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Name: In re Alonzo J.
Case #: S206720
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 04/03/2014

Under rule 5.778, a juvenile in a delinquency proceeding may not enter a no contest plea without his attorney’s consent. The minor, who was already on probation for an assault on his mother, was charged in a delinquency petition with two felony counts of assault and one count of misdemeanor vandalism. Before the jurisdictional hearing, the prosecution offered two pleas; one would allow the minor to return home if he admitted one felony charge. The minor wanted to admit the felony. Defense counsel would not consent to the admission, believing the minor wished to take the plea so he could return home, and noting he denied the charges. In a contested jurisdictional hearing the court found all charges true. At disposition the court declared the minor a ward and ordered him placed outside the home. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the minor had a fundamental right to enter a no contest plea without counsel’s consent, subject to court approval. The Supreme Court reversed. Rule 5.778(d) states the minor’s counsel must consent to an admission. Subdivision (e) provides the minor may enter a no contest plea subject to court approval; it does not expressly require consent of counsel. The legislative history and language of the rule reflects the drafters intended the requirement for counsel’s consent to apply both to admissions and no contest pleas. This interpretation avoids constitutional problems because rules may not conflict with statutes, and Welfare and Institutions Code section 657, subdivision (b), provides that a minor may, with counsel’s consent, admit the allegations in the petition and waive the jurisdictional hearing. The requirement of counsel’s consent protects the minor’s rights. Allowing the minor to circumvent this policy by entering a no contest plea without counsel’s consent would be inconsistent with legislative intent.