Release Date:  September 30, 2019
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Oral argument in People v. Arredondo set for October 2

The California Supreme Court will hold oral argument Wednesday to consider the appeal of a child molester who claims that the trial court violated his rights by preventing him from making eye contact with his victims as they testified.

At issue in the case of People v. Arredondo is whether the judge’s decision to use a computer monitor to block the direct view of the defendant from the girls he molested as they testified violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has joined the case to encourage a decision rejecting the child molester’s claim.

In 2015, Jason Arredondo, who had a previous conviction for child molestation, was found guilty of repeatedly molesting his girlfriend’s daughters for eight years beginning in 2005 when the girls were eight, six, and five years old. The molestations stopped in 2013 after he molested one of the girl’s friends when she was visiting. The friend reported the incident to a school counselor who reported Arredondo to police. While all of the girls had been severely traumatized by the years of abuse, the oldest suffered from emotional and psychological problems that required that she be held back in school.

At trial, when the oldest victim, then 18, was unable to testify with Arredondo staring at her, the judge had a computer monitor, which was already attached to the witness stand, raised slightly to prevent her from seeing his face. Arredondo objected on the ground that blocking his view of his victims’ faces violated the Constitution’s confrontation clause, but the objection was overruled, and all three victims testified with the raised monitor. The jury convicted him on 16 counts of child molestation, and the judge sentenced him to 33 years and an indeterminate term of 275 years to life in prison.

A year later a divided state court of appeal upheld Arredondo’s conviction, but ordered resentencing on 3 of the 16 counts. He appealed that ruling and in 2017, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear his Sixth Amendment claim regarding the computer monitor.

Last December, CJLF filed a scholarly amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief arguing that the minor accommodation made by the judge to allow the victims’ testimony did not violate Arredondo’s rights. Foundation Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton noted that a defendant’s right to physically confront his accuser is not absolute. Her brief pointed out that U. S. Supreme Court decisions have allowed alternatives to face-to-face confrontation, particularly in cases involving sexually abused children. These alternatives include having victims testify in another room on closed-circuit television. California law goes further, allowing sexual assault victims 15 years old or younger to submit videotaped testimony, and extends this protection to victims of spousal rape, or traumatic injury regardless of the victim’s age. The minor accommodation made for Arredondo’s victims did not prevent him from seeing them, hearing their testimony, or from cross-examination by his attorney. It simply blocked him from staring at their faces.

“The victims in this case, after years of sexual abuse, had good reason to be very afraid of their attacker,” said Stapleton. “The importance of helping these victims participate in the trial far outweighs the minor accommodation made by the judge in this case,” she added.

CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.