IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA
In re JOSE C., a Person Coming Under
the Juvenile Court Law.
Plaintiff and Respondent,
Ct.App. 4/1 D049525
Super. Ct. No. JJL23536
Defendant and Appellant.
Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 purports to give our state courts
jurisdiction to declare any juvenile who “violates any law . . . of the United States”
a ward of the court. (Id., subd. (a).) However, Congress has granted federal
courts “original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of all offenses
against the laws of the United States.” (18 U.S.C. § 3231.) We consider whether,
under the United States Constitution’s supremacy clause, section 3231 or any
other provision of federal law preempts Welfare and Institutions Code section 602.
We conclude Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 is not preempted.
While Congress has barred state courts from entertaining direct criminal
prosecutions of federal violations, close analysis of the federal statutes allocating
jurisdiction demonstrates Congress did not intend to preclude state courts from
adjudicating whether federal law has been violated in the context of state
delinquency proceedings. Such proceedings exist, separate and apart from the
adult criminal justice system, out of a recognition that minors who commit
criminal offenses pose a special problem and require treatment and rehabilitation
different from the confinement and punishment meted out in adult criminal trials.
Whether delinquency proceedings are treated as civil or criminal, the
determinations they entail — whether a minor should be declared a ward of the
court and what juvenile treatment and rehabilitation he or she should be afforded
— do not trench on exclusive federal court prerogatives to try, convict, and punish
for the violation of federal law. To the contrary, Congress, recognizing no
comparable federal system exists, has made clear its preference that offenses by
minors be handled, whenever possible, by state juvenile courts. As an
independent sovereign, California generally may exercise its police power to
regulate such juvenile misconduct, even when that misconduct is simultaneously
the subject of federal prohibitions.
Nor is the present proceeding, which involves the alleged violation of
federal immigration law, preempted by exclusive federal authority over matters
pertaining to immigration. While it is well settled that only the federal
government may regulate the border and establish rules governing who may enter
and who may stay, equally clear is that Congress has in its immigration
enactments embraced a model of collaborative federalism under which states and
localities may assist in the enforcement of federal immigration policy. Welfare
and Institutions Code section 602, insofar as it authorizes state courts to address
juvenile violations of the immigration laws, does just that.
We will affirm the Court of Appeal.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On August 16, 2006, United States Border Patrol agents tracked footprints
leading across the Mexican border into the California desert near Calexico. A
border patrol agent in a helicopter saw several persons hiding in bushes. One of
these persons, later identified as Jose C., motioned to the other individuals to
follow him. When agents approached the group on foot, he broke off and hid an
item under a bush. After detaining Jose C. and six other persons, an agent
recovered a cell phone hidden under the bush. The federal agents arrested Jose C.,
a minor, and transferred him to state custody.
The Imperial County District Attorney thereafter filed a juvenile wardship
petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, alleging a single count
of illegally bringing six aliens into the United States without presentation at the
border, in violation of title 8 United States Code section 1324(a)(2)(B)(iii). At the
outset of the jurisdictional hearing, Jose C.’s counsel objected that the juvenile
court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate federal criminal violations. The juvenile
court overruled the objection, relying on the portion of Welfare and Institutions
Code section 602 that purports to give state courts authority to base wardships on
violations of federal law.
At trial, two of the persons who had been detained with Jose C. testified
they had made arrangements with undisclosed parties for assistance in crossing
into the United States and had agreed to pay $1,800 once safely inside the country.
They further testified that Jose C. had acted as their guide during the crossing.
Jose C. told them when to move, swept their footprints to remove their tracks, and
repeatedly spoke on a cell phone, apparently in an attempt to determine when
immigration agents were in the vicinity. Based on this evidence, the court found
the allegations in the petition true beyond a reasonable doubt and declared Jose C.
a ward of the court. At the dispositional hearing, the court declared the offense a
felony, set the maximum term of confinement at 10 years, gave Jose C. credit for
58 days served in juvenile hall, and placed him on formal probation.
The Court of Appeal affirmed. It rejected Jose C.’s argument that the
juvenile court lacked jurisdiction, reasoning that whether or not title 18 United
States Code section 3231 deprived state courts of jurisdiction was irrelevant
because title 18 United States Code section 5032 (a statute governing delinquency
proceedings in federal court) displaced section 3231 with regard to juvenile
matters, a presumption of concurrent jurisdiction applied, and section 5032 made
no mention of depriving state courts of jurisdiction.
We granted review to resolve a significant federalism question: whether
under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 a state court has jurisdiction to
declare a juvenile a ward of the court based on violations of federal law.
I. Jurisdictional Preemption
A. Title 18 United States Code Section 3231
Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, subdivision (a) provides in
relevant part: “[A]ny person who is under the age of 18 years when he or she
violates any law of this state or of the United States or any ordinance of any city or
county of this state defining crime . . . is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile
court, which may adjudge such person to be a ward of the court.” (Italics added.)
Thus, as a matter of state law, the Legislature has granted juvenile courts the
authority to declare juveniles wards of the court on the basis of acts that violate
state or federal criminal law.
Jose C. contends this jurisdictional grant is necessary but not sufficient; that
under the supremacy clause (U.S. Const., art. VI, cl. 2), state court jurisdiction
depends as well on whether Congress has withdrawn from state courts the power
to exercise jurisdiction. As a constitutional matter, it has long been settled that
Congress has the power to constrict state court jurisdiction, at least with respect to
federal matters. (Howlett v. Rose (1990) 496 U.S. 356, 368, fn. 15; Claflin v.
Houseman, Assignee (1876) 93 U.S. 130, 137; The Moses Taylor (1866) 71 U.S.
411, 429-430; Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (1816) 14 U.S. 304, 337.) Relying on
title 18 United States Code section 3231 (hereafter section 3231), Jose C. argues
that Congress has done so here and thereby expressly preempted the instant
The first sentence of section 3231 provides: “The district courts of the
United States shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States,
of all offenses against the laws of the United States.” This portion of the statute
establishes two general principles: first, federal district courts may exercise
jurisdiction over federal criminal offenses, and second, state courts may not do so.
At a minimum, therefore, section 3231 displaces state court jurisdiction over the
direct prosecution, conviction, and imposition of federal criminal punishment for
violations of federal criminal statutes. Jose C. contends section 3231 goes further
and precludes state courts from interpreting and adjudicating in any proceeding
whether a federal criminal statute has been violated.
In contesting whether the language of the statute bars adjudication of
federal criminal conduct in the context of a state wardship petition, the People and
Jose C. debate at length whether a state wardship petition gives rise to a “civil” or
“criminal” proceeding. Wardship proceedings have at different times, and for
different purposes, been characterized as de facto criminal (e.g., In re Gault (1967)
387 U.S. 1, 27-31, 36-37; In re Kevin S. (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 97, 108-109; In
re Gregory K. (1980) 106 Cal.App.3d 164, 168 & fn. 2) and as genuinely civil
(e.g., In re Derrick B. (2006) 39 Cal.4th 535, 540; People v. Sanchez (1985) 170
Cal.App.3d 216, 218; Welf. & Inst. Code, § 203). In truth, they are hybrid
proceedings, and the question whether a wardship proceeding is de facto criminal
or civil has no single answer; rather, it depends on the purpose for which the
question is asked. Here, faced with a preemption question, we conclude the
precise characterization is immaterial because, whether characterized as civil or
criminal, wardship proceedings that determine whether a federal criminal statute
has been violated are not preempted by section 3231.
B. Welfare and Institutions Code Section 602 as a Civil Proceeding
Taking first the view that wardship proceedings are properly characterized
as civil, we follow the United States Supreme Court’s lead in Tafflin v. Levitt
(1990) 493 U.S. 455 and find no preemption. In Tafflin, the Supreme Court
considered whether state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over civil violations
of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) (18 U.S.C.
§§ 1961-1968). Civil RICO is an unusual statute, in that a civil RICO claim may
depend upon proof that one of an enumerated list of federal criminal laws has been
violated. (Id., §§ 1961(1), 1962, 1964(c); Cianci v. Superior Court (1985) 40
Cal.3d 903, 909.) Thus, to adjudicate whether a civil RICO claim has been
established, a court or jury may need to determine whether a federal criminal
violation has occurred. The Tafflin plaintiffs, arguing for exclusive federal court
jurisdiction over such claims, contended permitting a state court to make this
predicate determination would violate section 3231’s grant of exclusive federal
criminal jurisdiction and thus be incompatible with federal interests.
The United States Supreme Court found no incompatibility. “[C]oncurrent
jurisdiction over [18 U.S.C.] § 1964(c) suits,” it explained, “is clearly not
incompatible with § 3231 itself, for civil RICO claims are not ‘offenses against the
laws of the United States,’ § 3231, and do not result in the imposition of criminal
sanctions — uniform or otherwise.” (Tafflin v. Levitt, supra, 493 U.S. at p. 464.)
It went on to conclude that state courts interpreting and applying federal criminal
law posed no threat to federal interests, as state courts would be bound by federal
precedent and their interpretations would be subject to direct review in the United
States Supreme Court. (Id. at pp. 465-466; see also id. at p. 468 (conc. opn. of
White, J.) [opining that federal misapplication of state law under RICO posed
greater risk than the reverse].) The Tafflin court asserted its “full faith in the
ability of state courts to handle the complexities of civil RICO actions” (Tafflin, at
p. 465) and declined to “denigrate the respect accorded coequal sovereigns” by
concluding jurisdiction must be withheld (id. at p. 466).
In short, though a civil proceeding such as civil RICO may require
adjudication of whether a federal criminal law has been violated, that
determination does not of itself convert the civil proceeding into an “offense”
subject to the exclusive jurisdictional bar of section 3231. Rather, Tafflin makes
clear, a proceeding involves adjudication of an offense only if, at a minimum, it
also involves “the imposition of criminal sanctions.” (Tafflin v. Levitt, supra, 493
U.S. at p. 464.) Assuming, as we do at present, that a state wardship proceeding
involves only civil sanctions and is, like civil RICO, “primarily remedial rather
than punitive” (Tafflin, at p. 464; see In re Charles C. (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 952,
955), the identical reasoning applied here demonstrates that adjudication of federal
criminal violations in the course of a state wardship proceeding does not convert
those proceedings into “offenses” and render jurisdiction preempted by section
Similarly, in the context of probation revocation hearings triggered by
further criminal conduct, our Courts of Appeal have correctly recognized that a
state court may adjudicate the predicate question whether a violation of federal
law has been committed. (People v. Beaudrie (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 686, 691;
see Gulf Offshore Co. v. Mobil Oil Corp. (1981) 453 U.S. 473, 483, fn. 12
[“exclusive federal jurisdiction will not prevent a state court from deciding a
(footnote continued on next page)
C. Welfare and Institutions Code Section 602 as a Criminal
We now consider the contrary characterization, that for purposes of
preemption under title 18 United States Code section 3231, a state wardship
proceeding under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 is properly viewed as
fundamentally criminal. This characterization changes our reasoning, but not our
conclusion that section 3231 does not preempt state wardship proceedings.
First, it has always been understood that the several states are independent
sovereigns possessing inherent police power to criminally punish conduct inimical
to the public welfare, even when that same conduct is also prohibited under federal
law.2 “The Constitution leaves in the possession of each State ‘certain exclusive
(footnote continued from previous page)
federal question collaterally even if it would not have subject-matter jurisdiction
over a case raising the question directly”].)
See Westfall v. United States (1927) 274 U.S. 256, 258 (opn. of Holmes, J.)
(“Of course an act may be criminal under the laws of both [state and federal]
jurisdictions”); Crossley v. California (1898) 168 U.S. 640, 641 (“[I]t is settled
law that the same act may constitute an offence against the United States and
against a State, subjecting the guilty party to punishment under the laws of each
government”); People v. Morante (1999) 20 Cal.4th 403, 426; Penal Code section
655; see generally Kurland, First Principles of American Federalism and the
Nature of Federal Criminal Jurisdiction (1996) 45 Emory L.J. 1, 82-90
(discussing historical evidence that overlapping state and federal criminal subject-
matter jurisdiction was contemplated from the time of the Federal Convention of
There are limits to this principle; Congress may, if it so chooses, preempt
state criminal regulation of particular acts. (See Pennsylvania v. Nelson (1956)
350 U.S. 497, 502 [concluding Congress had occupied the field with respect to
sedition against the federal government, and a state criminal statute punishing the
same act was preempted]; Houston v. Moore (1820) 18 U.S. 1, 21-24 (lead opn. of
Washington, J.) [concluding state court martial law was preempted insofar as it
purported to regulate a field Congress had occupied].) These limits are
substantive, not jurisdictional, and relate only to whether a state legislature can
(footnote continued on next page)
and very important portions of sovereign power.’ ” (Heath v. Alabama (1985) 474
U.S. 82, 93, quoting Hamilton, The Federalist No. 9 (Cooke ed. 1961) p. 55.)
“Foremost among the prerogatives of sovereignty is the power to create and
enforce a criminal code.” (Heath, at p. 93.) This understanding is at the root of
the dual sovereignty exception to the United States Constitution’s double jeopardy
clause, which recognizes that because individual states and the United States are
“two sovereignties, deriving power from different sources, capable of dealing with
the same subject-matter within the same territory,” each may punish the same act
without offending double jeopardy principles. (United States v. Lanza (1922) 260
U.S. 377, 382.)3 Thus, Congress may pass a law barring a particular act and
imposing a specific punishment, and a state legislature may pass a state law
barring the same act and imposing a different specific punishment, as well as
vesting jurisdiction over violations of the state law in its state courts, without
encroaching upon the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts to adjudicate
violations of the federal law and impose the federal punishment.4
(footnote continued from previous page)
punish given conduct. We deal with substantive preemption questions in part
See also Department of Revenue of Mont. v. Kurth Ranch (1994) 511 U.S.
767, 782, footnote 22; Heath v. Alabama, supra, 474 U.S. at pp. 88-90; Abbate v.
United States (1959) 359 U.S. 187, 194-195; Bartkus v. Illinois (1959) 359 U.S.
121, 128-129; People v. Comingore (1977) 20 Cal.3d 142, 145; People v. Belcher
(1974) 11 Cal.3d 91, 96-97.
This is what we meant when we explained long ago that “[s]tate tribunals
have no power to punish crimes against the laws of the United States, as such.
The same act may, in some instances, be an offense against the laws of both, and it
is only as an offense against the State laws that it can be punished by the State, in
any event.” (People v. Kelly (1869) 38 Cal. 145, 150.)
Section 3231 embraces these settled principles. It provides in its second
sentence: “Nothing in this title shall be held to take away or impair the
jurisdiction of the courts of the several States under the laws thereof.” (Italics
added.) Thus, while the section grants federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over
the prosecution of federal offenses, it does not do so over the punishment of acts
criminalized by federal law; to the extent state law also establishes sanctions for
those acts, state courts retain jurisdiction under their own state laws to hear cases
and impose punishment. (See In re Dixon (1953) 41 Cal.2d 756, 764.)5
Second, whether a state legislature exercises its sovereign power to impose
independent state criminal punishment for an act by writing its own statute
prohibiting it, or by writing a statute incorporating an existing federal criminal
prohibition, is immaterial. The distinction is a purely formal one. A state or
territory that elects to incorporate portions of federal criminal law into its own
criminal code may establish state jurisdiction to try violations as state crimes
without offending section 3231. (U.S. v. Lee (9th Cir. 2006) 472 F.3d 638, 642-
643; cf. People v. Tilehkooh (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 1433, 1446 [acknowledging
that while a state cannot directly enforce federal criminal law, it can “reach
conduct subject to the federal criminal law by incorporating the conduct into the
At oral argument, Jose C. contended this second sentence relates only to
preservation of state jurisdiction in civil matters. Nothing in the structure of the
sentence suggests such a limitation. To the contrary, its placement in title 18 of
the United States Code, governing criminal matters, belies such an interpretation,
and in In re Dixon, supra, 41 Cal.2d at page 764, we expressly read this portion of
section 3231 as preserving state criminal jurisdiction.
Arguing against the power of states to regulate that which the federal
government has proscribed criminally, Jose C. cites People v. Zacarias (2007) 157
Cal.App.4th 652, 660, which held Penal Code section 182 (conspiracy) punishes
(footnote continued on next page)
This is, in essence, what Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 does.
It incorporates by reference federal criminal law, rendering it a basis for the
imposition of independent state sanctions, and grants state courts authority to
adjudicate such matters. It recognizes the independent state interest in
rehabilitating juveniles within this state who are unable to conform their conduct
to the requirements of the law — whether that law be local ordinance, state statute,
or federal enactment.7 Section 3231 does not deprive state courts of jurisdiction
granted under their own state laws to impose independent state sanctions.
Jose C. objects that under this interpretation of section 3231, states may
augment federal criminal statutes in any way they please, adding on various civil
or criminal piggyback remedies or sanctions that might conflict with federal
dictates. But whether Congress has preempted state court jurisdiction is not to be
confused with whether it has preempted state legislative action. The former
involves only the question whether a state court has the power to entertain a
particular cause; the latter involves the further question whether a state may enact
substantive legislation governing the subject matter of the particular cause. (See
Houston v. Moore, supra, 18 U.S. at pp. 24-25 [drawing the identical distinction in
the course of concluding that state regulation, but not state jurisdiction, was
preempted].) Section 3231, as interpreted in Tafflin v. Levitt, supra, 493 U.S. 455,
(footnote continued from previous page)
only agreements to commit crimes under California, not federal, law. But
Zacarias was a statutory interpretation case and concluded only that the
Legislature had not chosen to punish conspiracies to commit federal crimes, not
that it could not.
See, e.g., In re Charles C., supra, 232 Cal.App.3d at page 955 (“While the
aim of adult incarceration is punishment, a juvenile commitment is geared toward
treatment and rehabilitation with the state providing substitute parental care for
wayward youths during their minority,” italics omitted).
does not preempt jurisdiction over a proceeding that entails adjudication of the
elements of an underlying federal criminal statute. Whether it preempts the
substantive state enactment imposing an additional civil (or criminal) remedy —
here, the authorization of state juvenile sanctions upon a finding a federal crime
has been committed — is a discrete question we deal with separately below. (See
pt. II.B., post.)
Jose C. also relies on two sister-state decisions that have addressed this
issue and concluded section 3231 does in fact preempt state court jurisdiction. In
State v. Tidwell (Wash.Ct.App. 1982) 651 P.2d 228, a juvenile was convicted in
state juvenile court of violating title 18 United States Code section 241, a federal
civil rights statute, after burning a cross on an African-American family’s lawn.
The Washington Court of Appeals concluded the state court lacked jurisdiction,
even in a juvenile proceeding, to determine whether someone had violated federal
law. It reasoned that because section 3231 granted federal courts exclusive
jurisdiction over federal offenses, it preempted the Washington statute granting
state juvenile courts jurisdiction over violations of federal law. Violations of title
18 United States Code section 241 were offenses only against the federal
sovereign and could not be punished by the state. Instead, the state court could
consider only a state criminal trespass charge. (Tidwell, at pp. 230-232.) In
Matter of Welfare of J.J.T. (Minn.Ct.App. 1997) 559 N.W.2d 714, 715-716, the
Minnesota Court of Appeals followed Tidwell and without any independent
reasoning concluded a state court could not declare a juvenile a delinquent based
on a petition alleging federal criminal violations.
