(1) Did the juvenile court have the authority to convert a restitution order to a civil judgment at the completion of deferred entry of judgment? (2) Did the juvenile court err by ruling that restitution could be paid from federally-protected Social Security benefits?
Held: Where minor was granted deferred entry of judgment and successfully completely probation, juvenile court did not err in ordering conversion of unpaid restitution balance to a civil judgment. J.G. admitted allegations in a juvenile delinquency petition that he committed vandalism and trespassed and the juvenile court granted deferred entry of judgment (DEJ). Following hearings to address restitution, the juvenile court set the total amount of restitution at $36,381. The court later found J.G. successfully completed all terms of his probation other than payment of restitution, dismissed the petition, and converted the unpaid balance of restitution to a civil judgment. J.G. appealed, raising a number of issues related to the restitution award. The Court of Appeal affirmed and the California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed and remanded. A minor granted DEJ may be required to pay restitution to the victim pursuant to the provisions of the Welfare and Institutions Code. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 794.) Two Welfare and Institutions Code provisions were relevant based on the facts of J.G.’s offense. The provisions require courts to order delinquent minors to pay restitution and mandate that the restitution order be enforceable as a civil judgement, including any balance unpaid at the termination of the court’s jurisdiction over the minor. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 730.6 [general restitution statute], 742.16 [restitution statute for vandalism offenses].) J.G. argued that the provisions allowing civil conversion do not apply in the DEJ context and argued that these provisions conflict with Welfare and Institutions Code section 793, which permits the dismissal of the petition upon successful completion of DEJ, deems the arrest never to have occurred, and requires the records in the juvenile court to be sealed. After analyzing the relevant statutes, the court disagreed. “[N]otwithstanding the language of section 793, by providing in section 794 that minors granted [DEJ] may be required to pay restitution ‘pursuant to’?i.e., in conformity with and according to?the provisions of the Welfare and Institutions Code, the Legislature expressly authorized unpaid restitution in the [DEJ] context to be converted to an enforceable civil judgment.”
Although the juvenile court did not violate federal law by considering minor’s SSI benefits in determining his ability to pay restitution, the matter was remanded for a new ability to pay hearing that includes consideration of other relevant factors in addition to the SSI benefits. At a hearing to determine J.G.’s ability to pay restitution, the court heard testimony that J.G. received over $700 a month in benefits from the federal Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) for a disability. In determining that J.G. was able to pay restitution, the court only discussed the SSI benefits. On appeal, J.G. argued that the court violated federal law by considering his SSI benefits in determining his ability to pay restitution. The California Supreme Court disagreed. Social security benefits are not subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process. (42 U.S.C. § 407, subd. (a).) After analyzing the federal statute and relevant case law, the court concluded that consideration of SSI benefits in determining the ability to pay restitution does not qualify as “other legal process” and that federal law does not preclude a court from considering SSI benefits in determining the ability to pay restitution. J.G. also argued the juvenile court erred by finding he had the ability to pay restitution based on his SSI benefits. The People conceded that the ability to pay determination would be improper if the juvenile court contemplated the SSI benefits as the source of the restitution payments, and the record indicated this was the basis for the juvenile court’s decision. The juvenile court did not consider other relevant factors, including J.G.’s future earning capacity, his current financial circumstances, and the total amount of restitution ordered. The People also conceded the proper remedy would be to remand the matter for a new ability to pay hearing where the juvenile court could consider these factors. The court agreed with these concessions and reversed and remanded. This case was decided on 2/25/2019.