Monday, November 27, 2006
C.A.: Amendment to Juvenile Records Law Applies Retroactively
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A provision of Proposition 21 restricting the sealing of juvenile court records applies to all petitions to seal juvenile records brought on or after the amendment’s effective date, regardless of when the underlying offense occurred, the Third District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The justices unanimously affirmed an order by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Kenneth G. Peterson denying the request of Chong K., as he was identified, to have his juvenile record sealed.
In 1996, based on findings that he perpetrated various offenses including murder, then-15-year-old Chong K. was committed to the California Youth Authority—now the Juvenile Justice division of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
He was honorably discharged from the youth authority in 2004, and in July 2005, directed the probation department to file a petition to have his juvenile record sealed pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code Sec. 781. That provision generally permits the sealing of juvenile records five years after the juvenile court’s jurisdiction has terminated or anytime after the person adjudged a ward of the court has turned 18.
In denying Chong K.’s petition, Peterson determined that the 2000 amendment to Sec. 781 applied to him and made him ineligible to have his record sealed.
A part of Proposition 21, which was passed in the March 7, 2000 election and became effective March 8, 2000, the amendment provides:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court shall not order the person’s records sealed in any case in which the person has been found by the juvenile court to have committed an offense listed in subdivision (b) of Section 707 when he or she had attained 14 years of age or older. . . .”
Among the referenced crimes is murder, listed in Sec. 707(b)(1).
On appeal, Chong K. argued Peterson’s Proposition 21 determination was an improper retroactive application of the amendment because the offenses that triggered his juvenile proceedings were committed prior to Proposition 21’s effective date.
But writing for the court in an opinion published last Wednesday, Justice Ronald B. Robie said that “had the voters intended to limit Proposition 21’s amendment to offenses occurring after its effective date they would have said so.”
“Since they did not say so, we must conclude the voters intended the amendment to operate retrospectively,” he wrote.
Moreover, the justice explained, retroactively applying the amendment to the defendant did not deny him equal protection:
“The drafters of Proposition 21’s amendment to section 781 could have rationally determined that youthful offenders who committed a section 707, subdivision(b) offense when they were 14 years of age or older are not as susceptible to rehabilitation and therefore remain more dangerous than those offenders of lesser maturity who committed similar offenses when they were under 14 years of age and thus, for the general protection, members of society should be aware when they are dealing with members of the former group.”
Robie also rejected Chong K.’s argument that under sections 1179(a) and 1772(a), his honorable discharge entitled him to have is record sealed. Those sections, he contended, require that those honorably discharged from the juvenile justice system be released from “all penalties and disabilities” resulting from the offenses for which they were committed.
Prop. 21 clearly precludes the sealing of records for Sec. 707(b) offenses and, as a specific provision regarding record-sealing, governs over the more general language of sections 1179(a) and 1772(a) that existed when Prop. 21 took effect, the justice said.
Presiding Justice Arthur G. Scotland and Justice Vance W. Raye concurred in the opinion.
The case is In re Chong K., 06 S.O.S. 5665.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company