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Case of the Month Archive

May 2022

Protections set forth in the Victim's Bill of Rights Act do not extend to family law proceedings. . .

 

In a reversal, the Fourth District held that the trial court erred by denying husband's motion to compel wife's deposition in a dissolution proceeding where a criminal complaint was filed against husband for stalking and making criminal threats against wife and where wife was attempting to invoke a victim's right to refuse a deposition under the Victims' Bill of Rights Act (Marsy's Law).

 

Slaieh v. Superior Court of Riverside County (Slaieh)

(April 8, 2022)

Court of Appeal 4 Civ E077534 (Div 2), __Cal.Rptr__, 22 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 3587, 2022 WL 1052622, 2022 FA 2029, per Slough, J. (Ramirez, P.J. and Menetrez, J., concurring). Riverside County: Lafferty, J., petition for writ of mandate granted. For Petitioner (Nabeel Slaieh): Lara Jayne Gressley, Donald J. Bartell, Donald J. Hensel. For Real Party of Interest (Joanne Slaieh): Andrew Lee Westover. CFLP §D.28.5.

 

Joanne Slaieh and Nabeel Slaieh were married in 2014 and had one child together, who was born in 2010. In June 2017, Joanne filed for divorce, seeking joint legal and physical custody of the child as well as child support and spousal support. In March 2020, Nabeel was charged with stalking Joanne and making criminal threats against her. Joanne obtained a civil restraining order against Nabeel in the dissolution proceeding.

In March 2021, Nabeel served Joanne with a notice of deposition in the dissolution proceeding. Joanne objected to the deposition under CCP §2025.410 and Article 1, section 28 of the California Constitution. Known as the Victims' Bill of Rights Act (or Marsy's Law), section 28 provides enumerated rights to victims of crimes, including the right "'[t]o refuse an interview, deposition, or discovery request by the defendant' in a criminal proceeding." Joanne argued that her status as a victim in the criminal case against Nabeel permitted her to refuse to be deposed in the dissolution proceeding. Nabeel filed a motion to compel Joanne's deposition, arguing that Marsy's Law applies only in criminal actions and "that allowing Joanne to use its protections as a shield in a dissolution action she had initiated would violate his due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments."

On June 7, 2021, the trial court denied Nabeel's motion to compel Joanne's deposition, reasoning that "if Nabeel couldn't question Joanne's credibility through a deposition in the pending criminal case, it wasn't fair that he could 'be allowed [to do so] in a civil matter, given the rights that are at stake.'" Nabeel filed a petition for writ of mandate and the Fourth District reversed.

 

Matter of first impression. . .
In this matter of first impression, the Fourth District found that the enumerated victims' rights in Article 1, section 28 of the California Constitution do not apply in civil proceedings, only adult criminal and juvenile proceedings. The justices began the discussion by noting that the Court of Appeal reviews a ruling on a motion to compel a deposition for abuse of discretion, and where, as here, the ruling rests on the interpretation of a constitutional provision, a judge commits abuse of discretion by misconstruing the provision.

 

Marsy's Law Does Not Apply to Civil Proceedings. . .
On appeal, Nabeel argued that the trial judge misinterpreted Marsy's Law by concluding that the deposition provision applies to civil proceedings. Specifically, Nabeel argued that the plain language of the deposition provision, and Marsy's law in general, "convey the provision applies only to the criminal proceeding in which the protected individual is the victim. And, because Joanne is the petitioner in the divorce proceeding…the provision does not apply to her." The justices agreed, noting that an expressed purpose of the initiative was "'provid[ing] victims with rights to justice and due process'" and further noting that "Section 28 explicitly states that it functions as an amendment to 'the laws of California relating to the criminal justice process.'" The panel found it significant that there was no reference, explicit or implied, to civil proceedings anywhere in Proposition 9, and concluded that the omission was deliberate and the electorate did not intend for the enumerated rights to apply in a civil setting.

Accordingly, the justices held that while Section 28 protects Joanne from being deposed by Nabeel in the pending criminal case, "it does not protect her from being deposed by him in their divorce action, where both parties are entitled to discovery on disputed issues that fall outside the realm of criminal justice-matters of community property, child and spousal support, custody, and visitation." For this reason, the Fourth District directed the trial court to vacate its order denying Nabeel's motion to compel Joanne's deposition.

 

 

COMMENT:

  

The Victims' Bill of Rights Act (Marsy's Law), named after a young woman who was murdered in 1983, was adopted by a voter initiative Proposition 9 in 2008 with an aim to "address a number of ways in which the criminal justice system inadequately protected the victims of crime." (People v. Hannon (2016) 5 Cal.App.5th 94, 99). The specific provision at issue in this case (the "deposition provision" of Section 28, subdivision (b)(5)) was only one of several ways in which Proposition 9 meant to address the grievances regarding the criminal justice system's treatment of victims and their families. In addition to the constitutional amendment to Article 1, section 28 of the California Constitution, Proposition 9 also contained statutory amendments to the Penal Code, mostly relating to parole.

 

 

 
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