Court Cases By State - California

Court Cases by California

In re J.R v. D.R., 2010 App. Unpub. LEXIS  9496 ( App. 2010)

Child has unspecified mental retardation and suspected fetal alcohol syndrome. Child’s father did not cooperate with CPS and so his parental rights were terminated.

Manuel O. v. , 2006 WL 862951 ( Ct. App. 2006)

The court denied reunification services to the father of child with fetal alcohol syndrome because it found the father failed to protect his children from their mother’s alcohol abuse. His parental rights were terminated based on a law that restricts reunification in cases where reunification of siblings of the child in question has been terminated for a specific reason, and nothing has been done by the parent to rectify the situation that led to that termination. The Juvenile court denied reunification services to the father with respect to these children on the basis of their mother’s alcohol abuse, but the grounds for the removal of the other siblings was domestic violence and not alcoholism. The order denying reunification services was reversed.

John R. v. Superior Court of the , 2005 WL 2135247 (Cal. Ct. App. 2005)

Child was removed from parents due to concerns about the mother’s inability to care for the child and the father’s inability to protect child from neglect. The mother could not provide adequate care because she had FAS and other mental health problems. The court terminated father’s rights due to his inability to rectify, through counseling and other services, his failure to provide for the child’s basic needs, his violent tendencies, his failure to understand the severity of the mother’s illness and his interference with mother’s psychological treatment. Father often left child with mother and in one such case the child was injured and in another child was allowed to wander the streets alone, wearing only a diaper.

In re Andrews
52 P. 2d 656, 28 Cal. 4th 1234, 124 Cal. Rptr. 473 (2002)

Andrews was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He sought to overturn his sentence on the ground that he had been denied the effective assistance of counsel. Andrews argued that his trial attorneys had failed to introduce mitigating evidence on a variety of issues, including the possibility that he had FAE.

In this post-conviction proceeding, Andrews offered the testimony of a psychiatrist that Andrews "might have suffered from Fetal Alcohol Effect." (52 P. 2d at 680).

The majority concluded for a variety of reasons that the trial attorneys acted reasonably in not offering more mitigating evidence. The justifications relied on by the court, however, all were related to other forms of mitigating evidence. The court explained that Andrews had failed to tell his attorneys about his reform school and prison experiences (another possible mitigating facto), that much of the mitigating evidence would have been from fellow prisoners with criminal records, that raising certain issues, would have allowed the prosecution to offer evidence of Andrews other crimes, and that Andrews did not want to involve his family. Only the latter was relevant to FAS, and there clearly were ways it could have been raised. It appears that, as in other cases, the majority mentioned the FAS factor but then focussed its opinion on other mitigating issues, losing track of the FAS problem.

California Restaurant Association v. City of Los Angeles
192 Cal. App. 3d 405, 237 Cal. Rptr. 415 (Cal. Ct. App. 1987)

Los Angeles enacted a city ordinance requiring that restaurants and bars post a sign warning that consumption of alcoholic beverages during pregnancy can cause birth defects. The state association of restaurants challenged the validity of the law. The court concluded that the ordinance was valid.

The ordinance contained the following finding:

"[R]ecent research indicates that alcohol consumption during pregnancy may cause irreversible adverse effects on the development of a fetus, resulting in birth defects including mental retardation, facial abnormalities and other defects involving heart and bone structure."

(192 Cal. App. 3d at 407-08).

People v. Arias
13 Cal. 4th 92, 913 P. 2d 980, 51 Cal. Rptr. 7770 (1996)

Arias was convicted of murder and the jury sentenced him to death. He moved to modify that sentence, and pointed to a number of mitigating factors, including "possible fetal alcohol syndrome." The trial court denied the motion on the ground that the aggravating circumstances of the crime "far outweigh any mitigating circumstances." 913 P. 2d at 1043.

On appeal the California Supreme Court held that the trial judge, in resolving that motion, was not required to discuss the specifics of the mitigating evidence.

People v. Michael A.
2003 WL 2240513 (Cal. App. 5th)

This is a juvenile proceeding against Michael A., then 13 or 14. At the request of the defense, the court granted a continuance so that a psychologist could determine if Michael was competent to understand the proceedings and cooperate with counsel.

The psychologist concluded that there was a gross inability to assist counsel. The bases of the conclusion included the fact that Michael had been diagnosed with FAS.

The trial court, without holding a hearing, ruled that Michael was competent to stand trial. The appellate court reversed, holding that the trial court was required to hold a hearing on Michael's competency to stand trial.

People v. Michael F.
2003 WL 23096999 (Cal. App. 3 Dist.)

The opinion describes a long history of sexual offenses or misconduct beginning when Michael F. was three, and continuing until the current proceeding, which occurred when he was 17.

People v. Ray
13 Cal. 4th 313, 914 P. 2d 846, 52 Cal. Rptr. 2d 296 (1996)

Ray was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. At the sentencing hearing Ray offered testimony by a Dr. Samuel Benson, a psychiatrist specializing in psychopharmacology. Benson tested Ray's brain functioning with an EEG and a CAT scan. Based on the results, and unspecified information obtained from interviews and school and medical records, Benson concluded that Ray had a number of different conditions, including FAS. Benson said the overall diagnosis was "organic personality syndrome." 13 Cal. 4th at 332.

This diagnosis played no role in the issues on appeal. It is not clear how the prosecution responded to this evidence.

People v. Roybal
19 Cal. 4th 481, 79 Cal. Rptr. 487 (1999)

Roybal was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

California law provides that in a capital case it is a mitigating factor if the crime was committed while the defendant "was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance." Cal. Penal Code section 190.3(d).

The trial judge instructed the jury that "The phrase 'mental or emotional disturbance' includes fetal alcohol syndrome . . . ." 79 Cal. Rptr. 513. The judge later instructed the jury that a mental or emotional disturbance was only a mitigating factor under subsection (d) if it was "extreme." The California Supreme Court upheld that instruction. In doing so it stressed that even a non extreme disturbance was also a mitigating factor under subsection (k) of the same provision. 19 Cal. Rptr. at 523-24.

In re Sahvanna
2003 WL 231302 (Cal. App. 3 Dist.)

In this proceeding to terminate the parental rights of the father of several children, the court noted that most of the children had symptoms of FAS, "including broad foreheads, eyes set far apart, developmental delays, and the children were small for their ages." 2003 WL 231302 at *1.

A social worker involved in the case concluded that the FAS symptoms would might make it more difficult to locate an adoptive home. 2003 WL at *6. However, subsequently two of the children were placed in a prospective adoptive home.

Toni D. v. Superior Court
2002 WL 1943651 (Cal. App. 5 Dist.)

The county department of social services filed a dependency petition, alleging that the mother (Toni D.) had been guilty of physical abuse of a child because she drank while she was pregnant with C.W.

The child was born prematurely at 26 weeks, and required oxygen and a feeding tube. A neurologist present at the birth testified that the child had a small head, which was a "direct indicator" that the child had an underdeveloped brain. The neurologist in turn attributed this to FAS. The mother had consumed two quarts of beer daily during her pregnancy, as well as using other drugs.

Under the statute relied on by the county, it was required to show that physical injury was caused by a "single act of abuse." The court held that this standard could not be met, because it was "the cumulative effects" of alcohol use, not a single drink, that had interfered with the development of C.W.'s brain.

The court suggested the county might be able to proceed under a different state statute.

Diagnosing FAS based solely on the size of a child's head, even given a mother's history of alcohol abuse, is not consistent with current medical practice.