California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 790 - Entry of Judgment Provisions

Under the deferred entry of judgment (DEJ) provisions of Welfare and Institutions Code sections 790 et seq., which were enacted as part of Proposition 21, the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act of 1998, in March 2000, "in lieu of jurisdictional and dispositional hearings, a minor may admit the allegations contained in a section 602 petition and waive time for the pronouncement of judgment. Entry of judgment is deferred. After the successful completion of a term of probation, on the motion of the prosecution and with a positive recommendation from the probation department, the court is required to dismiss the charges. The arrest upon which judgment was deferred is deemed never to have occurred, and any records of the juvenile court proceeding are sealed. ( 791, subd. (a)(3); 793, subd. (c).)" (In re Martha C. (2003) 108 Cal.App.4th 556, 558 (Martha C.).) "Proposition 21 contains a noncodified section entitled Findings and Declarations; subdivision (j) of those findings states: 'Juvenile court resources are spent disproportionately on violent offenders with little chance to be rehabilitated. If California is going to avoid the predicted wave of juvenile crime in the next decade, greater resources, attention, and accountability must be focused on less serious offenders such as burglars, car thieves, and first time non-violent felons who have potential for rehabilitation. This act must form part of a comprehensive juvenile justice reform package which incorporates major commitments to already commenced "at risk" youth early intervention programs and expanded informal juvenile court alternatives for low-level offenders. These efforts, which emphasize rehabilitative protocols over incarceration, must be expanded as well under the provisions of this act, which requires first time, non-violent juvenile felons to appear in court, admit guilt for their offenses, and be held accountable, but also given a non-custodial opportunity to demonstrate through good conduct and compliance with a court-monitored treatment and supervision program that the record of the juvenile's offense should justly be expunged. ()'These findings express ... a strong preference for rehabilitation of first-time nonviolent juvenile offenders ...." (Martha C., supra, 108 Cal.App.4th at p. 561.) The determination of whether to grant DEJ requires consideration of "two distinct essential elements of the deferred entry of judgment program," viz., "eligibility" and "suitability." (In re Sergio R. (2003) 106 Cal.App.4th 597, 607, fn. 10, (Sergio R.).) A minor is eligible for DEJ under section 790 if he or she is accused in a juvenile wardship proceeding of committing a felony offense and all of the following circumstances apply: "(1) The minor has not previously been declared to be a ward of the court for the commission of a felony offense. (2) The offense charged is not one of the offenses enumerated in subdivision (b) of Section 707. (3) The minor has not previously been committed to the custody of the Youth Authority. (4) The minor's record does not indicate that probation has ever been revoked without being completed. (5) The minor is at least 14 years of age at the time of the hearing. (6) The minor is eligible for probation pursuant to Section 1203.06 of the Penal Code." ( 790, subd. (a)(1)-(6).) After eligibility is determined, "the trial court ... has the ultimate discretion to rule on the suitability of the minor for DEJ after consideration of the factors specified in California Rules of Court, rule 5.800 and section 791, subdivision (b) ...." (In re Luis B. (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 1117, 1123.) The factors set forth in section 791, subdivision (b) are: "the minor's age, maturity, educational background, family relationships, demonstrable motivation, treatment history, if any, and other mitigating and aggravating factors ...." California Rules of Court, rule 5.800(d)(3) identifies those factors, in virtually identical language, as "The child's age, maturity, educational background, family relationships, motivation, any treatment history, and any other relevant factors regarding the benefit the child would derive from education, treatment, and rehabilitation efforts ...." (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 5.800(d)(3)(A)(i).) Suitability for DEJ is within the courts discretion after consideration of the forgoing factors, "with the exercise of its discretion based upon the standard of whether the minor will derive benefit from 'education, treatment, and rehabilitation efforts' rather than a more restrictive commitment." (Sergio R., supra, 106 Cal.App.4th at p. 607.) The determination to grant or deny DEJ may be reversed only upon a showing of abuse of discretion. (Sergio R., supra, 106 Cal.App.4th at p. 607.) Judicial discretion is abused only if it results in an arbitrary or capricious disposition, or implies whimsical thinking, and "exceeds the bounds of reason, all of the circumstances being considered." (People v. Giminez (1975) 14 Cal.3d 68, 72.)