Admissibility of Hearsay Evidence in a Social Study Report

Welfare and Institutions Code Section 355 provides that hearsay evidence contained in a social study report may be admissible and constitute competent evidence upon which a finding of dependency jurisdiction may be based. ( 355, subd. (b).) If, however, a party timely objects to the admission of specific hearsay evidence contained in such a study, that evidence "shall not be sufficient by itself to support a jurisdictional finding or any ultimate fact upon which a jurisdictional finding is based," unless one of several exceptions applies. ( 355, subd. (c)(1).) The relevant exception here is for hearsay by a minor under 12 years of age who is the subject of the jurisdictional hearing. ( 355, subd. (c)(1)(B).) Hearsay by such a minor is admissible in a dependency proceeding unless the objecting party "establishes that the statement is unreliable because it was the product of fraud, deceit, or undue influence." ( 355, subd. (c)(1)(B).) In In re Lucero L. (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1227, the California Supreme Court considered whether Welfare and Institutions Code section 355 controls when the hearsay statement comes from a minor who is deemed incompetent to testify because he or she lacks the capacity to distinguish between truth and falsehood. In such a case, the court held that, section 355 notwithstanding, due process concerns require that the dependency court find that "'the time, content and circumstances of the statement provide sufficient indicia of reliability'" in order for the statement to form the exclusive basis for sustaining jurisdiction over the minor. (Lucero L., supra, 22 Cal.4th at p. 1248; see id. at pp. 1250-1251 (conc. opn. of Kennard, J.) out-of-court statements of a child who is subject to a jurisdictional hearing and disqualified as a witness because of the lack of capacity to distinguish between truth and falsehood at the time of testifying may not form the sole basis for a jurisdictional finding unless they show special indicia of reliability.) So long as the minor's hearsay statements are deemed sufficiently reliable, corroboration is not necessary. (Lucero L., supra, 22 Cal.4th at pp. 1248-1249.)