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Name: A.T. v. Superior Court
Case #: A149772
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 03/30/2017

Juvenile court improperly denied minor’s request for release to the custody of her mother in order to pressure her to accept a plea bargain. Police found A.T. and her brother with a gun that the brother’s girlfriend’s father had reported stolen. They were both charged with a number of firearm offenses in juvenile court. At a readiness conference, the prosecution offered A.T. and her bother a package deal that depended on both minors admitting the charges. A.T. requested to be released from detention to her mother’s custody and the juvenile court denied the request. During this and a subsequent readiness conference, it became clear that the juvenile court would release A.T. if she accepted the prosecution’s plea deal, but would not release her if she refused the deal. A.T. eventually took the deal and admitted one of the charges. She filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the court’s order denying her request to be released to her mother. In the juvenile court, she also moved to withdraw her plea. Held: Juvenile court directed to consider A.T.’s motion to withdraw her plea. Even though A.T. was released after filing her writ petition, the Court of Appeal exercised its discretion to resolve the issues presented by her petition. The California Supreme Court “has recognized that serious concerns arise when codefendants are presented with package-deal plea bargains.” (Citing In re Ibarra (1983) 34 Cal.3d 277, 287.) Here, the Court of Appeal “question[ed] whether package-deal plea offers have any place at all in juvenile court.” The court determined that it was “compelled to conclude that A.T., a 14-year old girl who had never been incarcerated or otherwise removed from her parents’ custody, was being penalized for exercising her constitutional right to go to trial.” The juvenile court also failed to make an individualized, evidence-based assessment of A.T.s fitness for release. (See Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 202, 635, 636.) The court’s rationale for detaining A.T. (the serious of the charges and her mother’s residence in an unsafe neighborhood) “ring[s] hollow in light of its willingness to send her home after she admitted the charges.”

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: