Reliability of Juvenile Witnessess

     Recently, I was discussing the holding in In Re I.C with our juvenile dependency attorney Nicole Anderson. Nicole has been practicing in this area for over 20 years seeing consistently successful results. Yes you get an appointed attorney in Juvenile Court as you would in criminal court. Everyone hears the knock on public defenders and in this instance is no different. You can hire your own lawyer. Nicole's results speak for themselves and are incomparable in Southern California.

     Attorney Anderson explains that often times social workers interview a child, and that interview goes on to be the basis for the case. This case deals with the reliability of those children and if they can be reliable witnesses and present accurate reports. She explains this can be problem and this case is a good example. Contact the Law Offices of H. William Edgar and Attorney Nicole Anderson for an aggressive advocate in juvenile dependency court.

Facts of the case:

     In September 2012, the Alameda Count Social Services Agency filed a petition which would take two children, 3 year old I.C, and her 5 year old brother, J.C, away from their families and make them dependents of the juvenile court. This was caused after an allegation from 3 year old I.C's claims that her father had sexually molested her. While the kids were in custody, the courts also issued a TRO, which forced the father to move out of their house, and to only see the kids on supervised weekends. After two weeks, the kids were returned to their mother, but the father was still not allowed in or near the family home.

     During the jurisdictional hearing, the courts found out about a previous alleged molestation of I.C, from an 8-year-old neighbor two months before the kids were removed from their parents. J.C, brother of I.C, reported that the neighbor laid on top of I.C, kissed her, and placed both his penis and a wooden train in her vagina. The mother caught the neighbor in the act and sent him home and phoned the local hospital for advice. The hospital got police involved, who then interviewed I.C, J.C, the Mother, and the neighbor. The 8-year-old neighbor admitted to the kissing, but denied everything else. The Mother then took I.C to the emergency room to see if a doctor could confirm the allegations, but upon inspection no such confirmation was possible. The Mother also talked about the incidents with the mother, where she used the phrase like 'good touching vs bad touching', and words 'penis' and 'vagina'.

     Then in September of the same year the whole family dropped I.C off at her school, which is where she saw the neighbor who had molested her before and immediately started acting nervous and frightened. The topic was the point of conversation for the family for the entire weekend and the following week was when I.C made the first allegation against her father. Her family attempted to tell her that it was the neighbor and not her father which had done that, but I.C would continue to spout out the allegations. She would take back the statements right after or say "just kidding", but one day she had said it in front of a child welfare worker who immediately reported the findings and took I.C into Child Abuse, Listening, Interviewing, and Coordination center for further questioning. There, I.C repeated the earlier allegations, while also pointing out that she had watched a movie earlier that day, went grocery shopping, played in the park, and went to San Francisco. She also claimed that her father had put his penis and a toy train into her vagina, similar to the allegation about the neighbor. An expert decided that I.C was extremely mature and smart for her age, and opted that most of what she had said was true.

     The juvenile courts decided that although the I.C had made some "very confusing statements", they were convinced by the "completely spontaneous" nature of her allegations, and that there had not been any evidence to prove manipulation of some sorts. The courts found that the SSA had met its burden of proof, and the children were separated from their father until further notice. On appeal, the First District courts affirmed, and found that the lower courts were in the best position to judge the evidence. The dissenter though, found that the case did not meet the Lucero L. standard for finding a decision based on the accounts of a child who does not know truth from false.

     The justices first found that the hearsay statements made by a truth-incompetent child, could be admissible, but should not to be used as the sole basis of the case unless there was some type of special sign of reliability. Here, I.C''s father contended that his daughters statements did not have that special indication, so her allegations shouldn't have been used as the determining factor in the case. The justices also found that the lower courts didn’t use the proper test for reliability, and that even though her statements were certainly spontaneous, they lacked reliability. The courts agreed that there were not any signs of coaching or manipulation from an adult, but they noted the lower courts didn’t take into account her entire record when establishing reliability. In the eyes of the California Supreme Court Justices' it was just as likely that I.C was having a flashback from the altercation with the neighbor, and somehow confused that person with her father, as it was for I.C's statements to be true. Lastly, the panel had decided the opinion of the child welfare expert was not conclusive, since he never saw I.C in person, and only saw video footage of her allegations. Also, that the expert himself noted some of what she was saying was completely made up. All facts considered, the panel reversed the opinion of the first district and reunited the father with his children.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of H. William Edgar are dedicated to the practice of Family law and juvenile dependency matters. We have offices in Riverside, Temecula, Anaheim and Palm Desert. Committed to helping you get the results that your family deserves. Contact billedgar@billedgarlaw.com 951-684-6885 or EdgarFamilyLaw.com

References:

16 Witkins, Summary of Cal. Law (11th ed. 2017) Juvenile Court Law, § 306 et seq.

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