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Name: People v. Castillero
Case #: H044944
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 03/25/2019

Trial court erred in not transferring defendant’s case back to juvenile court for a post-Proposition 57 transfer hearing where his original hearing in juvenile court occurred before the passage of Proposition 57. In 2015 Castillero, then a minor, was charged in juvenile court with a number of serious sex offenses committed against minors. He was found unfit for juvenile adjudication and his case was transferred to adult/criminal court. In criminal court in 2017, Castillero pleaded guilty to four of the offenses and stipulated to a 40-year sentence. The offenses spanned a period of time during which Castillero was 14 to 16 years old. Proposition 57, which was effective November 2016, was not mentioned in Castillero’s plea agreement and was not discussed on the record during his change-of-plea hearing. Prior to sentencing, the trial court denied Castillero’s request to transfer the case to juvenile court for a transfer hearing pursuant to the procedures set forth in Proposition 57. Castillero appealed and obtained a certificate of probable cause. Held: Reversed and remanded. Prior to Proposition 57, a minor 14 years of age or older accused of a serious crime set forth in former Welfare and Institutions Code section 707, subdivision (b), was presumed unfit for juvenile court treatment. This presumption was abolished by Proposition 57, and the burden of proof to show the minor is unfit for juvenile court treatment was shifted to the prosecution. Now the prosecution must commence an action against a minor in juvenile court and file a motion for a transfer hearing before the case may be sent to adult court. This ameliorative change to the law applies retroactively to all nonfinal cases. Although Castillero received a fitness hearing under the previous standards set forth in Welfare and Institutions Code sections 602 and 707, he is entitled to a new fitness hearing under the revised standards of proof.

Because Senate Bill No. 1391 (effective 1/1/2019) applies retroactively in this case, the counts committed when defendant was under 16 years old are not subject to a motion to transfer to adult/criminal court. SB 1391, effective January 1, 2019, limits a motion to transfer a case to adult/criminal court to cases where the minor is alleged to have committed a felony when he was 16 years of age or older. Castillero and the Attorney General agreed that, as to those counts for which it is clear Castillero was under 16 years old at the time of their commission (two counts), SB 1391 prohibits further transfer of these counts back to adult/criminal court. Castillero also argued that if his case ends up in adult court, these counts must be dismissed because they cannot be transferred to adult court. However, the Court of Appeal instead concluded that the juvenile court should treat these counts as juvenile adjudications and impose an appropriate juvenile disposition after a dispositional hearing.

The count that was committed when defendant was over 16 years old requires a transfer hearing under the standards set out in Proposition 57. Defendant was 16 years old at the time of one of the offenses. This conviction must be conditionally reversed and remanded to the juvenile court for a transfer hearing.

The case must be remanded for a factual determination to be made as to defendant’s age for the count committed when defendant was either 15 or 16 years old. One of the counts (count 2) was committed when Castillero was either 15 or 16 years old and the record did not establish his age at the time of the offense. Castillero argued that on remand the juvenile court may not engage in factfinding to cure any ambiguity regarding his age at the time of the offense. He relied on People v. Hiscox (2006) 136 Cal.App.4th 253, which held that a sentencing judge could not conduct factfinding after a jury trial for facts that would increase the defendant’s sentence beyond the previous statutory maximum. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Hiscox does not apply to Castillero’s case, which will be adjudicated after remand in juvenile court. A minor in juvenile court is not entitled to a jury, and the court is the factfinder. Therefore, the Sixth Amendment does not preclude determination by the juvenile court of the age at which Castillero committed the offense. Similarly, such factfinding is not barred by the double jeopardy clause. If the juvenile court finds beyond a reasonable doubt that Castillero committed the crime when he was over 16 years old, then the juvenile court must hold a transfer hearing. If the juvenile court then decides it would have transferred the case involving the conduct underlying count 2 to adult/criminal court, count 2 shall be transferred back to adult/criminal court and the conviction reinstated. Alternatively, if the juvenile court finds beyond a reasonable doubt that Castillero committed the crime when he was less than 16 years old, or if the juvenile court cannot determine beyond a reasonable doubt Castillero’s age at the time he committed the crime, then the juvenile court should treat his conviction as a juvenile adjudication.

If any part of the defendant’s case is transferred to adult/criminal court, that court will not have authority to vacate the plea agreement. Castillero affirmed he did not want to withdraw his plea in adult court. As a general rule, requiring the parties’ compliance with retroactive changes in the law does not violate the terms of the plea agreement. Castillero’s plea did not mention Proposition 57 and there is nothing in the plea agreement that provides it would be unaffected by retroactive changes to the law. Therefore, Castillero’s plea agreement implicitly incorporates such changes. The trial court may not vacate the plea, and any count of conviction should be reinstated, even if it cannot sentence defendant to the agreed-upon 40-year term.

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