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Sealing Juvenile Records Under WIC § 786(e)?

In seeking to seal juvenile records, one must know if the juvenile was declared a ward of the court, as the following summary of a recent Fourth Appellate District ruling exemplifies.
Brief Synopsis: The critical issue to knowing whether sealing of a juvenile record is knowing whether the juvenile was declared a ward of the court.  As the following summary shows, if one was declared a ward of the court, he or she is ineligible to have his or her record sealed.
On November 30, 2018, D.H. (a minor) and his minor brother, R.H., and a third minor went to the house of a female about stolen property.  While at the residence, D.H. repeatedly punched the female victim and his brother stabbed the victim numerous times.

At the time of the incident, D.H. was 13 years old and lived with his mother and nine siblings at his grandmother’s house.  D.H.’s father was deceased.  D.H. was involved in numerous physical altercations at school due to other students bullying him over his stuttering issues.  In addition, he had received a citation for felony vandalism on October 18, 2017, which was settled out of court.

As to the incident with D.H. punching the female at her house, the Juvenile District Attorney’s Office of San Bernardino County filed a Welfare & Institutions Code (W.I.C.) § 602 petition alleging D.H. had committed assault with a deadly weapon (Penal Code § 245(a)(1)), a knife.

While in juvenile hall, D.H. was disrespectful to staff and his peers, failed to follow staff directives, lied to staff and argued with other youths in his unit.  However, he attended school every day.

After about four weeks in juvenile hall, the judge released D.H. to be placed on the House Arrest Program (H.A.P.) while court proceedings continued.  After about two months on H.A.P., the judge terminated H.A.P. and the prosecutor added a misdemeanor battery charge (Penal Code § 242) to the petition and D.H. admitted the battery charge and the felony 245(a)(1) charge was dismissed.

The judge then adjudicated D.H. a ward of the court and placed him on formal probation under various terms and conditions in the custody of his mother.

Inglewood Juvenile CourtInglewood Juvenile Court

About three months later, D.H. and his brother broke into an elementary school and stole several bags of candy and several cans of soda.  D.H. was then arrested for second degree burglary, trespass and petty theft.

D.H. then went back to juvenile hall, where he fought with other youth, and displayed gang signs.  It was also revealed that he never started his anger management classes as required from his earlier battery case.

The juvenile court judge again declared D.H. a ward of the court and ordered him to serve 30 days in juvenile hall with credit for 18 days for time served. 

While D.H. was in juvenile hall, his five-year-old half-sister ingested his mom’s prescription medicine and was being treated at Loma Linda, in the intensive care unit.  San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (C.F.S.) then sent a report to the judge for D.H. requesting that jurisdiction over D.H. be terminated and transferred to the family law court and that he be made a ward of the court under Welfare & Institutions Code § 300.

C.F.S. also requested that the court dismiss the juvenile court proceedings filed that made D.H. a ward of the court under W.I.C. § 602 and that his records be sealed “as he would best benefit from services offered through C.F.S.”

The juvenile court judge dismissed the two 602 actions involving D.H., but denied the request to seal the records, noting D.H.’s unsuccessful completion of probation, his failure to complete any of the community service or counseling despite being on probation for over a year and his continued behavior problems.

Counsel for D.H. appealed the ruling to deny sealing.  The appeal was filed with the Fourth Appellate District Court in Riverside, arguing that Welfare & Institutions Code § 786(e) requires sealing when a section 602 petition is dismissed.

The court of appeals disagreed, explaining that Welfare & Institutions Code § 786(e) provides in relevant part, “If a person who has been alleged to be a ward of the juvenile court has their petition dismissed by the court, whether on the motion of the prosecution or on the court’s own motion, or if the petition is not sustained by the court after an adjudication hearing, the court shall order sealed all records pertaining to the dismissed petition in the possession of the juvenile court, and in the custody of law enforcement agencies, the probation department, or the Department of Justice.”

According to the bill’s cosponsor, “under most circumstances a youth that has his case dismissed due to insufficient evidence, or in the interest of justice, without an adjudication must wait until he is at least 18 to petition the court to seal his record.

However, minors that commit and are adjudicated for non-serious or non-violent offenses can have their records automatically sealed upon completion of probation.  This means the court orders the petition be dismissed and the juvenile court records are sealed immediately. 

However, section 786(a) suggests (e) is inapplicable in this case.  Subsection (a) states “if a person who has been alleged or found to be a ward of the juvenile court completes (1) an informal program of supervision pursuant to § 654.2, (2) probation under § 725, or (3) a term of probation for any offense, the court shall order the petition dismissed.  The court shall order sealed all records.  Notably, the Legislature did not used the phrase “or found to be a ward of the court” in (e) of § 786.

Here, since D.H. was found to be a ward of the court, he was ineligible to have his records sealed.

We bring this summary to the reader’s attention to emphasize the relevance of being declared a ward of the court, something that is often overlooked during a juvenile court proceeding.

The citation for the Fourth Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is In re D.H. (4th App. Dist., 2020) 58 Cal. App. 5th 44, 271 Cal. Rptr. 3d 919.

For more information about sealing a juvenile record, please click on the following articles:
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