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Name: In re Brenda M.
Case #: G038857
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 03/03/2008

The juvenile court committed prejudicial error by precluding father from cross-examining witnesses as a sanction for invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege. At the jurisdiction/disposition hearing, father was ordered to testify after he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. When father refused, the court precluded him from offering any evidence or cross-examining any witnesses. The court found the petition true based on the Department’s reports, which were the only evidence presented. The appellate court found that the juvenile court erred. In In re Mark A. (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 1124, the court held that striking testimony as a sanction for invocation of the Fifth Amendment was error. In Mark A., the court concluded the error was harmless because the stricken testimony supported the court’s jurisdictional finding. However, here, the error was prejudicial because father’s counsel would have cross-examined the preparer of the reports, and it is unknown whether cross-examination would have undermined her credibility. Therefore, reversal was required.