Wednesday, March 4, 2015
C.A. Rejects Honored Veteran’s Bid to Seal Juvenile Records
Panel Calls Result ‘Unjust,’ But Says Change Can Only Come From Legislature
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Proposition 21, the juvenile justice initiative adopted by state voters in March 2000, prevents a court from sealing the records of a juvenile adjudicated to have committed a violent felony, even if the offense was later reduced to a misdemeanor by the court, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The panel yesterday certified for publication its Feb. 3 opinion denying a petition by a decorated military veteran and college graduate to seal the records of a crime he committed when he was 17.
“We respectfully invite the Legislature to enact legislation that would remedy this unjust result,” Justice Nathan Mihara wrote for the court.
The petitioner, identified only as G.Y., was charged in 1998 after he took a handgun belonging to his friend’s father and went to the home of some men who had beaten him in a park.
He held the gun to a woman’s head and threatened to shoot her unless she summoned the men from inside the house. When the men came out with baseball bats, he threatened to shoot one of them, but then left.
He admitted the charges of assault with a handgun, making criminal threats, and possession of a concealable firearm. He was sent to a juvenile ranch for a maximum term of 15 years, four months, but was released on probation four months later.
After working in his family’s printing business and attending community college, he enlisted in the Army, serving from 2006 to 2009. He was promoted to sergeant, and earned two Army Commendation Medals and other awards before leaving service.
He later earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2012 and received another Army Commendation Medal for his outstanding contribution to military intelligence operations in Kuwait.
In late 2013, he filed a petition to reduce the offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, which was granted without prosecution objection. A month later, he petitioned the court to seal his records, pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code §781.
Trial Judge Sympathetic
Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Jesus Valencia Jr. denied the petition based on language added to §781 by Proposition 21. The provision says “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 . . . had attained 14 years of age or older.”
Valencia expressed support for the petitioner, but said his hands were tied absent action by the Legislature or “an alternative interpretation” by the Court of Appeal.
Mihara agreed with the trial judge that the law is clear, rejecting the petitioner’s argument that because the offenses were reduced to misdemeanors, they were no longer a bar to sealing the records.
The controlling question, the justice explained, is whether an offense is listed in §707(b), not whether it is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor. The case is thus distinguishable from those in which a prior conviction that had been reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor was treated as a misdemeanor for purposes of a statute providing for an enhanced penalty, or making a defendant ineligible for probation, based on a prior conviction.
“We recognize that though appellant committed very serious offenses on one occasion when he was a juvenile, he has since demonstrated that he is a very valuable member of society,” Mihara wrote. “The sealing of his juvenile court records would acknowledge appellant’s achievements. However, courts have no authority to rewrite a statute.”
Justice Franklin Elia concurred in the opinion.
Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian concurred separately.
“In enacting the amendment to Welfare and Institutions Code section 781, subdivision (a) in 2000, the electorate clearly did not contemplate an individual such as G.Y., who has so greatly and unquestionably rehabilitated and distinguished himself,” she wrote. The justice—whose son, a Marine captain, was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in 2012—said the petitioner “has served his country with distinction and honor” and noted that the Legislature, under the terms of the initiative, can amend Proposition 21 by a two-thirds vote of each house.
The case is In re G.Y, H040722.
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