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Name: In re J.M.
Case #: A153296
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 05/31/2019

The mental health diversion law does not apply to juveniles in delinquency proceedings. J.M. was committed to DJJ following her admission to a felony allegation of torture (Pen. Code, § 206). While her appeal was pending, the new mental health diversion statute (Pen. Code, § 1001.36) went into effect on June 27, 2018. On appeal, J.M. argued that the case should be remanded so that the juvenile court can determine whether to grant her a mental health diversion under the new statute. Held: Affirmed (modified in other respects in unpublished portions of the opinion). Penal Code section 1001.35 declares the purposes of the mental health diversion law. Section 1001.36 provides for discretionary pretrial diversion to a defendant suffering from certain mental illnesses who has been charged in an accusatory pleading with a misdemeanor or felony. The statutes do not state that they apply to juvenile proceedings under the Welfare and Institutions Code, and their legislative history makes no mention of their possible applicability to juvenile proceedings. Although the use of adult procedural terms does not necessarily demonstrate legislative intent to exclude juveniles from the scope of a statute, the Court of Appeal here concluded that juveniles who are not charged as adults are not statutorily eligible for the mental health diversion program. Juvenile courts are already responsible for ensuring access to needed mental health treatment and the deferred judgment provisions resemble a diversion scheme in many respects. (See Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 790-796.) Construing the mental health diversion law as applying to juveniles would conflict with or infringe upon laws specifically contemplated by the Legislature to provide an appropriate and comprehensive course of treatment and rehabilitation for juveniles. (See also In re M.S. (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 1177 [holding mental health diversion law does not apply to juvenile cases due to distinctions between adult criminal prosecutions and juvenile delinquency proceedings].)

Denial of the mental health diversion program to juveniles is not a violation of equal protection. J.M. also argued that excluding juveniles from the mental health diversion law available to adult offenders violates equal protection guarantees. She reasoned that if juveniles are excluded from the new mental health diversion program, then she will be subject to a longer period of incarceration than similarly-situated adults who are eligible for mental health diversion. The Court of Appeal disagreed. The court assumed, for purposes of equal protection analysis, that juveniles in the juvenile justice system are, as a group, similarly situated to adults in criminal court with regard to their interest in accessing mental health treatment and potential pretrial diversion. The court also determined that the rational basis standard applied in this case. Because there are material differences between the adult and juvenile justice schemes with regard to their underlying purposes and the treatment of offenders with mental health issues, “the Legislature could rationally devise and maintain a separate statutory scheme for juveniles that addresses their rehabilitative needs in delinquency proceedings and provides different criteria for potential diversion.” J.M.’s equal protection claim failed because she did not negate every conceivable basis that might support the disputed statutory disparities.

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