Can the juvenile court’s failure to expressly declare whether an offense is a felony or a misdemeanor (see In re Manzy W. (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1199) be challenged on appeal from orders in a subsequent wardship proceeding?
Opinion By: Justice Corrigan (unanimous decision)
Held: A delinquent minor may not challenge the juvenile court’s failure to declare a “wobbler” offense a misdemeanor or a felony in an appeal from a later dispositional order after the time to appeal the original disposition expired. The minor was the subject of two wardship petitions alleging that she unlawfully drove or took a vehicle (Veh. Code, § 10851, subd. (a)), a wobbler. The minor admitted the allegations, which the court found true. In its initial dispositional order, the juvenile court did not make the required declaration whether the offenses were misdemeanors or felonies (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 702). G.C. was placed on probation and removed from her mother’s home. She did not appeal. A few months later, after G.C. returned to her mother’s home, a section 777 notice to modify disposition was filed alleging a violation of a term of G.C.’s probation. She admitted the allegation and appealed from this dispositional order, challenging the juvenile court’s failure to declare the offenses misdemeanors or felonies. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal because the minor had not timely appealed the initial dispositional order. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Affirmed. When a minor is found to have committed a wobbler offense, the juvenile court “shall declare the offense to be a misdemeanor or felony” at or before disposition. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 702.) However, there is no ongoing duty to correct the error in a later proceeding to modify placement under section 777, so as to create a cognizable error in that subsequent disposition. Although section 702 is mandatory, noncompliance did not make the original dispositional order an unauthorized sentence that could be corrected at any time. Because the minor did not appeal the dispositional order in which the trial court failed to declare the offenses misdemeanors or felonies, the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to review this issue upon appeal from a later order. [Editor’s Notes: In a footnote, the court noted it was not required to decide the scope of a minor’s appellate rights when the juvenile court’s omission impacts the maximum term of confinement in a subsequent proceeding because the juvenile court’s failure to make the required declaration had no effect on the section 777 disposition in this case.]
The juvenile court’s failure to comply with the mandatory provisions of section 702 does not create an unauthorized sentence correctable at any time. The minor argued that the juvenile court’s failure to declare the offenses misdemeanors or felonies results in an unauthorized sentence that may be corrected at any time. The unauthorized sentence rule generally permits defendants to challenge an illegal sentence on appeal even if there was no objection below. But that rule is an exception to the waiver doctrine, not to the jurisdictional requirement of a timely notice of appeal. Additionally, the nature of the claim here does not fall within this “narrow” category of nonforfeitable error. (See People v. Scott (1994) 9 Cal.4th 331.) [Editor’s Notes: The court disapproved In re Ramon M. (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 665, to the extent it is inconsistent with the opinion in this case.] This case was decided on 2/20/2020.