Monday, March 20, 2023

A.H. v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - March 17, 2023)

This is doctrinally merely a case about jurisdiction; in particular, whether California retains jurisdiction over dependency matters when it initially exercises jurisdiction (without objection by another state) even though the other state (here, Texas) says that it might reassert jurisdiction if the parents subsequently move back to that state. The answer is: Yes.

But factually, the case provides an insight into what sometimes happens behind closed doors. Here, in a motel in Buena Park.

The facts are as follows, with a trigger warning that it's about how some parents punished their kids:

"On Monday, August 24, 2020, at about 1:21 a.m., Buena Park police were dispatched to a motel room for a child abuse investigation. The police saw bruising and welts on the boy’s face, as well as on his arms and shoulders. The pattern of bruises indicated he had been hit with the studded side of a belt. The boy said he had fallen off a swing three weeks earlier; he later said he had fallen while running. The boy initially did not want to show his back to police, who eventually saw bruises on his back, legs, and torso. It was later discovered the older girl had multiple bruises on her legs. 

Mother said she had “whooped” her son two nights ago, but nothing had happened that night. Mother said she disciplined her son for being disrespectful. Mother said she was so enraged that while she was hitting the boy with the belt, she wasn’t paying attention to the marks on his body. When asked about the injuries to his face, Mother said she did not know about those injuries, and she was “just seeing that.” Husband told police the boy was playing outside and fell, causing the injuries to his arms and face. The family had been staying at the motel since August 1, 2020. . . .

During his CAST interview, the boy initially stated he sustained the injuries when he fell and was “nervous” about speaking about what happened. He explained he was instructed “not to say what goes on in the house cause they don’t want to go to court.” The boy said when he gets hit with a belt, “I can’t scream cause the people next door will call the police.” During the “worse whooping” a few weeks earlier, he was hit in the leg with a belt until blood came out. The boy explained that if Mother or Husband ever found he was talking about the whoopings: “They might whoop me.” The boy eventually admitted the marks on his face were from Mother hitting him with a belt. When shown a picture of the marks on his back, he teared up. The boy said Mother had hit him with a belt on his back until Husband grabbed her and told her “that’s enough.” Mother told him that if the police ever came to speak to him that she and Husband need “to be present because bad things can happen when the police are there.”

During her CAST interview, the older girl said she was asleep when her brother got whooped that night. She stated someone called the police because they saw he “had owies everywhere.” The older girl said there were things she had been told not to say. She stated that if she disclosed what happened, “Momma is going to whoop me some more.” The older girl disclosed she would scream when she gets whooped. She said Mother hits the children with a black jump rope that she twists in her hand. The older girl had marks on her legs, back, behind and forehead.

The boy later disclosed to Caregiver other multiple instances of abuse. The boy said that he and the older girl “had to take their whoopings in silence. They were both made to stand in the comer for hours at a time and not permitted to sit. They were withheld food if they were on punishment.” He disclosed “this went on for days at a time.” The boy stated “his mom would whip him so hard on his hamstrings that he couldn’t lay down to sleep at night.”

The boy talked about one incident where he “was hurting really bad and he moved his foot so she taped his feet to the floor. She continued to whoop him but he said that he broke free and started running. He said he was going to run to his grandma[’]s house but his mom got in the car and caught him.” The boy said Mother went to the store and bought “super glue. She put it on my feet [and] my hands and stuck all of them to the floor and then whoooped me. She used a knife to free one of my hands and then gave me the knife to free my other hand and my feet.” He disclosed another incident where Mother “strapped him to the couch with tape, knocked down the curtains and rod . . . and then proceeded to whoop him with the rod.” The boy said this punishment “‘was the worst one ever’” because Mother “laid him flat out on the couch face down and sat on him for one hour.” The boy disclosed that “he couldn’t breathe.” 

The boy disclosed that on the night of the parent’s arrest, Mother “started off trying to whoop him but he was moving around too much. She told him that she was going to kill him. The mother instructed [Husband] to take over and stated ‘now you’re really going to die.’ The boy said that [Husband] was taking it too far and he was screaming to his mom ‘help me he’s going to kill me’ but she was ‘just standing there watching.’ He said that he could feel his hits ‘all the way to my bones.’”

The boy was eight years old. The girl was five.

Notice all the classic attributes: the kids are super reluctant to tell what happened, the parents have told them to be silent, etc. etc.

Different people can (and do) have different takes on corporal punishment. For example, my practices as a parent differs from those of my parents. Nonetheless, one advantage of a bright-line rule is the lack of a need to figure out how much hitting is too much. Clearly, we'd all agree that the hitting here went way too far, whether in California, Texas, or anywhere else. Having to not make those decisions on the fly is at least one advantage of a categorical approach on the subject.

You generally hate to see kids taken away from their parents. But here, not so much.