The right to refuse depositions granted to victims of crimes in the 2008 proposition known as Marsy’s Law does not also apply to civil proceedings between two people simultaneously involved in a criminal case, a California appellate panel ruled.
The decision overturned a ruling from Riverside Superior Judge Sean Lafferty, to the favor of Riverside’s Bartell, Hensel & Gressley’s client.
Lafferty had ruled that Joanne Slaieh had the right to refuse a deposition in a divorce action she started against her husband in 2017.
Nabeel Slaieh was arrested on allegations of stalking and making criminal threats against Joanne in 2020.
Marsy’s Law was the result of a 2008 proposition. It changed the California Constitution to grant 17 specific rights to crime victims and their families.
The fifth right provided was the right “to refuse an interview, deposition or discovery request by the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant, and to set reasonable conditions on the conduct of any such interview to which the victim consents.”
When Nabeel filed a notice of deposition against Joanne, she argued that her status as a victim in the criminal case granted her the right to refuse under Marsy’s Law.
Joanne argued that a provision of the law, which says “a victim… may enforce the rights enumerated… in any trial or appellate court with jurisdiction over the case as a matter of right,” meant the victim’s rights could be enforced in civil and family courts as well.
Nabeel argued that Marsy’s Law applies in criminal actions only.
Lafferty ruled that the deposition provision in Marsy’s Law applies to civil matters, because “depositions generally are not permitted in criminal cases,” and “what is the utility of this right if there’s already a protection of criminal matters?” according to the appellate ruling.
Lafferty also stated that if Nabeel couldn’t question Joanne’s credibility through a deposition in the criminal case, it wasn’t fair that Nabeel could do so in a civil matter, according to the appellate ruling.
The appellate justices found that Marsy’s Law was created to change only the criminal justice process.
“It is necessary that the laws of California relating to the criminal justice process be amended,” the section of the California Constitution changed by the law reads.
The initiative continually said its rights were to victims of the “criminal justice system,” and relating to the “criminal justice process,” the panel found.
The law also includes multiple terms that are specific to criminal proceedings, such as “victim,” “arrest,” “prosecuting agency,” sentence,” incarceration” and “parole.” The law did not reference civil proceedings anywhere.
Joanne’s argument that “any trial or appellate court” meant civil and family courts, was undercut by the next phrase, “with jurisdiction over the case as a matter of right.”
The appellate court found that “the case” meant the criminal proceeding involving the victim and defendant, indicating that the whole sentence only included criminal courts.
“While Section 28 protects Joanne from being deposed or interviewed 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,” the panel concluded.
Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Two, Associate Justice Marsha Slough wrote the opinion, which was joined by Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez and Associate Justice Frank Menetrez.
Riverside Superior Judge Sean Lafferty presided.
Riverside Superior Court did not appear.
Superior court case number SWD1701434.
Appellate case number E077534.
Watch the oral argument here.
Read the ruling here.[/wlm_private]