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Name: In re Nichole H.
Case #: A143734
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 02/16/2016

Juvenile court abused its discretion by placing delinquent minor in a group home a substantial distance away from her father’s residence. The minor participated in an assault and beating of another minor. She admitted an allegation that she committed an assault by means of force likely to inflict great bodily injury (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (a)(4)). At the dispositional hearing the minor was ordered removed from her father’s custody and detained in juvenile hall pending placement. The minor resided in Contra Costa County. In determining appropriate placement, the court considered several alternatives that were within 30 to 40 miles of her father’s residence. The minor was ultimately placed in a group home in Modoc County, 340 miles from her father’s home. She challenged the distant placement on appeal. Held: Reversed and remanded. A juvenile court’s placement decision is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. The court abuses its discretion when there is no support in the evidence for the factual findings made by the court that underlie its decision. One of the criteria the trial court is required to consider in ordering out-of-home placement is the proximity of the placement to the minor’s parent’s home (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 727.1) consistent with selection of the environment best suited to meet the minor’s needs and best interests (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 727.1, 706.6). While a minor’s special needs and best interests may justify the court in making a distant placement order, the record here was devoid of any evidence supporting such a placement or any express finding by the court that a remote placement was in the minor’s best interests.

The evidence supported the minor’s out-of-home placement. At the dispositional hearing, the minor objected to out-of-home placement, as this was her first arrest. She had positive reports from school teachers and administrators and her father testified that after he disciplined her for her criminal act, her subsequent behavior was good. Probation recommended out-of-home placement based on the nature of the offense, the minor’s lack of any remorse, and her need for intensive counseling in a structured environment. Based on the brutality of the attack, the minor’s lack of remorse, and need for treatment, the court determined that out-of-home placement was appropriate. There was no abuse of discretion, as the court could reasonably infer from the evidence that the minor was a danger to the community and needed a secured setting.

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