State v. Tidwell, supra, 651 P.2d 228, predates Tafflin v. Levitt’s
determination that state courts are competent to decide whether a federal criminal
law has been violated, section 3231 notwithstanding, if the proceeding is not itself
a criminal prosecution. (Tafflin v. Levitt, supra, 493 U.S. at pp. 464-466.) It also
fails to consider whether the Washington Legislature had made, or could make,
offenses against federal sovereignty into matters of independent state concern by
incorporating federal law into its state juvenile delinquency scheme. Accordingly,
we do not find it persuasive.
In sum, whether characterized as civil or criminal, wardship proceedings
that entail adjudication of whether a federal criminal statute has been violated are
not expressly preempted by section 3231.8
II. Immigration Preemption
We consider Jose C.’s alternative argument, that Congress has exclusive
power to regulate immigration and state court adjudication of incorporated federal
immigration offenses is preempted as an infringement of that power.
In the exercise of its powers, Congress may preempt state courts from
exercising jurisdiction over immigration matters, or it may preempt state
legislatures from substantively regulating on matters touching upon immigration.
We address each possibility in turn.
Jurisdictional Preemption: Title 8 United States Code
Federal criminal laws relating to immigration are collected in title 8,
chapter 12, subchapter II of the United States Code. Congress has granted federal
Because we so conclude, we need not reach the ground on which the Court
of Appeal based its rejection of Jose C.’s section 3231 argument: that title 18
United States Code section 5032 supersedes section 3231 with respect to juvenile
delinquency proceedings. As explained below, however, our interpretation of the
effect of section 3231 on state juvenile proceedings has the salutary consequence
of ensuring that state courts will remain open as forums in which to address
juvenile conduct that runs afoul of federal criminal laws, an outcome Congress
quite clearly and expressly desired when it passed the Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (18 U.S.C. §§ 5031-5042). (See post, pp. 22-
courts jurisdiction over such matters: “The district courts of the United States
shall have jurisdiction of all causes, civil and criminal, brought by the United
States that arise under the provisions of this subchapter.” (8 U.S.C. § 1329.) We
think it clear Congress has not thereby preempted state court jurisdiction.
Title 8 United States Code section 1329 vests federal courts with
jurisdiction but makes no mention of state courts. The absence of an express
exclusion of state court jurisdiction “is strong, and arguably sufficient, evidence
that Congress had no such intent.” (Yellow Freight System, Inc. v. Donnelly
(1990) 494 U.S. 820, 823.) While in some cases preemption may be found in the
absence of an explicit textual directive based on legislative history or
demonstrated incompatibility with federal interests, we discern no such history or
incompatibility here, and Jose C. identifies none. The consequence of state
jurisdiction in the context of a wardship proceeding touching on immigration law
is that state and federal courts may engage in parallel interpretation of the same
statutes, but this concern has never alone been understood as sufficient to defeat
jurisdiction. As the United States Supreme Court explained in Tafflin v. Levitt,
supra, 493 U.S. at page 464, state interpretation of federal law, even federal
criminal law, “creates no significant danger of inconsistent application” because
federal courts are not bound by state interpretations, state courts are to be guided
by existing federal interpretations, and any erroneous state court interpretations are
subject to direct review in the United States Supreme Court.
Jose C. relies on Gutierrez v. City of Wenatchee (E.D.Wash. 1987) 662
F.Supp. 821, 824, for the proposition that state courts lack jurisdiction to decide
whether a federal immigration law has been broken. While Gutierrez so holds, we
are not persuaded.
In Gutierrez, an alleged illegal alien facing state incarceration following a
probation revocation hearing sought an injunction in federal court. The terms of
his probation forbade violation of any laws; at the probation revocation hearing,
the state court purported to determine Gutierrez had violated federal immigration
law. The federal district court issued a declaratory judgment, holding Gutierrez’s
immigration status could be decided only in the context of a federal prosecution or
federal administrative proceeding. (Gutierrez v. City of Wenatchee, supra, 662
F.Supp. at pp. 822, 825.)
Gutierrez rests, first, on the understanding that immigration may be
regulated only by the federal government — a proposition we agree with in part,
as discussed below, but which is not determinative — and second, on the
understanding that under section 3231, state court adjudications of whether federal
criminal laws have been violated impinge on federal sovereignty, even when the
adjudication arises in the course of an independent state law proceeding (there, a
probation revocation hearing). (See Gutierrez v. City of Wenatchee, supra, 662
F.Supp. at p. 824.) That latter understanding is incorrect, as the United States
Supreme Court made clear a few years later in Tafflin v. Levitt, supra, 493 U.S.
455; contrary to Gutierrez’s holding, section 3231 does not strip state courts of
“jurisdictional authority” to “make a factual determination and reach a legal
conclusion that a federal law has been broken” (Gutierrez, at p. 824).
Accordingly, Gutierrez does not persuade us that state court jurisdiction is lacking
We note as well that our own Courts of Appeal have correctly concluded,
albeit contrary to Gutierrez v. City of Wenatchee, supra, 662 F.Supp. 821, that
state juvenile courts may determine a party’s immigration status in the course of
wardship proceedings. (See In re Adolfo M. (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 1225, 1231-
1232; In re Manuel P. (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 48, 61-64; Welf. & Inst. Code,
B. Substantive Preemption: Title 8 United States Code
Finally, we consider whether, though state court jurisdiction exists,
Congress has preempted states from substantively regulating immigration matters,
and in particular alien smuggling. That is, though Welfare and Institutions Code
section 602 is valid insofar as it vests state juvenile courts with jurisdiction to
decide whether federal immigration law has been violated, whether a state may
condition wardship status, or any other state remedy or sanction, on the violation
of a federal criminal immigration law is a separate question. The power to
regulate is not necessarily coextensive with the power to adjudicate.
The “[p]ower to regulate immigration is unquestionably exclusively a
federal power.” (De Canas v. Bica (1976) 424 U.S. 351, 354; see also Hines v.
Davidowitz (1941) 312 U.S. 52, 62; Truax v. Raich (1915) 239 U.S. 33, 42 [“The
authority to control immigration — to admit or exclude aliens — is vested solely
in the Federal Government”].) Both the power and its asserted exclusivity are
implicit in the structure of the Constitution, inferred as a consequence of various
explicit grants of authority, including the powers to regulate commerce, establish
rules for naturalization, and conduct foreign affairs. (Toll v. Moreno (1982) 458
U.S. 1, 10; see U.S. Const., art. I, § 8, cl. 3 [commerce power]; id., cl. 4
[naturalization power]; id., art. II, § 2, cl. 2 [treaty power].)
