IN RE: MARIO G., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. MARIO G., Defendant and Respondent.
The District attorney appeals the order dismissing two petitions against Mario G. and terminating wardship, contending the trial court erroneously believed it had lost jurisdiction over Mario because he had turned 21 years of age. We reverse and remand.
In 1992 Mario was made a ward of the court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 1 and ordered to pay restitution as directed by his probation officer. In June 1995 the district attorney filed a petition based on Mario's failure to pay all of the restitution owed.2 In September, the court held a restitution review, set the amount owing at $671, and continued the matter until April 1996.
Mario failed to appear, and the court issued a warrant for his arrest. The district attorney filed a supplemental petition, alleging the failure to pay restitution, possession of burglary tools, and possession of a weapon replica.
Mario was arrested two days after his twenty-first birthday in July. When he appeared in court, the probation department recommended dismissal of the petitions, vacating all financial orders, and terminating wardship. The department gave no express reason for the recommendation, merely saying Mario was 21 years old. The court dismissed the petitions and vacated all financial orders, stating, “This court no longer has jurisdiction over you after you turn 21 years of age. I'm not happy with you․ But there's nothing I can do about it.”
The district attorney argues the trial court erroneously dismissed the petition and terminated wardship because it incorrectly believed it lacked jurisdiction over Mario because he had turned 21 years of age. Mario responds that the trial court did not err because it had grounds to dismiss the petitions under section 782, which allows the court to do so in the interests of justice or if the minor needs no treatment or rehabilitation.3
Mario begs the question. Even if the court had grounds to exercise its discretion under section 782,4 the court plainly did not act under that section. The court expressly stated it had no jurisdiction, and although the court was not happy with Mario, there was nothing the court could do about it. These are not the words of a court exercising its discretion. Instead, the words portray a court hamstrung by jurisdictional constraint. The same reasoning applies to Mario's claim the court implicitly found he did not willfully fail to make restitution.
We must decide whether the court's jurisdiction expired when Mario turned 21. With few exceptions, the juvenile court's jurisdiction terminates when the minor reaches that age. (§ 607, subd. (a).) 5 The only possible exception in Mario's case is found in subdivision (e), which reads: “The court may retain jurisdiction over any person while that person is the subject of a warrant for arrest․” Despite broad language in the subdivision that seems to encompass his situation, Mario argues subdivision (e) should be read narrowly to reach “cases where wards have escaped from a commitment to the California Youth Authority.” He reaches that conclusion by looking to legislative history showing the subdivision was enacted in response to a juvenile who escaped from a youth authority commitment for manslaughter and was 25 years old when he was recaptured 8 years later. The juvenile court apparently held it had no jurisdiction to return the man to custody. (See Sen. Bill No. 2341 (July 15, 1988), ch. 713, § 1; Sen. Rules Com., Unfinished Business, Aug. 2, 1988; Assem. Com. on Public Safety, Comment, (July 15, 1988).)
The district attorney argues the subdivision's plain language precludes resort to an examination of legislative intent. (See, e.g., People v. Weidert (1985) 39 Cal.3d 836, 843, 218 Cal.Rptr. 57, 705 P.2d 380.) Mario counters that the “plain meaning” rule does not prevent the court from looking to legislative intent, which prevails over a literal meaning that is at odds with the spirit of the act. (See People v. Thomas (1992) 4 Cal.4th 206, 210, 14 Cal.Rptr.2d 174, 841 P.2d 159; Lungren v. Deukmejian (1988) 45 Cal.3d 727, 735, 248 Cal.Rptr. 115, 755 P.2d 299.) Mario's argument misses the mark. The legislative history on which he relies merely states the impetus behind subdivision (e); it does not define its limits. If the Legislature had intended to limit the scope of subdivision (e) to youth authority escapes, we presume it would have used those words. (See People v. Baumgart (1990) 218 Cal.App.3d 1207, 1221, 267 Cal.Rptr. 534 [legislature presumably knew the difference between “willful” and “knowing” and would have used the latter word if it intended that standard].)
We reject Mario's claim a broader interpretation could lead to absurd results, like his posited 13-year-old petty thief who flees the court's jurisdiction only to be apprehended when she is a 45-year-old professional woman and brought before the juvenile court. Even if Mario's hypothetical came to pass, we trust a juvenile court would exercise its discretion in a proper manner. An abuse of that discretion could be dealt with on appeal.
A broad interpretation of subdivision (e) sends the message juveniles cannot escape the obligations of their wardship by running away, not an uncommon reaction by errant teens. Contrary to Mario's assertion, this approach furthers the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile court system. It forces the minors to face their problems and responsibilities.
The order dismissing the petitions and terminating wardship is reversed and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.6
1. This section allows the court to declare wardship of minors who commit acts that would be crimes if they were adults. All statutory references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code.
2. Due to incarcerations, injury, and lack of a job, Mario had only paid about $350 of the $1,166 he owed.
3. The section reads: “A judge of the juvenile court in which a petition was filed, at any time before the minor reaches the age of 21 years, may dismiss the petition or may set aside the findings and dismiss the petition if the court finds that the interests of justice and the welfare of the minor require such dismissal, or if it finds that the minor is not in need of treatment or rehabilitation. The court shall have jurisdiction to order such dismissal or setting aside of the findings and dismissal regardless of whether the minor is, at the time of such order, a ward or dependent child of the court.”
4. Mario lists several reasons why the court would have been justified in exercising its discretion in his favor, but we need not decide whether they would have been adequate.
5. Section 607, subdivision (a) provides: “The court may retain jurisdiction over any person who is found to be a ward or dependent child of the juvenile court until the ward or dependent child attains the age of 21 years, except as provided in subdivisions (b), (c), and (d).”
6. Nothing in our opinion is intended to suggest how the juvenile court should treat Mario's failure, if any, to make restitution, nor to opine on the propriety of proceeding on the stolen property and weapon replica allegations apparently arising after Mario had turned 18 years old. And, nothing in our opinion should be construed as suggesting that on remand the court will have more days of jurisdiction over Mario than it would have had he appeared in April 1996 as ordered.
WALLIN, Associate Justice.
SILLS, P.J., and RYLAARSDAM, J., concur.