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Name: In re Timothy N.
Case #: D061891
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 05/22/2013

In a juvenile proceeding, where minor negotiates a plea agreement guaranteeing a specific benefit in exchange for “successful” completion of probation, the agreement is interpreted according to contract principles. The minor admitted one count of residential burglary in exchange for an agreement that other counts would be dismissed and if minor “successfully” completed probation, the prosecutor would dismiss the burglary allegation and reduce the charge to a misdemeanor. The parties did not define “successful completion.” Among conditions of probation, the minor was ordered to pay approximately $20,000 restitution jointly and severally with the others involved in the offenses. At a review hearing, minor’s attorney asked the court to find that minor had successfully completed probation and to terminate it. Noting that minor had successfully completed probation by satisfying all conditions except payment of restitution, the court granted the request. As to the failure to pay the restitution, the court observed that minor had attempted to pay it but neither he nor his family had the ability to do so and there was no evidence that failure to pay was willful. When minor’s attorney asked that the burglary be dismissed and the offense be reduced to a misdemeanor per the plea agreement, the prosecution objected on the grounds that the condition of probation requiring payment of restitution had not been met, and the court denied the request. The issue here is interpretation of the phrase “successful completion” of probation. The court found that the plea agreement should be interpreted under general contract principles (People v. Shelton (2006) 37 Cal.4th 759), and that with the failure to specifically define “successful completion” of probation, the minor would have been reasonable to believe he successfully completed probation if he completed the term without engaging in conduct that would provide a basis for the court to revoke. As there was no evidence that his failure to pay restitution was willful, failure to pay would not provide a basis for revocation. [Compare People v. Chandler (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 782 where successful completion is evaluated by Pen. Code, sec. 1203.4 rather than interpretation of plea bargain.] Specific performance of the plea agreement in this case is the appropriate remedy as it would repair the harm caused by the People’s breach of the agreement.