While the immigration power is exclusive, it does not follow that any and
all state regulations touching on aliens are preempted. (De Canas v. Bica, supra,
424 U.S. at p. 355.) Only if the state statute is in fact a “regulation of
immigration,” i.e., “a determination of who should or should not be admitted into
the country, and the conditions under which a legal entrant may remain” (ibid.), is
preemption structural and automatic. Otherwise, the usual rules of statutory
preemption analysis apply; state law will be displaced only when affirmative
congressional action compels the conclusion it must be. (Id. at pp. 356-357.) As
Jose C. does not, and could not, contend Welfare and Institutions Code section 602
as applied here regulates who may enter or remain in the United States, we
proceed under the usual preemption rules.
We have identified four ways in which Congress may preempt state law:
express, conflict, obstacle, and field preemption. (Farm Raised Salmon Cases
(2008) 42 Cal.4th 1077, 1087; Viva! Internat. Voice for Animals v. Adidas
Promotional Retail Operations, Inc. (2007) 41 Cal.4th 929, 936; see also
Pennsylvania v. Nelson, supra, 350 U.S. at pp. 502-509 [same principles apply to
preemption of criminal statutes].) Neither express nor conflict preemption is
implicated here. Nothing in title 8 of the United States Code expressly divests
states of jurisdiction over all matters touching on immigration generally or alien
smuggling in particular.10 Nor is there any impossibility in complying
simultaneously with state and federal law, as the state law here purports to
incorporate the federal antismuggling law and thus adopts an identical rule.
Rather, the issue is one of field and obstacle preemption. “[F]ield
preemption, i.e., ‘Congress’ intent to pre-empt all state law in a particular area,’
applies ‘where the scheme of federal regulation is sufficiently comprehensive to
make reasonable the inference that Congress “left no room” for supplementary
state regulation.’ ” (Viva! Internat. Voice for Animals v. Adidas Promotional
Retail Operations, Inc., supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 936.) In turn, “obstacle preemption
arises when ‘ “under the circumstances of [a] particular case, [the challenged state
While there are some specific express preemption provisions, they do not
touch upon any areas at issue here. (See, e.g., 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(h)(2) [preempting
most state sanctions against those who employ unauthorized aliens].)
law] stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full
purposes and objectives of Congress.” ’ [Citations.]” (Ibid.) Congress has by
statute criminalized the smuggling of aliens into the United States (8 U.S.C.
§ 1324(a)); has it thereby occupied the field of alien smuggling, or would
imposition of state juvenile wardships based on violations of section 1324 pose an
obstacle to federal immigration policy’s goals? Applying the general presumption
against preemption (Viva! Internat. Voice for Animals, at p. 936), a presumption
that applies even in the context of immigration law (see De Canas v. Bica, supra,
424 U.S. at p. 356 [requiring evidence that Congress has “ ‘unmistakably’ ”
mandated preemption or the subject matter “ ‘permits no other conclusion’ ”]), we
2. Field preemption
We discern no intent by Congress, in either its initial enactment or
subsequent amendments of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C.
§§ 1101-1537), to occupy the field of immigration law generally or alien
smuggling in particular.
As a general matter, the United States Supreme Court has declined to
“presume that Congress, in enacting the INA, intended to oust state authority to
regulate . . . in a manner consistent with pertinent federal laws.” (De Canas v.
Bica, supra, 424 U.S. at p. 357.) Rather, after independently reviewing the INA,
the De Canas court could not find “any specific indication in either the wording or
the legislative history of the INA that Congress intended to preclude even
harmonious state regulation touching on aliens in general.” (De Canas, at p. 358.)
Nor could it infer any such intent from the “scope and detail of the INA.” (Id. at
p. 359.) Accordingly, it rejected field preemption in the context of California
legislation touching on the employment of aliens.
We reach the same conclusion in the context of alien smuggling and
enforcement of immigration-related criminal law. A series of provisions in the
INA demonstrate Congress, far from occupying the field, welcomed state and
local assistance in enforcement.
Of greatest significance, title 8 United States Code section 1324(c)
expressly allows for state and local enforcement of section 1324’s alien smuggling
provisions. Arrests for violations of section 1324 may be made by various
designated immigration officers and by “all other officers whose duty it is to
enforce criminal laws.” (8 U.S.C. § 1324(c).) As the Court of Appeal in People v.
Barajas (1978) 81 Cal.App.3d 999 explained, the legislative history behind this
section shows the quoted language was intended to preserve state and local
authority to make arrests for criminal immigration violations. (Id. at pp. 1005-
1006; see also Gonzales v. City of Peoria (9th Cir. 1983) 722 F.2d 468, 475
[concluding based on 8 U.S.C. § 1324 text and legislative history that “federal law
does not preclude local enforcement of the criminal provisions of the” INA],
overruled on another ground by Hodgers-Durgin v. De La Vina (9th Cir. 1999)
199 F.3d 1037, 1040, fn. 1.)
Three more recent amendments of the INA are to similar effect. Title 8
United States Code section 1357(g), adopted as part of the 1996 Illegal
Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (Pub.L. No. 104-
208 (Sept. 30, 1996) 110 Stat. 3009), authorizes states and localities to enter into
written agreements with the United States Attorney General under which state and
local officials will have authority to investigate, apprehend, and detain individuals
for suspected violations of immigration law, and further emphasizes that even in
the absence of a written agreement, state and local officials are free to cooperate
with the United States Attorney General in the enforcement of immigration laws.
(8 U.S.C. § 1357(g)(10).) Title 8 United States Code section 1103(c), amended at
the same time, similarly authorizes the Commissioner of the Immigration and
Naturalization Service to “enter into cooperative agreements with State and local
law enforcement agencies for the purpose of assisting in the enforcement of the
immigration laws.” Finally, title 8 United States Code section 1252c, adopted as
part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (Pub.L. No.
104-132 (Apr. 24, 1996) 110 Stat. 1276), expressly authorizes state and local
officials in specified circumstances to make arrests of individuals illegally present
in the United States. “Both the plain language and legislative history of § 1252c
reflect that Congress intended the provision to displace perceived Federal
limitations on the authority of state and local officers to arrest ‘criminal illegal
aliens.’ ” (U.S. v. Vasquez-Alvarez (10th Cir. 1999) 176 F.3d 1294, 1300.)
Consistent with these provisions, those federal circuits to have addressed
the question (the Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth) have unanimously concluded Congress
has not occupied the field and preempted state assistance in the enforcement of
federal criminal immigration law. The federal criminal regulation of immigration
is not so complex or comprehensive that it may be inferred Congress intended to
occupy the field. (Gonzales v. City of Peoria, supra, 722 F.2d at pp. 474-475.)
