Court of Appeal Reverses Disposition for Immigrant Youth

July 1, 2015

The California Court of Appeal has reversed and remanded a juvenile court disposition that ordered a youth to live with his mother in Honduras after finding that return home was not in his best interest.  The Court of Appeal held that the disposition was an abuse of discretion and noted that it may have been based on an erroneous interpretation of federal immigration law. The Youth Law Center served as amicus in the case, In re Christian H., along with Public Counsel.  Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP represented YLC and Public Counsel.

The issues arose in a delinquency action in which the youth admitted possession of a controlled substance.  For the purpose of a petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, the juvenile court found that return home was not in the best interest of the youth, but it also issued a disposition order that required the youth to live with his mother, who was in Honduras.  The juvenile court released the youth on probation, but ordered him detained for an additional two days, and the youth was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.)

The Court of Appeal held that the disposition order was an abuse of discretion given the finding that return home was not in the youth’s best interest.  In making its decision the appeals court also noted there was confusion at the disposition hearing concerning whether federal law restricted the discretion of the juvenile court and whether an ICE detainer required the youth to be transferred to ICE.  The Court of Appeal said that federal law does not restrict the juvenile court’s discretion in selecting an appropriate disposition under state law and that compliance with a detainer is discretionary.  It remanded the case with instructions that the juvenile court select a disposition that serves the purposes of juvenile court law.

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