In re G.Z.: Lack of Substantial Evidence Can Lead to Dismissal of Your Dependency Petition
In the case of G.Z., who was the minor child of mother Kimberly, the juvenile court found that G.Z.’s injuries were the result of his mother’s neglectful acts. Kimberly appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which reversed the juvenile court’s finding based on a lack of substantial evidence and directed the juvenile court upon remand to dismiss the petition. If you have been wrongfully accused of child abuse or neglect, you need a skilled defense attorney who has experience in dependency cases. Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich are up-to-date with current case law and know the best strategies to prevent your loved ones from being taken away. Continue reading to learn how one mother was reunited with her child after a dependency petition against her was dismissed.
In June 2020, 10-month-old G.Z. was admitted to the hospital due to two older subdural hematomas (brain bleeds) and one new one. When the mother Kimberly could not explain the cause of the hematomas, a staff member suspected abuse and contacted the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). A social worker met with Kimberly and G.Z., and Kimberly explained that the hematomas were likely caused by a co-sleeping incident that led to G.Z. falling off the bed. The social worker noted no other signs that G.Z. was being abused, and all family members corroborated Kimberly’s story in their interviews, giving no indications that she was an unfit mother.
DCFS moved G.Z. to his father’s care and sought a removal order against Kimberly, which was granted due to allegations of physical abuse by an unknown perpetrator and general neglect by his mother. A few days later, DCFS filed a Welfare and Institutions Code Section 300 petition, alleging neglectful acts by Kimberly and failure to obtain timely medical treatment. At the detention hearing, Kimberly denied the allegations against her, but the juvenile court ordered G.Z. to be removed from Kimberly’s care and released to the father instead.
Several months later, at the jurisdictional and dispositional hearings, a pediatric doctor testified that there was no indication that G.Z. had suffered any sort of abuse or neglect, and that he found no signs of medical neglect by Kimberly. Defense counsel argued that DCFS failed to show that G.Z. suffered or was at risk of suffering harm from Kimberly’s conduct, requesting that the petition against her be dismissed. However, the juvenile court cited Section 355.1 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, finding true by a preponderance of the evidence that the child would not have suffered injuries except for the unreasonable or neglectful acts by Kimberly.
Dismissal of Petition
In response, Kimberly appealed to the California Court of Appeal. She contended firstly that the evidence was insufficient to support the court’s finding that her neglectful acts caused her son’s subdural hematomas. Secondly, she argued that her due process rights were violated when the court relied on Welfare and Institutions Code Section 355.1’s rebuttable presumption in finding neglect when it never notified its intent to do so until all parties had argued and submitted the case.
The appellate court sided with Kimberly. It agreed that there was no substantial evidence in the record that the subdural hematomas were caused by abuse or neglect by Kimberly. Rather, there were alternative explanations for the hematomas such as G.Z.’s pre-existing medical conditions. It was DCFS’s burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that non-accidental trauma was the cause of injury, and it failed to do so. Additionally, the appellate court agreed that DCFS failed to allege it would rely on Section 355.1 and notify Kimberly of its intent to do so until after all parties had argued and submitted the case. This violated Kimberly’s right to due process and therefore could not be applied. As such, the court dismissed the petition for G.Z. to be removed from Kimberly’s care.
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