Instead, “federal law ‘evinces a clear invitation from Congress for state and local
agencies to participate in the process of enforcing federal immigration laws.’ ”
(U.S. v. Santana-Garcia (10th Cir. 2001) 264 F.3d 1188, 1193; see also Lynch v.
Cannatella (5th Cir. 1987) 810 F.2d 1363, 1371 [“No statute precludes other
federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies from taking other action to
enforce this nation’s immigration laws”].) These courts recognize that Congress
has established a regime of cooperative federalism, in which local, state, and
federal governments may work together to ensure the achievement of federal
criminal immigration policy. This is the antithesis of field preemption.
In making his field preemption argument, Jose C. relies entirely on cases
drawn from the area of industrial relations, an area in which “[i]t is by now a
commonplace [understanding] that in passing the [National Labor Relations Act]
Congress largely displaced state regulation.” (Wisconsin Dept. of Industry v.
Gould Inc. (1986) 475 U.S. 282, 286; see also San Diego Unions v. Garmon
(1959) 359 U.S. 236, 246.) As Congress has instead embraced a role for the states
in the area of criminal immigration law, these cases are not persuasive.
3. Obstacle preemption
“There remains the question whether, although the INA contemplates some
room for state legislation, [Welfare and Institutions Code section 602] is
nevertheless unconstitutional because it ‘stands as an obstacle to the
accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress’ in
enacting the INA.” (De Canas v. Bica, supra, 424 U.S. at p. 363, quoting Hines v.
Davidowitz, supra, 312 U.S. at p. 67.) Put in the affirmative, “the States do have
some authority to act with respect to illegal aliens, at least where such action
mirrors federal objectives and furthers a legitimate state goal.” (Plyler v. Doe
(1982) 457 U.S. 202, 225.) Does Welfare and Institutions Code section 602’s
incorporation of federal criminal immigration law “mirror federal objectives”
and further a legitimate state interest? We think it manifest that it does.
That Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 mirrors federal objectives
we infer from two separate grounds. First, it incorporates criminal immigration
law and thereby adopts the same standards; that which is a violation of federal
criminal immigration law is a violation under Welfare and Institutions Code
section 602, while that which is not, is not. Where state law “mandates
compliance with the federal immigration laws and regulations, it cannot be said
[state law] stands as an obstacle to accomplishment and execution of
congressional objectives embodied in the INA.” (In re Manuel P., supra, 215
Cal.App.3d at p. 64.)
Second, as we shall explain, Congress’s passage of the Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (Delinquency Prevention Act) (18 U.S.C.
§§ 5031-5042), and in particular title 18 United States Code section 5032,
demonstrates that Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 is wholly consistent
with federal objectives. The text and history behind the Delinquency Prevention
Act show state juvenile dispositions for offenders who may have violated a federal
criminal statute are no obstacle to federal goals; to the contrary, Congress strongly
prefers such outcomes.
Title 18 United States Code section 5032, with limited exceptions not
applicable here, establishes a presumption that juveniles who are alleged to have
violated federal criminal law shall be proceeded against in state juvenile court. An
alleged juvenile delinquent “shall not be proceeded against in any court of the
United States unless the Attorney General” certifies that one of three conditions
has been met: (1) the state court “does not have jurisdiction or refuses to assume
jurisdiction over said juvenile with respect to such alleged act of juvenile
delinquency,” (2) no adequate state juvenile program exists, or (3) the crime is one
of a specified list of drug- and violence-related offenses. (18 U.S.C. § 5032.) The
text thus establishes a strong preference for juvenile offenders to be channeled into
and handled by state juvenile courts whenever jurisdiction exists for the state
courts to accept them.
The legislative history of the Delinquency Prevention Act is to the same
effect. Congress recognized juvenile delinquency as “essentially a State and local
problem which must be dealt with by the State and local governments.” (Sen.Rep.
No. 93-1011, 2d Sess. (1974), reprinted in 1974 U.S. Code Cong. & Admin.
News, pp. 5283, 5286.) However, because “[f]ederal assistance is very necessary
to provide needed financial assistance and resources” (ibid.), Congress passed the
Delinquency Prevention Act to “provide for Federal leadership and coordination
of the resources necessary to develop and implement at the State and local
community level effective programs for the prevention and treatment of juvenile
delinquency” (1974 U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News, p. 5283). The measure
was intended to afford “[a]ssistance in the development of State and local
mechanisms designed to channel juveniles, for whom the criminal justice system
is inappropriate, away from and out of the system into human problem-solving
agencies and professions.” (Id., p. 5287.) “Congress ‘recognized that the federal
court system is at best ill equipped to meet the needs of juvenile offenders.
Deference to the state courts should always be observed except in the most severe
of cases.’ ” (U.S. v. Chambers (6th Cir. 1991) 944 F.2d 1253, 1258, quoting
United States v. Juvenile (D.Or. 1984) 599 F.Supp. 1126, 1130; see also U.S. v.
Juvenile Male (9th Cir. 1988) 864 F.2d 641, 644 [“Congress’ desire to channel
juveniles into state and local treatment programs . . . [is] clearly expressed in the
legislative history of [18 U.S.C.] section 5032”]; Note, There’s No Place Like
Home: The Availability of Judicial Review over Certification Decisions Invoking
Federal Jurisdiction Under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
(2000) 53 Vand. L.Rev. 1311, 1314-1320, 1340-1341 [reviewing history of long-
standing congressional preference for state treatment of juvenile delinquency].)
Clearly, then, Welfare and Institutions Code section 602’s incorporation of
federal criminal law so that juvenile delinquents who violate federal law may be
handled through state wardship proceedings is no obstacle to federal goals;
instead, it ensures precisely the approach Congress expressly prefers.
It is equally evident Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 furthers
legitimate state interests. The purposes of juvenile wardship proceedings are
twofold: to treat and rehabilitate the delinquent minor, and to protect the public
from criminal conduct. (In re Jerald C. (1984) 36 Cal.3d 1, 8 (lead opn. of
Broussard, J.); In re Calvin S. (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 443, 449; Welf. & Inst.
Code, § 202.) The preservation of the safety and welfare of a state’s citizenry is
foremost among its government’s interests, and it is squarely within the police
power to seek to rehabilitate those who have committed misdeeds while protecting
the populace from further misconduct. As Welfare and Institutions Code section
602 does this in a fashion that mirrors and is wholly consistent with federal aims,
it poses no obstacle to federal policy and is not preempted.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the Court of Appeal’s judgment.
GEORGE, C. J.
See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court. Name of Opinion In re Jose C.
