California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) Section 350 - Interpretation

In In re Amy M. (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 849, the Court held that Welfare and Institutions Code section 350 gives a juvenile court no authority to refuse to allow a child to be called as a witness under section 341. In Amy M., the juvenile court held a dispositional hearing concerning a girl who had been molested by her father, and her younger brother, who was considered to be at risk for abuse as well. The parents argued that their due process rights had been violated when the juvenile court precluded their eight-year-old son from testifying. the child's medical examiner testified that the child was under significant psychological stress and would suffer additional emotional harm if he testified. (Id. at p. 864.) The child's counsel did not intend to call the boy to testify. the juvenile court weighed the respective concerns and ruled that it did not make sense for the child to be in court. This court reversed, concluding that the juvenile court's refusal to permit appellant to call the eight-year-old as a witness violated due process. The Court found that, "Neither was there in this case any substitute for the child's testimony which might have satisfied due process. . . . Neither was there any report containing the child's statements which could have substituted for his testimony." (In re Amy M., supra, 232 Cal.App.3d at p. 865.) The Court also observed that had the therapist testified "that the child would not be able to testify without substantial trauma, the juvenile court could conceivably have found that the child was an unavailable witness." (Id. at p. 866.) Furthermore, the minor's parents had not been granted access to the child before the hearing. Accordingly, the parents in Amy M. had no means of presenting the child's statements or opinions other than through his live testimony. (Id. at p. 868.) The Court reversed the jurisdictional order because the court could not conclude that the failure to permit the child witness to testify was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.