People v. Ryan A. (In re Ryan A.)

Docket NumberF085649
Decision Date26 October 2023
PartiesIn re RYAN A., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. RYAN A., Defendant and Appellant. THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Merced County No 21JL-00001A. Mark V. Bacciarini, Judge.

Aurora Elizabeth Bewicke, under appointment by the Court of Appeal for Defendant and Appellant.

Rob Bonta, Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Louis M. Vasquez and Jesica Y. Gonzalez Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.




In December 2020, appellant Ryan A., then 17 years old, was arrested for allegedly molesting a young child who was in the foster care of his mother. In January 2021, the Merced County District Attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, subdivision (a),[1] alleging one count of committing a lewd or lascivious act upon a child under the age of 14 years, in violation of Penal Code section 288, subdivision (a). Appellant denied the allegation.

In December 2022, following a contested jurisdictional hearing, the trial court sustained the allegation. In January 2023, the court declared appellant a ward of the court; ordered him confined for 23 days in the Juvenile Justice Correctional Complex, with credit for time served; and placed him under the supervision of a probation officer, with various terms and conditions. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal.

During the jurisdictional hearing, appellant repeatedly sought to introduce testimonial and documentary evidence that originated from the dependency case-related investigation into the molestation allegation by officials with Merced County Health and Human Services Agency (agency) and Merced County Sheriff's Department.[2] The trial court excluded the majority of the evidence sought under Welfare and Institutions Code section 827[3] and Evidence Code section 1040. Appellant claims the evidence was relevant and its exclusion violated his federal and state rights to due process, truth-in-evidence, confrontation, and a fair trial.[4]

The People respond that forfeiture applies to claims not raised in the trial court, including appellant's constitutional claims; appellant's rights were not violated; and if there was any error, it was not prejudicial.

Although not acknowledged by either party, the record indicates a petition for disclosure of juvenile records was filed in this case pursuant to section 827 and the matter was referred to the dependency court for resolution months prior to the jurisdictional hearing, in accordance with state procedural requirements. (In re Jenkins (2023) 14 Cal.5th 493, 504-505, 524 (Jenkins) [state statutory- and rule-based "in camera review procedures provide the 'proper mechanism to resolve a defense Brady disclosure request involving information in a juvenile file'"], citing &quoting J.E. v. Superior Court (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 1329, 1338 (J.E.).)[5] As we shall discuss, the petition process provided for under section 827 and California Rules of Court, rule 5.552,[6] vests in the juvenile court the exclusive authority to grant or deny access to material from confidential juvenile records (Jenkins, supra, at p. 524, citing J.E., supra, at pp. 1337-1338), and this process serves to protect the right to a fair trial, including the right to disclosure of exculpatory and impeachment evidence under Brady (Jenkins, supra, at p. 525, citing J.E., supra, at pp. 1336, 1338-1339). Appellant fails to show that a section 827 petition for disclosure was granted by the dependency court, to which it appears the matter was referred, and that the trial court thereafter improperly excluded evidence, in contravention of the dependency court's order. In the absence of an order under section 827 permitting disclosure, appellant fails to meet his burden of demonstrating error by the trial court in excluding the evidence during the jurisdictional hearing and we affirm the judgment.[7]

I. Prosecution Case
A. G.

At the time of the jurisdictional hearing, G.L. was eight years old and about to enter third grade. She was living with A., whom she identified as her mother, and her four brothers, D., X., E. and J.[8] Prior to living with A., G. lived with M.; M.'s son, appellant; and her older brothers, D. and X. She was sometimes alone with appellant and "[h]e did bad things."

G. described one incident that occurred when she was lying down in her bedroom at M.'s house watching TV. Appellant closed the door, pulled his pants down, and pulled her pants down. Appellant was next to her on the bed and he moved her on top of him. She testified, "He started doing gross things, things I don't want to talk about." She then described feeling his private part touching her private part, and said she knew "he was going to do gross things." When asked by the prosecutor to mark the areas she was referring to as private parts on diagrams, she drew circles indicating her genitals and appellant's genitals. G. testified appellant did those things to her "[a] lot" before she moved from M.'s house to A.'s house.

On cross-examination, G. testified that she did not like living at M.'s house because of appellant, and that M. spanked her "[a] lot" with a belt or a "chancla." She also testified that D. saw what appellant did to her and X. saw "a little bit." G. explained she knew D. saw them and when he later asked her what was going on, she told him. X. also told G. that he saw them and he described to her what he saw. G. testified that after D. left M.'s house for A.'s house, he told A. what happened.[9] G. subsequently moved to A.'s house, too, and she then told A. what happened.

G. testified that she told one person that the incident with appellant never happened. She could not recall the person's name, but her denial occurred when she was pointing to where appellant touched her on some drawings. She testified she was scared so she stated it never happened and nothing was wrong. G. did not recall speaking with a police officer, and she did not recall removing the clothing of two other foster children in the home. She denied she would remove her own clothing or remove the clothing of other children in the home.

B. D.

G.'s brother, D., was 11 years old when he testified. He said that appellant sometimes babysat during the time D., G., X., and another brother lived at M.'s house. D. testified that he saw what appellant did to G. He knew appellant had gone into G.'s room and, after the movie he was watching on TV ended, he went in G.'s room, too. He saw G. was on top of appellant and appellant's private part was out. He recalled they were both clothed and they were lying down in the bed. He ran back to his room and told X.

D. did not tell any adults that day because he was scared M. was going to hit him, but he later told J. and A. after he moved to their house. He said that M. threw a shoe at him one time, and she spanked him and his siblings with her hand and with a sandal or a "chancla."

He also described one other incident in which he saw G. and appellant lying down. D. saw appellant had G.'s pants down and he told X. to look, but they did not see anything else. D. said he finally told A. after she saw he looked worried and asked him what was wrong. He told her that he had other siblings still at M.'s house and then disclosed to A. "the bad things that happened over there."

On cross-examination, D. remembered leaving M.'s house for a short time and going to a large house, where he felt sad.[10] He remembered being interviewed by someone about what he saw and being asked to draw what he saw. He said he told the woman the bad stuff appellant did, but answered, "'I don't know,'" to some questions. D. denied he told a social worker that he did not see appellant do anything to G.

C. Law Enforcement Testimony

Detective Zambrano was the lead investigator assigned to the criminal case, but he died between completing the investigation and the jurisdictional hearing. Zambrano was assisted by Detective Martinez, who testified. Martinez did not author any reports or interview any witnesses for the criminal case, as she was not the lead detective. She recalled the sheriff's department received a phone call about a sex crime in August 2019, and she explained that a report based on the call would have been sent electronically to the detectives' division.

Martinez testified that she was present along with Deputy Ortiz for the children's forensic interviews, but she did not interview the children or write the report. She also did not recall hearing G. tell the interviewer she had been molested 100 times or respond no when asked whether something happened that bothered her. Martinez explained that if a sexual assault is acute, meaning within the past 72 hours, they would take the victim directly to the hospital for a forensic exam, but if the assault occurred outside that window, they would not do so. She was unaware what occurred between the children's forensic interviews and appellant's arrest approximately 10 months later.

II. Defense Evidence A. Social Worker

Social worker Cristal X., formerly V., was the first witness called by the defense. She invoked official information privilege under Evidence Code section 1040, as well as Welfare and Institutions Code section 827. The trial court sustained the claim of official information privilege and precluded counsel from questioning her on any investigations she conducted in her official capacity, but took judicial notice that she was a mandated reporter.

B. M.

M testified that she used to work for agencies and...

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