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Legal Issues

June 12, 2015

Court of Appeal Identifies Realignment Loophole Preventing Dismissal of Juvenile Records

The Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled last week that minors who successfully complete a term of  confinement  at  the  Department  of  Juvenile  Justice  (DJJ)  are  no   longer   entitled   automatically   to   release   from   all   penalties   and   disabilities   resulting   from  the  crime  that  caused  the commitment. Ruling on former minor's petition be  released  from  the  consequences  of  his  offenses,  the  court  said  in  the  case  of  In  re   J.S.  that  the  elimination  of  DJJ  parole  through  realignment  means  there  is  no  longer arole.    The  Court  left  to  the  Legislature  the  decision  whether  to address what is called an "oversight" in the realignment scheme.

Minor Asked Court to Deem Him “Honorably Discharged”

Before realignment in 2010, a minor who successfully completed a DJJ commitment and parole could seek an “honorable discharge” from the Board of Parole Hearings. (Welf. & Inst. Code § 1177.) Honorable discharge automatically released the minor from the penalties and other disabilities resulting from the minor’s offenses; in effect, the minor’s juvenile record was wiped clean. (Welf. & Inst. Code § 1772, subd. (a).)

Since realignment transferred juvenile parole services to county supervision, the Board of Parole Hearings no longer makes decisions on the discharge status of released minors. The Legislature failed to transfer that decision-making authority to the local juvenile courts when it passed the realignment legislation. There is now no entity vested with the jurisdiction to declare a minor honorably discharged and therefore eligible for automatic release from criminal penalties.

In In re J.S., the minor petitioned the juvenile court to make the “honorable discharge” finding in lieu of the parole board. The minor argued the Legislature must have intended the juvenile courts to assume that function when it transferred jurisdiction over juveniles to the counties. Without any statute giving it that authority, however, the court declined to make the finding. The court did note that under existing law a minor still could petition a court to exercise its discretion to release the minor from criminal penalties, but that there was no longer the possibility of an automatic release.

Court Puts Burden on Legislature to Fix Loophole

Commenting that “the new local supervision system under Realignment has created some confusion”, the court said it was “a task for the Legislature, not the courts” to address the lack of availability of the “honorable discharge”. The court suggested it made little sense to transfer that authority to the courts because the court now has complete discretion to make all findings regarding a minor’s performance on probation and suitability for release from the consequences of the minor’s offenses.

In re J.S. demonstrates that realignment remains problematic, with some previously important components of the juvenile justice system left unaddressed by the comprehensive legislation. The statutory scheme promises to have many more issues in the future as local juvenile courts become overwhelmed with the responsibility for supervising juvenile offenders released from state custody.

© 2015 by Christopher W. Miller

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