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Name: In re Albert C.
Case #: B256480
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 11/10/2015
Subsequent History: Review granted 2/24/2016: S231315

Juvenile court did not err in rejecting expert’s opinion that minor was incompetent to stand trial. After two juvenile delinquency petitions were filed against him, Albert was found incompetent. He was 14 years old and had an average IQ, but he suffered from ADHD. The first psychiatrist to assess his competency concluded that Albert lacked competency to stand trial presently, but could attain competency within 12 months with mental health services and repetitive education of competency-related concepts. Over the next eight months Albert received “competency training” but continued to fail competency tests. A different expert concluded that Albert was still incompetent to stand trial. Following a hearing three months later, the juvenile court concluded that Albert had attained competency based on its finding that Albert had been exaggerating his lack of understanding of courtroom proceedings. Proceedings were reinstated and Albert admitted two counts. He raised a number of issues on appeal, including that the juvenile court improperly reinstated delinquency proceedings by rejecting the opinion of the expert who evaluated Albert and found him incompetent. Held: Affirmed. A trial court is not bound by an expert opinion that a minor is incompetent to stand trial. (In re R.V. (2015) 61 Cal.4th 181, 200-201.) The court here could reasonably reject the expert’s opinion based on the weight and character of the evidence of incompetency. The court and the psychiatrist observed Albert participating competently in court by listening attentively to witnesses and interacting with his attorney. By the end of the hearing, the psychiatrist determined that there was a “substantial likelihood” that Albert had a basic understanding of courtroom proceedings based on what the expert learned during the hearing. Furthermore, there was overwhelming evidence that Albert was feigning incompetence.

Detention in juvenile hall for 294 days during competency training did not violate due process. Albert also argued that his detention for 294 days while receiving services to attain competency violated his due process rights. The Court of Appeal disagreed. “[N]o person charged with a criminal offense and committed to a state hospital solely on account of his incapacity to proceed to trial may be so confined more than a reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial likelihood that he will recover that capacity in the foreseeable future. Unless such a showing of probable recovery is made within this period, defendant must either be released or recommitted under alternative commitment procedures.” (In re Davis (1973) 8 Cal.3d 798, 801, see also Jackson v. Indiana (1972) 406 U.S. 715, 738-739.) The Court of Appeal distinguished this case from Davis and Jackson. Here, Albert had been evaluated by an expert who concluded that incompetence was due to emotional immaturity and could be remedied within 12 months. Under the circumstances, 12 months to attain competency was constitutionally reasonable. Albert was provided services to attain competency and the court regularly monitored the case. He remained detained because he manipulated the system to avoid a finding of competency. Although Albert’s detention in juvenile hall over 120 days violated a protocol drafted by the Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, the protocol’s 120-day limit does not define due process and is not entitled to the force of law. The court disagreed with In re Jesus G. (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 157, which concluded that a fixed 120-day limit on detention while receiving services executes the holdings in Jackson and Davis, and that it establishes a presumptive due process violation.

Minor detained pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 709 was not entitled to procedural protections that would be required for a civil commitment under the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act because he is not similarly to persons who fall under the LPS Act. Albert also argued that the delinquency court violated his right to equal protection of the law by detaining him for more than 120 days pursuant to section 709 without the procedural protections that would be required for a civil commitment under the LPS Act. The Court of Appeal disagreed. The LPS Act applies to persons with a “mental disorder,” or “mental health disorder or impairment by chronic alcoholism,” or those who are “gravely disabled as a result of a mental health disorder or impairment by chronic alcoholism.” Under section 709, subdivision (b), a minor may be incompetent to stand trial if the minor suffers from a mental disorder, developmental disability, developmental immaturity, or other condition. Here, Albert did not have any mental or developmental abnormalities that would provide a basis for a civil commitment under the LPS Act. He was only subject to section 709. As a result, his equal protection argument failed because he was not similarly situated to persons who fall under the LPS Act.