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Name: In re Alonzo J.
Case #: C068046
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 10/10/2012
Subsequent History: Review granted 1/23/2013: S206720

The juvenile court erred under California Rules of Court, rule 5.778 when it foreclosed a minor from accepting a prosecution plea bargain offer and failed to determine, by independent inquiry, whether there was a factual basis for the plea. A minor was charged with various offenses as a result of an altercation with his mother. Prior to the jurisdictional hearing, the prosecution extended an offer that the court thought was “very generous” and “much more favorable” to the minor than “the statutory maximums.” The minor wished to accept this offer but his attorney refused to consent. This disagreement led to Marsden hearings. The juvenile court considered whether the minor could accept the offer during the hearings and ultimately concluded that he could not. Following a contested jurisdictional hearing, the court sustained all the charges and ordered the minor to be placed outside his home. The Court of Appeal reversed. The juvenile court erred in two ways in considering the prosecution’s plea bargain offer to the minor. First, the court erred under the plea procedure for juveniles by not allowing the minor to plead no contest as an alternative to admitting the allegations. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 5.778(c), (d), (e).) The court failed to recognize that while a minor’s attorney must consent to an “admission,” a minor may enter a “no contest” plea subject only to the approval of the court. Second, the court impermissibly relied solely on the minor’s attorney’s belief that there was no factual basis for the plea instead of independently determining the issue itself. As a result of these errors, the court’s plea procedure failed to respect the minor’s personal choice over a fundamental decision in his case. The fully developed record showed that the minor was prejudiced by these errors. The court ordered the prosecution to submit the original plea offer to the juvenile court for its approval unless the prosecution elects to resume plea negotiations. The juvenile court retains power to fashion any order appropriate under the circumstances. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 202, subd. (b).)