Review Granted XXX 155 Cal.App.4th 1115
Date Filed: January 22, 2009
Judge: William D. Lehman
Attorneys for Appellant:Kurt David Hermansen, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.
Attorneys for Respondent:Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gary W.
Schons, Assistant Attorney General, Lise Jacobsen and Steve Oetting, Deputy Attorneys General, for
Plaintiff and Respondent.
Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):Kurt David Hermansen
Law Office of Kurt David Hermansen
110 West C Street, Suite 1903
San Diego, CA 92101-3909
Deputy Attorney General
110 West A Street, Suite 1100
San Diego, CA 92101
Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed orders in a juvenile wardship proceeding. This case presents the following issue: Can a juvenile wardship proceeding under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 be predicated entirely on the violation of a federal statute?
|Date:||Citation:||Docket Number:||Category:||Status:||Cross Referenced Cases:|
|Thu, 01/22/2009||45 Cal. 4th 534, 198 P.3d 1087, 87 Cal. Rptr. 3d 674||S158043||Review - Criminal Appeal||closed; remittitur issued|| |
H. (M.), IN RE (S161392)
|1||C., J. (Defendant and Appellant)|
Represented by Kurt David Hermansen
Law Office of Kurt David Hermansen
110 West "C" Street, Suite 1810
San Diego, CA
|2||The People (Plaintiff and Respondent)|
Represented by Steven T. Oetting
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 85266
110 West "A" Street
San Diego, CA
|3||C., J. (Overview party)|
Represented by Kurt David Hermansen
Law Office of Kurt David Hermansen
110 West "C" Street, Suite 1810
San Diego, CA
|Opinion||Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar|
|Concur||Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Justice Carlos R. Moreno, Justice Carol A. Corrigan, Justice Joyce L. Kennard, Justice Marvin R. Baxter, Justice Ming W. Chin|
|Jan 22 2009||Opinion: Affirmed|
|Nov 8 2007||Record requested|
|Nov 8 2007||Petition for review filed|
JOSE C., Appellant Kurt David Hermansen, Attorney
|Nov 13 2007||Received Court of Appeal record|
|Dec 10 2007||Request for judicial notice received (pre-grant)|
Jose C., petitioner Kurt D. Hermansen, Counsel
|Jan 3 2008||Time extended to grant or deny review|
to and including February 6, 2008, or the date upon which review is either granted or denied.
|Jan 16 2008||Petition for review granted (criminal case)|
Votes: George, C.J., Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, Moreno, and Corrigan, JJ.
|Jan 18 2008||Order filed|
The order filed on January 16, 2008, granting review is amended to reflect the title above.
|Feb 21 2008||Counsel appointment order filed|
Upon request of appellant for appointment of counsel, Kurt David Hermansen is hereby appointed to represent appellant on the appeal now pending in this court. Appellant's brief on the merits must be served and filed on or before thirty (30) days from the date of this order.
|Mar 24 2008||Opening brief on the merits filed|
Appellant Jose C. by Kurt David Hermansen, Superme Court appointed counsel
|Apr 23 2008||Answer brief on the merits filed|
The People, plaintiff and respondent by Steve Oetting, Supervising Deputy Attorney General - San Diego (Filed in San Diego)
|May 30 2008||Request for extension of time filed|
for a 60-day extension of time to July 13, 2008, to file appellant's reply brief on the merits by Kurt David Hermansen, Supreme Court appointed counsel
|Jun 9 2008||Order filed|
Appellant's request for an extension of time to file the reply brief on the merits is hereby denied.
|Jun 16 2008||Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)|
Appellant Jose C. by Kurt David Hermansen, Supreme Court appointed counsel (Filed with permission)
|Sep 10 2008||Case ordered on calendar|
to be argued Thursday, November 6, 2008, at 9:00 a.m. in Sacramento
|Oct 27 2008||Received:|
Respondent's Supplemental Brief with wrong cover color. (Received in San Diego)
|Oct 28 2008||Supplemental brief filed|
Jose C., appellant by Kurt David Hermansen, Supreme Court-Appointed Counsel CRC 8.25(b)
|Oct 29 2008||Supplemental brief filed|
The People, respondent Steve Oetting, Supervising Deputy Attorney General - San Diego Filed with permission
|Nov 6 2008||Cause argued and submitted|
|Dec 11 2008||Compensation awarded counsel|
|Jan 21 2009||Notice of forthcoming opinion posted|
|Jan 22 2009||Opinion filed: Judgment affirmed in full|
Court of Appeal's judgment affirmed. Opinion by Werdegar, J. -- joined by George, C.J., Kennard, Baxter, Chin, Moreno, Corrigan, JJ.
|Feb 24 2009||Remittitur issued (criminal case)|
|Mar 5 2009||Received:|
Acknowledgment of receipt for remittitur, signed for by Rita Rodriguez, Deputy Clerk, CA4/1.
|May 12 2009||Received:|
Supreme Court of the United States letter dated May 7, 2009, writ of certiorari file on April 10, 2009, and placed ont he docket May 7, 2009 as No. 08-10184.
|Jun 10 2009||Compensation awarded counsel|
|Jun 19 2009||Received:|
Letter from the U.S. Supreme Court letting this Court know that the petition for writ of certiorari was denied on June 15, 2009.
|Mar 24 2008||Opening brief on the merits filed|
|Apr 23 2008||Answer brief on the merits filed|
|Jun 16 2008||Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)|
Appellant's Opening Brief On The Merits.pdf (228606 bytes)
Respondent's Answer to Brief on the Merits.pdf (10840278 bytes)
Petitioner Appellant's Reply Brief On The Merits.pdf (220576 bytes)
|May 25, 2011|
Annotated by daniel rojas
On August 16, 2006, United States Border Patrol agents tracked a group of undocumented immigrants that included Jose C., a minor, in the California desert near the city of Calexico. When the group was approached while hiding in a group of bushes, Jose C. motioned to the rest of the group to follow him and attempted to hide a cell phone under a bush.
Border Patrol agents detained the group, and Jose C. was arrested and transferred to state custody. The Imperial County District Attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition and charged Jose C. with one count of violating federal law by illegally bringing six aliens into the United States. Jose C.’s counsel objected to the juvenile court’s jurisdiction to adjudicate an offense arising under federal law, and the juvenile court overruled that objection.
During Jose C’s trial, two members of the group of detained immigrants testified that they made arrangements with unknown parties for assistance to cross into the United States at a cost of $1,800; those two group members also testified that Jose C. acted as their guide during the crossing by telling them where to move, sweeping their footprints to remove their tracks, and speaking on a cell phone to determine whether immigration agents were nearby. Based on this evidence, the juvenile court found Jose C. guilty of violating federal law under 8 United States Code Section 1324(a)(2)(B)(iii) and declared Jose C. a ward of the court. The judge declared the offense a felony and set a maximum term of confinement of ten years.
