the vehicle possessed a valid driver's license, they arrested her brother for driving without a license. While performing an inventory search in preparation for the vehicle to be towed, officers found a small handgun wrapped in a shirt inside a backpack that was inside the trunk. At that point, A.T. and the other minor were arrested.

         A.T. waived her Miranda rights, and told police that her brother had found the gun early that morning, and shown it to her. She said they had agreed to wrap it up and put it inside her backpack, and to leave it inside the trunk of the car to show later to their father. The father of her brother's girlfriend subsequently reported the gun was stolen from him.

         By a petition filed October 25, 2016, pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, subdivision (a), [2] A.T. was charged with grand theft (count 1); possession of a firearm by a minor (count 2); and carrying a loaded/stolen firearm (count 3).[3] At her arraignment on October 26, 2016, A.T. denied each charge. Despite her youth, lack of prior delinquent history, solid ties to the community, and positive parental support, the juvenile court rejected the probation department's recommendation that she be conditionally released to her mother subject to home supervision.

         On November 3, 2016, after A.T. had spent 10 days in custody, the court held a readiness conference and a hearing on the prosecutor's motion to join her case with that of her brother. A.T. objected to joinder, explaining that she believed her brother would provide exculpatory testimony if he had the opportunity to testify at her separate trial. He also objected to joinder. After hearing argument, the juvenile court joined the two matters over the minors' objections.

         The court then inquired whether the parties had made any progress toward resolving the cases. The prosecutor responded that she had offered the minors a “package deal, ” whereby A.T. would plead guilty to count 3, as a misdemeanor, and brother would plead guilty to count 3, as a misdemeanor, as well as count 4, and both minors would receive formal probation. A.T.'s brother wanted to take the deal, but she did not. The court indicated it was willing to accept her brother's plea, and to let A.T.'s case go forward. The prosecutor insisted, however, that the plea offer depended on both minors' admitting the charges.

         A.T. then renewed her request to be released from detention to the custody of her mother, who was present in court.[4] At the court's prompting, A.T.'s mother provided her address. The court then asked, “What's at [that address]? What is the building?”

         A.T.'s mother said, “Well, ... they have a lot of storefronts, but....”

         The court agreed, “Yes, they do. It's downtown Vallejo, right.”

         A.T.'s mother then said, “Yes, sir. It's nice. It's quiet. I mean, the building is quiet. It's not a lot of drama in there. I don't know what else to say. I have the only two-bedroom in there.”

         The court responded, “I don't know what to say either. Okay? I'm extremely familiar with Vallejo. I grew up in Vallejo. I've got a pretty good feel of what's happening in downtown Vallejo.”

         After further discussion, the court announced, “I'll be frank with you, I'm disappointed that we're not able to find some resolution of this today.... I'd like to have you come back and give this one more try on another readiness conference.” Counsel for A.T. then asked to pass the matter, and the court obliged, saying, “Anything to see if we can find a resolution, yes. We'll pass these cases briefly.”

         After a lunch recess, the court re-called the cases. At the afternoon hearing, counsel for A.T. informed the court that she had looked up A.T.'s mother's address on Google Maps, and confirmed it appeared to be a ...

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