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Name: In re I.C.
Case #: S229276
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 04/26/2018

Appellate court opinion affirming jurisdiction orders was reversed where the juvenile court based its jurisdictional finding on hearsay of truth-incompetent minor without “special indicia of reliability” required by In re Lucero L. The juvenile court sustained a petition alleging that the minor, then three years old, had been sexually abused by her father. The evidence showed that the minor had been previously molested by an eight-year-old neighbor, who put his penis and a toy train in the minor’s vagina. Two months later, the three-year-old minor said that her father had “put his penis on me.” The minor also told the social worker that her father “put a train on me and put a flower on me.” Father denied the molest, and father’s 21-year-old daughter said she had never been touched inappropriately nor had she seen her father touch the minor inappropriately. The social worker’s report stated that the minor did not know the difference between telling the truth and a lie. The juvenile court acknowledged that the evidence consisted of hearsay statements of a three-year-old that were unclear, confusing, and not credible. However, the juvenile court sustained the petition, confirming that it based its ruling on the hearsay statements of the minor and the circumstances under which the statements were made. The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court’s orders. In a dissent, Justice Stewart noted that the juvenile court’s own concerns about the reliability of the minor’s uncorroborated hearsay statements demonstrated there was not substantial evidence that met the Lucero L. mandate (In re Lucero L. (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1227). The California Supreme Court granted review to determine whether, under the rule established in Lucero L., statements made by a three-year-old child under these circumstances provided a sufficient basis to determine that she had been sexually abused by her father. The court reversed the judgment of the appellate court. In Lucero L., the court instructed juvenile courts to look for “special indicia of reliability” when considering basing jurisdictional findings on the hearsay statements of truth-incompetent minors. Although a child’s account may reflect uncertainty and contradictions, it may still warrant the court’s trust. However, here the child had recently been molested by an eight-year-old child, and saw that child just before making the allegations against father. Her statements about father’s abuse were similar to her descriptions of the abuse by the child. Her descriptions contained inaccuracies and inconsistencies throughout. The juvenile court stated it was basing its jurisdictional finding entirely on the minor’s statements, but did not make an express finding that the child’s statements bore special indicia of reliability as required by Lucero L., nor does the record supply an adequate basis to support an implied finding. Since the juvenile court lacked the “special indicia of reliability” on which to base its jurisdictional finding, reversal was required.