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Name: In re Dean W.
Case #: G053807
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 11/03/2017

Juvenile court erred when it excluded minor’s signed Watson advisement form from its order sealing the minor’s juvenile records pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 786. Dean W. successfully completed probation for a misdemeanor driving under the influence violation. The juvenile court granted his request to seal his juvenile records with the exception of a document regarding Dean’s acknowledgment that he knew driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol was dangerous to human life, which the court required him to sign pursuant to Vehicle Code section 23593 and People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290, 296. Dean appealed, arguing that section 786 required the court to seal the entire juvenile record pertaining to this petition. Held: Reversed. When a minor has successfully completed probation or a term of supervision, the “court shall order sealed all records pertaining to that dismissed petition” in its custody, and in the custody of law enforcement agencies, the probation department, and the Department of Justice. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 786, subd. (a).) The unambiguous language of the statute makes clear that the juvenile court did not have the discretion to seal only a portion of the records regarding the minor’s case. The court distinguished the Watson advisement from the firearms prohibition under Penal Code section 29820, which is exempt from record sealing, because that statute specifically states the prohibition applies “notwithstanding any other law.” In the absence of language exempting the Watson advisement from section 786, Dean W.’s right to have all of his juvenile records sealed includes the acknowledgment of the dangerousness of driving under the influence. The matter was remanded with directions to the juvenile court to order the records in possession of the court, law enforcement agencies, probation department, and the Department of Justice to be sealed in full.

While sealing records in the possession of the specified public agencies is mandatory, the juvenile court has discretion to seal records in the custody of other public agencies in order to achieve the statute’s goals. Section 786, subdivision (e)(2) gives the juvenile court the discretion to order the minor’s records that have been transmitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles to be sealed. Here, the record showed that the trial court electronically transmitted the ward’s records to DMV but the Watson advisement itself was not provided. The court remanded the matter to permit the juvenile court to exercise its discretion to determine whether it should order the DMV records sealed. [Editor’s Note: The Court of Appeal questioned whether a Watson advisement was improper in this case because it must be given when a person is convicted of driving under the influence (see Veh. Code, § 23593, subd. (a)) and a juvenile adjudication is not a conviction.]

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