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Name: In re N.C.
Case #: A146637
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 11/02/2016

The Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (CASE Act) applies in wardship proceedings. N.C., a 17 year-old victim of human trafficking, was arrested on two separate occasions for prostitution, both times before any actual exchange of money or sex acts. Wardship petitions were filed alleging prostitution in violation of Penal Code section 647, subdivision (b). N.C. moved for dismissal under the CASE Act. The juvenile court denied her motion, reasoning that the Act did not apply to wardship proceedings and that, even if it did, the alleged offenses did not qualify because they did not involve “commercial sexual acts.” The juvenile court found both prostitution allegations true and N.C. appealed. Held: Reversed. Evidence Code section 1161, added by the CASE Act, provides: “Evidence that a victim of human trafficking . . . has engaged in any commercial sexual act as a result being a victim of human trafficking is inadmissible to prove the victim’s criminal liability for the commercial sexual act.” While a wardship petition does not give rise to criminal liability and is not considered a criminal proceeding (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 203), the same rules of evidence generally apply (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 701), including Evidence Code section 1161. Furthermore, protecting minors was one of the “chief purposes” of the CASE Act. (See Pen. Code, § 236.1, subd. (c).) The juvenile court erred by finding the CASE Act inapplicable. The court also noted that effective January 1, 2017, section 647, subdivision (b) will no longer apply to minors. (See Senate Bill No. 1322 (2015-2016 Reg. Sess.) ch. 654, § 1.)

Evidence Code section 1161 (added by the CASE Act) applies to violations of Penal Code section 647, subdivision (b). The juvenile court reasoned the section 1161 does not apply in prostitution cases where the victim of human trafficking did not actually engage in sexual conduct based on receiving anything of value because no “commercial sexual act” occurred in this situation. While Penal Code section 236.1 defines “commercial sex act” as one involving the actual exchange of money or things of value and prostitution does not require proof of an actual exchange, the Court of Appeal applied the rules of statutory construction to conclude that section 1161 must be read more expansively. Section 1161’s protections were clearly intended to apply to prostitution prosecutions and protecting victims of human trafficking against prostitution convictions was one of the Act’s main objectives. The trial court’s interpretation of section 1161 would defeat the general purpose of the Act and lead to absurd results.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: