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In re Albert C.

Supreme Court of California

July 10, 2017

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

         Superior Court Los Angeles County No. MJ21492, Ct.App. 2/5 B256480 Denise M. McLaughlin-Bennett Judge.

          Laini Millar Melnick, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Susan L. Burrell; L. Richard Braucher; Rourke F. Stacy and Robert Lu, Deputy Public Defenders (Los Angeles) for Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, First District Appellate Project and Los Angeles County Public Defender as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Edward C. DuMont, State Solicitor General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Assistant Attorney General, Michael R. Johnsen, Deputy Attorney General, Michael J. Mongan, Deputy Solicitor General, Victoria B. Wilson, Scott A. Taryle and Theresa A. Patterson, Deputy Attorneys General, and Kathleen Vermazen Radez, Associate Deputy State Solicitor General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          Liu, J.

         Like adults, juveniles have a due process right to be free from indefinite commitment if found incompetent to stand trial. In an effort to protect this right, the Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Juvenile Division, issued a protocol addressing the process by which minors are found incompetent and later found to have attained competency. The protocol limits the detention of incompetent minors to 120 days. We granted review to decide whether detention of a minor beyond the protocol's 120-day limit without evidence of progress toward attaining competency violates the right to due process and whether a violation of the protocol establishes a presumption of due process violation.

         Defendant Albert C. contends that detention beyond the protocol's 120-day limit presumptively violates due process, as In re Jesus G. (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 157, 174 (Jesus G.) held. In this case, the Court of Appeal disagreed with Jesus G. and held that “the 120-day limit on detention in the Protocol lacks the force of law and it therefore does not define due process.” We hold that although trial courts are not barred from adopting such protocols as guidance or as local rules, the Court of Appeal below was correct that the protocol does not presumptively or otherwise define due process. Further, we decline to decide whether the length of detention in this case violated due process and instead hold that any violation was not prejudicial in light of the juvenile court's finding of malingering.

         I.

         In June 2012, when Albert C. was 14 years old, the Los Angeles County District Attorney filed a petition to have him declared a ward of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602. The petition alleged that Albert had threatened a public officer at his school in violation of Penal Code section 71. At a pretrial hearing, the court put the matter over and ordered that Albert remain in the custody of his mother. But Albert's relationship with his mother was turbulent - Albert had spent about half of his life in foster care due to neglect and abuse - and shortly after a second continuance, Albert ran away from home. Neither the probation department nor the department of children and family services knew where Albert was for the next six months.

         On February 13, 2013, after Albert turned 15, he turned himself in to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The next day, the district attorney filed a second wardship petition against him. The petition alleged that Albert had committed assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (a)(4)), battery with serious bodily injury (id., § 243, subd. (d)), possession of a firearm by a minor (id., § 29610), and criminal threats (id., § 422, subd. (a)). The petition stemmed from an incident in December 2012 in which Albert allegedly strangled his girlfriend until she lost consciousness, threatened her with a gun, and several days later threatened to kill her.

         On February 15, 2013, before Albert's arraignment on the second petition, his defense counsel declared a doubt as to his competency. The court, relying on “behavior in court based on the defense report, and... other issues that the court has seen Albert exhibit, ” declared a doubt as to Albert's competency, ordered the delinquency proceedings suspended, appointed an expert to evaluate Albert, and set a competency hearing. In the meantime, Albert was detained.

         The expert, Dr. Praveen Kambam, submitted a written report to Albert's attorney dated March 17, 2013. In the report, he found “with reasonable medical certainty” that Albert was unable to consult with counsel, assist in preparing his defense, or demonstrate a rational and factual understanding of his delinquency proceedings. Dr. Kambam also found that Albert could attain competency within 12 months “with the proper mental health services and education.” Two days later, based on the contents of this report, the court found that Albert was not presently competent and continued the suspension of proceedings.

         Between March 2013 and February 2014, while proceedings were suspended and as Albert received weekly competency attainment training, the court ordered Albert detained in juvenile hall on public safety grounds over his attorney's objections. The court acknowledged that the Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Juvenile Division, had issued a memorandum in January 2012 that said incompetent minors in Los Angeles County “may not be held in a juvenile hall to participate in attainment services for more than one hundred and twenty days.” (Nash, P. J., Amended Competency to Stand Trial Protocol (Jan. 9, 2012) p. 7 <http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/LA-Competency-Protocol.pdf> [as of July 10, 2017] (Protocol).) But the court found “good cause to deviate from protocol” in Albert's case.

         In May 2013, the court ordered the probation department to consider the least restrictive placement options for Albert during the suspension of his delinquency proceedings. In June, the probation department indicated that Albert might be placed at a secure group home under the care of the department of children and family services, since he was also under dependency jurisdiction, and the court ordered the probation department and the department of children and family services to pursue that placement. Despite regular prodding by the court, the ...


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