IN RE J.R.

No. D071249.

In re J.R., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. J.R., a minor Defendant and Appellant.

Court of Appeals of California, Fourth District, Division One.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Kent D. Young , under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Xavier Becerra , Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler , Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland , Assistant Attorney General, Seth Friedman , Karl T. Terp , and Barry Carlton , Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

HUFFMAN, Acting P. J.

The San Diego District Attorney filed a delinquency petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, charging J.R. with one count of making criminal threats (Pen. Code,1 § 422) against J.V. The juvenile court sustained the petition, declared J.R. a ward of the court, and placed him on probation subject to numerous conditions.

J.R. appeals contending there is insufficient evidence to support the true finding and that two of the probation conditions are unconstitutionally vague. We find the evidence insufficient to support the true finding. In light of that conclusion, it is not necessary to address the remaining contention.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The People charged J.R. with making criminal threats against J.V. after her mother, C.P., engaged in a conversation over a series of text messages with the phone number (XXX) XXX-XXX. C.P. was not familiar with the phone number and did not have it saved in her phone. However, both C.P. and J.V. believed J.R. sent the messages.

The first message from the unknown sender taunted, "Guess who, bitch." C.P. replied, "Wow, I'm scared" to which the sender responded, "You should be." C.P. responded with, "Funny" and "Haha." The sender replied, "I know where your bitch ass daughter is at." C.P. responded back, "Oh, really." The sender then replied, "You guys thought you guys could hide forever" and "I got a surprise for your asses."

C.P. made several attempts to call the number but there was no answer. C.P. then messaged, "Shut the fuck up and call me, motherfucker." C.P. continued to call the number and no one answered. The sender then wrote, "I ain't scared of you" and "I'm going to kill her when I find her ass." C.P. responded, "What makes you think we are scared of you." The sender replied, "I'll kill your bitch ass daughter and her boy when I find them" and "Tell her man he needs to watch his back." C.P. replied with a final message, "So scared." C.P. testified that she told her daughter, J.V., about the text messages. They then reported the incident to the National City Police Department where Officer Giovanni Corado prepared a written report.

The People called three witnesses during the juvenile court proceedings: C.P.; J.V.; and Officer Corado. C.P. testified that her daughter, J.V., had a dating relationship with J.R. when they lived in Carlsbad. However, she testified that she and J.V. moved to National City seven months before she received the text messages and that she had not heard from J.R. since they moved. C.P. testified that they moved because J.R. would not stay away from J.V. after they ended their relationship. C.P. also testified that she changed her phone number when she moved and did not give her new phone number to J.R. or his mother. C.P. testified she believed the messages were from J.R. although she never asked the texter his identity or used J.R.'s name.

J.V. testified that she dated J.R. when she was living in Carlsbad. They dated for approximately six months and, according to J.V., there were instances during their relationship when J.R. would threaten and hit her. J.V. testified that she broke up with J.R. and her family then moved to National City. J.V. also testified that she got a new cell phone when she moved and she did not give the new phone number to J.R. or anyone in his family. She did not recognize the phone number that sent the text messages, but testified she believed the messages were from J.R.

Finally, Officer Corado testified that he wrote a police report regarding the incident after interviewing J.V. and C.P. Officer Corado testified that the number used to send the text messages was not J.R.'s phone number. He also testified that he had the ability to find out who the phone number belonged to, but that he did not investigate.

The defense then called three witnesses to testify: a public defender investigator; A.V., a mutual friend of J.R. and J.V.; and J.R.'s mother. The public defender investigator testified that she was assigned to investigate the phone number through the "clear system." The investigator testified the phone number that sent the text messages belonged to one address in National City and one address in El Cajon. She also testified that the phone number was no longer in service but was associated with a woman, who, according to the investigator, had no connection with J.R. or his family. The investigator did testify that she did not know when the woman became associated with the phone number.

