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Adequate Exercise of Discretion Under In re Manzy W.?

Case Name: In re F.M. (2023) 14 Cal.5th 701
Case #: S270907
Last Updated: May 4, 2023

Did the Court of Appeal err in ruling that the trial court adequately exercised its discretion to determine whether the juvenile’s offenses were felonies or misdemeanors as required by Welfare and Institutions Code section 702 and In re Manzy W. (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1199?

Held: 

Welfare and Institutions Code section 702 provides that when a minor is found to have committed a wobbler offense, “the court shall declare the offense to be a misdemeanor or a felony.” (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 702; all undesignated statutory references are to this code.) We explained in In re Manzy W. (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1199 [60 Cal. Rptr. 2d 889, 930 P.2d 1255] (Manzy W.) that this “mandatory express declaration” requirement exists partly to “ensur[e] that the juvenile court is aware of, and actually exercises, its discretion” as to whether a juvenile’s wobbler offense should be adjudicated as a misdemeanor or felony. (Id. at pp. 1204, 1207.) We later elaborated that the express declaration contemplated by section 702 must be made at a hearing ‘before or at the time of disposition.’ (In re G.C. (2020) 8 Cal.5th 1119, 1126 [258 Cal. Rptr. 3d 595, 458 P.3d 70] (G.C.).)

A juvenile court’s choice to classify a wobbler as a misdemeanor or felony can have significant implications for the juvenile. If an offense is treated as a felony, it may constitute a serious or violent felony for purposes of the “Three Strikes” law, potentially exposing the juvenile to dramatically increased sentences if he or she reoffends. (Pen. Code, § 667.) If the juvenile court treats the offense as a misdemeanor, the conviction will not qualify as a “strike” in any future prosecution. In enacting section 702, the Legislature manifested special concern with ensuring that juvenile courts understand the choice they are making when they decide to subject a juvenile to the consequences that may attend a felony conviction. (Manzy W., supra, 14 Cal.4th at p. 1207.)

In this case, the trial court did not comply with section 702’s express declaration mandate. That point is undisputed. The question is whether the Court of Appeal erred in declining to remand the matter to the juvenile court. We hold that it did. A section 702 error requires remand unless the record as a whole demonstrates that the juvenile court “was aware of, and exercised its discretion” as to wobblers. (Manzy W., supra, 14 Cal.4th at p. 1209.) Because the record here does not demonstrate such awareness, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

This case was decided on 5/4/2023. Justice Liu authored the opinion of the court, in which Chief Justice Guerrero and Justices Corrigan, Kruger, Groban, Jenkins, and Evans concurred.

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