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In re Jose S.

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

June 21, 2017

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

         APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. J199255, Aaron H. Katz, Judge. Affirmed.

          Cynthia M. Jones, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Eric A. Swenson and Allison V. Hawley, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          McCONNELL, P. J.

         Jose S., a former ward of the juvenile court, moved under Welfare and Institutions Code section 781[1] to seal juvenile records related to an admitted charge of lewd and lascivious conduct that occurred in 2002. The juvenile court denied the motion, finding Jose was precluded from relief under section 781 because of an additional admitted and disqualifying charge of assault with a deadly weapon in 2005. On appeal, Jose contends that each offense constitutes a separate case for purposes of section 781 and that the records related to his 2002 offense should, therefore, be sealed. Jose alternatively asserts that the court's denial of his motion to seal was improper because the 2005 assault does not fall within the list of disqualifying offenses set forth in section 707, subdivision (b). We reject these contentions and affirm the order.


         In 2002, the district attorney filed a petition under section 602 alleging Jose, age 13 at the time, violated Penal Code section 288.5, subdivision (a) by engaging in three or more acts of substantial sexual conduct with his five-year-old sister. Jose admitted a violation of the lessor included offense of lewd and lascivious conduct under Penal Code section 288(a), was adjudged a ward of the juvenile court, and placed on probation. Jose was initially placed with extended family and later in a group home. He received sexual offender treatment and, according to probation department reports, did well in his placements.

         In December 2005, shortly after the juvenile court returned Jose to his parents' care, he was taken into custody by the probation department and the San Diego County Police Department after stabbing another high school aged boy. Jose told the investigating police officer that the victim had taunted him for over a year and on the day of the fight had antagonized him. Jose admitted to the officer that he chased the boy down with a knife in his pocket and stabbed him twice before fleeing the scene and throwing the bloody knife in a dumpster.

         As a result, the district attorney filed a second petition in Jose's existing delinquency matter alleging Jose committed attempted murder (Pen. Code, §§ 187, subd. (a) and 664) and assault with a deadly weapon (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (a)(1)), and that with respect to each offense Jose personally used a deadly weapon (Pen. Code, § 1192.7, subd. (c)(23)) and inflicted great bodily injury (Pen. Code, § 12022.7, subd. (a)). The petition stated (1) Jose was "within the provisions of Section 602 of the Juvenile Court Law, " (2) the offenses enumerated in the document "may result in the violation of any probation previously granted and the imposition of any previously unexpired term of detention, " and (3) "[t]he previous disposition has not been effective in the rehabilitation and protection of the minor in that said minor's performance on probation has been unsatisfactory, thereby violating the specific terms and conditions of [his] probation and demonstrating the necessity for further orders of the Juvenile Court pursuant to [section] 777."

         In its recommendation report accompanying the petition, the probation department stated that "[c]ustody is taken pursuant to WIC 726 (a)(2)" and that Jose was "tried on Probation while in custody [and] failed to reform." At the readiness hearing on the petition, Jose admitted he committed assault with a deadly weapon and that he personally used a deadly weapon. The court dismissed the other allegations in the second petition. In its dispositional report, the probation department recommended Jose be referred to the California Youth Authority (CYA) based on the serious nature of both Jose's earlier offense and the recent offense.

         After several continuances of the dispositional hearing to address Jose's ongoing sexual offender treatment for the 2002 offense, the juvenile court adopted the probation department's recommendation and committed Jose to the CYA. The court's dispositional order indicated Jose was a continued ward pursuant to section 602 and that custody was taken under section 726, subdivision (a)(2). The court aggregated both true findings during Jose's wardship pursuant to section 726 and Penal Code section 1170.1, subdivision (a) and committed Jose to the CYA for a period of nine years. The court also found Jose had committed a section 707, subdivision (b) offense. While committed, Jose graduated from high school and completed sexual offender treatment. He was released from CYA after serving five years and released from parole in 2013.

         In 2015, Jose requested that his juvenile court records be sealed. The trial court appointed a public defender to assist Jose. Acknowledging that Jose's 2005 offense was not eligible to be sealed under section 781 because it was an offense enumerated in section 707, subdivision (b), the public defender sought to reduce Jose's 2005 plea to a lesser included offense. At a hearing in April 2016, the public defender explained she had several meetings with the district attorney to change the plea for the 2005 offense, but the parties could not reach agreement. The juvenile court then granted the relief requested with respect to Jose's 2002 offense.

         Several days later, the court clerk contacted Jose's attorney and notified her that the court's system could not accommodate the order to seal only the 2002 petition. The juvenile court set a special hearing to address the problem. At the hearing, the court explained that once the clerk enters the "sealing codes, the entire record is dismissed or abolished" and "everything will be wiped from the system" contrary to the court's order. The court then rescinded the sealing order and set a further hearing to consider Jose's request.

         At the next hearing, the district attorney stated its position that because of the 2005 assault offense, none of Jose's juvenile records were eligible to be sealed under section 781. The juvenile court expressed its desire to seal Jose's record with respect to the 2002 offense, and commended him for turning his life around and becoming a positive member of society. The court concluded, however, that the district attorney's position was correct and it did not have the authority to seal any of Jose's records.



         Standard of Review

         A juvenile court's ruling on the release of juvenile records is reviewed for abuse of discretion. (In re Jeffrey T. (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 1015, 1018 (Jeffrey).) However, "we independently determine the proper interpretation of a statute." (Ibid.) "Under general settled canons of statutory construction, we ascertain the Legislature's intent in order to effectuate the law's purpose. [Citation.] We must look to the statute's words and give them their 'usual and ordinary meaning.' [Citation.] 'The statute's plain meaning controls the court's interpretation unless its words are ambiguous. If the plain language of a statute is unambiguous, no court need, or should, go beyond that pure expression of legislative intent.' " (White v. Ultramar, Inc. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 563, 572.)

         The reviewing court also must examine the statutory language " ' "in context, keeping in mind the nature and obvious purpose of the statute...." [Citation.]' [Citation.] In other words, we 'must harmonize "the various parts of a statutory enactment... by considering the particular clause or section in the context of the statutory framework as a whole" ' [citation], so that all of the statutes in the scheme will 'have effect.' [Citation.] And '[w]e must also avoid a construction that would produce absurd consequences, which we presume the Legislature did not intend.' " (In re Charles G. (2004) 115 Cal.App.4th 608, 614.) Further, "ambiguity in a criminal statute should be resolved in favor of lenity, giving the defendant the benefit of every reasonable doubt on ...

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