The juvenile court was not required to dismiss minor’s delinquency case under Welfare and Institutions Code section 709 even though the court did not make a final ruling on his competency before the one-year deadline for remediation services. While murder and other allegations were pending, the juvenile court found K.R. was incompetent to stand trial and referred him to remediation services. There were delays to the process, including a three-month delay to the start of remediation services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, litigation over the issue of whether the People could retain their own psychologist to examine K.R., and the recusal of the judge in the midst of an evidentiary hearing. K.R.’s counsel unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the delinquency petition on the ground that the juvenile court had lost jurisdiction when it failed to make a final ruling on K.R.’s competency by the one-year deadline for remediation services pursuant to section 709. K.R. filed a petition for writ of mandate (while the petition was pending, the juvenile court found K.R. competent to stand trial). Held: Petition denied. Section 709 sets forth the procedures for juvenile competency proceedings and provides, in pertinent part, that the “remediation period shall not exceed one year from the finding of incompetency . . . .” Based on principles of statutory construction, the Court of Appeal held that, “although section 709 establishes a maximum period of one year of remediation, the juvenile court’s jurisdiction continues for a reasonable period afterward for the court to resolve any dispute still existing at the end of that period over whether the minor has attained competency. Even if this was not the case, section 709 permits a court to keep juveniles accused of certain serious offenses (including several with which K.R. was charged) in secure confinement past the one-year remediation period for conclusion of competency proceedings.” Here, the delay until the court’s ruling that K.R. was competent was not unreasonable based on the circumstances of the case.
The juvenile court properly allowed the People to retain an expert to evaluate the minor. Close to the one-year deadline for remediation services, a court-appointed psychologist filed a report concluding that K.R. was incompetent and unlikely to attain competency in the foreseeable future. The People filed a motion to appoint their own expert to evaluate K.R., which the juvenile court granted. The People’s expert opined that K.R. was competent to stand trial, and the court agreed. During the writ proceedings, K.R. argued, among other things, that the People’s expert’s testimony should be stricken because it “was contrary to the terms of section 709.” The Court of Appeal noted that section 709 provides for multiple opportunities for an evidentiary hearing, emphasized that section 709 allowed the parties to “retain or seek the appointment of additional qualified experts who may testify during the competency hearing,” and held the plain language of section 709 did not limit the ability to retain an expert to the initial evidentiary hearing.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B321655.PDF