A.V. testified that she was around J.R. and J.V. "a lot" while they were dating and never witnessed J.R. exhibit violence towards J.V. Finally, J.R.'s mother testified that neither she nor J.R. had a cell phone with a (619) area code and that neither she nor J.R. contacted J.V. or her family after they moved to National City.

DISCUSSION

J.R. contends the evidence is insufficient to support a finding that he made criminal threats against J.V. Specifically, he argues the People did not meet its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the identity of the person who sent the threatening text messages. Based on our review of the record we conclude there is not sufficient evidence to link J.R. to the offense. Accordingly, we reverse the true finding with directions to dismiss the petition.

When reviewing a claim of insufficiency of the evidence, the court must review the entire record, drawing all reasonable inferences in support of the juvenile court decision. (In re Charles G. (1979) 95 Cal.App.3d 62, 67). If the evidence permits a reasonable trier of fact to conclude the charged offense was committed by the juvenile, the opinion of a reviewing court that the circumstances may also be reconciled with a contrary finding does not warrant reversal. (Jackson v. Virginia (1979) 443 U.S. 307, 318-319 (Jackson); People v. Redmond (1969) 71 Cal.2d 745, 755; In re Roderick P. (1972) 7 Cal.3d 801, 808-809.)

Although this case arises from a juvenile court finding, the burden of proof is the same as that used in adult criminal proceedings. (In re Winship (1970) 397 U.S. 358, 368; In re Jose R. (1982) 137 Cal.App.3d 269, 275.) That is, the prosecution must prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. (Winship, supra, at p. 368.) Evidence is insufficient if no "rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." (Jackson, supra, 443 U.S. at p. 319.) Evidence which merely raises a strong suspicion, or speculation, of guilt is insufficient to support a conviction and is not sufficient basis for an inference of fact. (People v. Redmond, supra, 71 Cal.2d at p. 755; People v. Reyes (1974) 12 Cal.3d 486, 500.)

To find that a person made criminal threats in violation of section 422,2 the prosecution must show that the person accused actually made the threat. Here, the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that J.R. sent the text messages to J.V.'s mother. Drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the true finding, the facts show only that some person, who likely knew J.V. and her mother, sent threatening text messages.

The People's theory is that because J.R. and J.V. were in a dating relationship before C.P. received the threatening messages, and they could think of no one else that would send threatening messages, it therefore must have been J.R. The People failed to connect J.R. to the text messages by any reasonable inference of fact. They did not investigate to determine who owned the phone and how J.R. might have gained access to it. They did not offer a theory of how J.R. learned that C.P. changed her phone number after leaving Carlsbad. Finally, they did not offer a theory of how J.R. learned C.P.'s new phone number seven months later when neither C.P. nor J.V. gave it to him.

The People argue it is reasonable to infer that J.R. sent the text messages because J.V. testified that J.R. struck her during their relationship and would become angry if she spoke to other boys. The People argue that this inference is reasonable despite the passing of seven months with no contact between J.R. and J.V. The People also contend that, based on the content of the text messages, the person who sent them knew that J.V. and her mother left Carlsbad and were "hiding." C.P. testified that they left Carlsbad because of the problems between J.R. and J.V. Therefore, the People argue it is reasonable to infer that J.R. sent these messages because C.P. and J.V. were "hiding" from him. These are not reasonable inferences.

Although it is possible that J.R. sent the text messages, the evidence is insufficient to meet the People's burden of proving the identity of the sender beyond a reasonable doubt. The People's theory may amount to a strong suspicion of guilt but does not support, through reasonable inferences of fact, that J.R. sent the threatening messages. Because the evidence presented in juvenile court is insufficient to support the true finding on the only count in the petition, we reverse the finding with directions to dismiss the petition.

DISPOSITION

The true finding is reversed. The juvenile court is directed to dismiss the petition.

HALLER, J. and AARON, J., concurs.

FootNotes


1. All further statutory references are to the Penal Code unless otherwise specified.
2. Penal Code section 422, subdivision (a), provides: "Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family's safety, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison."

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