Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Court of Appeal Holds:
Defendant Can’t View Witness’s Sealed Juvenile Records
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday countermanded an order of the Orange Superior Court that a prosecution witness’s juvenile records be partially unsealed to permit a criminal defendant to impeach the witness’s testimony, spurning the defendant’s contention that his constitutional right of confrontation should trump the minor’s statutory right.
The defendant is Isaiah Rene Harris, accused of pimping, pandering, and the human trafficking of a minor over 16 years of age. That minor, referred to in the opinion as “S.V.,” was picked up by police at the same time as Harris and charged with making false statements to a police officer, a misdemeanor.
Yesterday’s opinion, by Justice Eileen Anderson of Div. Three, notes that a prosecutor explained that “as a general matter in this county we don’t charge juveniles with prostitution if we have a good faith belief that they have a pimp because by definition we think that makes them a human trafficking victim….”
S.V. completed a program of supervision and, pursuant to statute, the charge was dismissed and her records were sealed.
Orange Superior Court Judge Maria D. Hernandez ordered that a redacted portion of the file be released to Harris. The appeals court granted a writ of mandate requiring that the disclosure order be vacated.
“…Harris…argues that a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him outweighs a person’s interest in having his or her sealed juvenile court records remain confidential. But it is up to the Legislature to determine if, and under what circumstances, a criminal defendant may have access to a minor’s sealed juvenile court records for purposes of a criminal trial. And, it would, of course, be up to the Legislature to adopt or amend whatever statutes it deems necessary to achieve its intended purposes.”
The jurist explained:
“Under separation of powers principles, when the Legislature has enacted a statute with limited exceptions, courts may not add additional exceptions….In 2014, the Legislature enacted a statute that generally requires a juvenile court to seal a minor’s confidential delinquency file following a dismissal. The court cannot later unseal and release information in the file to others, except in eight limited circumstances for certain designated parties (e.g., the probation department)…. A third party criminal defendant is not one of the designated parties under the eight statutory exceptions.”
Moore expressed the expectation that “the trial court will make whatever rulings may be necessary to ensure a fair trial,” yet added:
“But there is simply no statutory exception that allows a juvenile court to release a minor’s delinquency file to a third party criminal defendant after that confidential file has been sealed.”
She impliedly questioned how much use the records would be to Harris by reminding to the restriction in Evidence Code §1161(b) that “[e]vidence of sexual history or history of any commercial sexual act of a victim of human trafficking...is inadmissible to attack the credibility or impeach the character of the victim in any civil or criminal proceeding.”
The case is S.V. v. Superior Court, G053903.
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