Jose C. was tried in Imperial County Juvenile Court for a single count of illegally bringing six aliens into the United States without presentation at the border in violation of 8 United States Code Section 1324(a)(2)(B)(iii).
The court rejected Jose C.’s objection arguing that the juvenile court’s jurisdiction to adjudicate the offense under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 was preempted by federal law, and, after a trial, the juvenile court determined that Jose C. had violated federal law and committed a felony with a maximum term of ten years of confinement.
The Court of Appeal affirmed.
Does the United States Constitution’s supremacy clause or any other provision of federal law preempt a juvenile court’s jurisdiction to adjudicate offenses arising from a criminal violation of federal immigration law?
No; Congress has not precluded state courts from adjudicating whether federal law has been violated in the context of state delinquency proceedings, even in the context of adjudicating an offense arising from criminal sanctions under the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
(1) To the extent that state law establishes sanctions for acts also criminalized by federal law, state courts retain jurisdiction under their own state laws to hear cases and impose punishment. A state or territory that elects to incorporate portions of federal criminal law into its own criminal code may establish state jurisdiction to try violations as state crimes without offending 18 United States Code section 3231.
(2) Federal immigration law does not directly preempt a state statute unless it regulates immigration. Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, the state law that establishes jurisdiction for juvenile proceedings, as applied here does not regulate immigration. It incorporates federal criminal immigration law and adopts the same standards.
(3) In the context of alien smuggling and enforcement of immigration-related criminal law, a series of provisions in the INA demonstrate that Congress, far from occupying the field, welcomed state and local assistance in enforcement. Indeed, 8 United States Code section 1324(c) expressly allows for state and local enforcement of section 1324’s alien smuggling provisions.
(4) Congress’s passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, and in particular 18 United States Code section 5032, demonstrates that Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 is wholly consistent with federal objectives. The text and history behind the Delinquency Prevention Act demonstrate that Congress strongly prefers state adjudication for juvenile offenders who may have violated a federal criminal statute. Moreover, 18 United States Code section 5032 establishes a presumption that juveniles who are alleged to have violated federal criminal law should be proceeded against in state juvenile court.
Affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
|Jul 1, 2011|
Annotated by Christa Cadman
On August 16, 2006 US Border Patrol agents tracked footprints in the desert leading from the Mexican border into an area near Calexico in California. An agent in a helicopter saw several individuals hiding in bushes, one of whom was later identified as Jose C., a minor. The agent observed Jose C. motion to the other individuals to follow him. Border patrol agents approached the group on foot, and Jose C. was seen hiding a cell phone under a bush. After the group was detained, an agent recovered the cell phone hidden under the bush. Jose C. was arrested and transferred to state custody. The Imperial County District Attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, alleging Jose C. illegally brought six aliens into the United States without presentation at the border, in violation of title 8 U.S.C. section 1324(a)(2)(B)(iii).
The Imperial County District Attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 alleging a single count of illegally bringing six aliens into the United States without presentation at the border. At the jurisdictional hearing, Jose C.’s counsel objected that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate federal criminal violations. The juvenile court overruled the objection. Based on evidence presented at trial, the court found the allegations in the petition true beyond a reasonable doubt and declared Jose C. a ward of the court. At the dispositional hearing, the court declared the offense a felony, set the maximum term of confinement at 10 years, gave Jose C. credit for 58 days served in juvenile hall, and placed him on formal probation. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court of California granted defendant’s petition for review.
Can a juvenile wardship proceeding under California Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 be predicated entirely on the violation of a federal statute? In examining this issue, the Court looks to whether Section 602 is preempted by 18 U.S.C. section 3231 or any other provision of federal law under the Supremacy Clause.
(1) 18 U.S.C. section 3231 granting federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over federal criminal offenses does not preempt adjudication of federal criminal conduct in the context of state juvenile wardship proceedings.
(2) 8 U.S.C. section 1329 vesting federal courts with jurisdiction over federal criminal matters relating to immigration does not preempt state court jurisdiction over such matters.
(3) 8 U.S.C. section 1324 does not preempt states from substantively regulating on matters that touch on alien smuggling or the enforcement of immigration-related criminal law.
(1) Jurisdictional Preemption (18 U.S.C. Section 3231)
18 U.S.C. section 3231 “displaces state court jurisdiction over the direct prosecution, conviction, and imposition of federal criminal punishment for violations of federal criminal statutes.” Whether state wardship proceedings under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 are properly characterized as civil or criminal is context-dependent; however, the distinction is immaterial for the purposes of determining preemption. Section 3231 restricts only the prosecution of federal offenses; it does not bar states from punishing acts criminalized by federal law. “To the extent state law also establishes sanctions for those acts, state courts retain jurisdiction under their own state laws to hear cases and impose punishment.”
(2) Immigration Matters
Jose C. claimed that Congress is vested with the exclusive power to regulate immigration and states are therefore preempted from 1) exercising jurisdiction on immigration matters under 8 U.S.C. section 1329, and 2) substantially regulating on issues that touch on immigration under 8 U.S.C. section 1324. After evaluating the merits of each argument, the Court rejected both.
A. Jurisdictional Preemption (8 U.S.C. section 1329): In dismissing jurisdictional preemption the Court relied on the text of 8 U.S.C. 1329, which does not expressly exclude state court jurisdiction, and on Tafflin v. Levitt (1990), 493 U.S. 455. Tafflin stands for the proposition that “state interpretation of federal law, even federal criminal law, ‘creates no significant danger of inconsistent application’ because federal courts are not bound by state interpretations, state courts are to be guided by existing federal interpretations, and any erroneous state court interpretations are subject to direct review in the United States Supreme Court.” Thus state courts do have the jurisdictional authority to make factual determinations and legal conclusions regarding federal law, and state court adjudication of incorporated federal immigration offenses is appropriate.
B. Substantive Preemption (8 U.S.C. section 1324): The Court distinguished between “state regulation of immigration,” i.e., “‘a determination of who should or should not be admitted into the country, and the conditions under which a legal entrant may remain,’” and “state regulations touching on aliens.” The former implicates structural and automatic preemption, while the latter calls into play the “usual rules of statutory preemption analysis.” Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 does not regulate who may enter or remain in the United States and therefore falls into the second category of regulations. Because preemption was found contrary to government interests and Congressional intent, the Court determined that preemption did not apply.
Affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
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