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The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA)

In California, certain legal “privileges” exist. For example, attorney-client privilege, spousal-privilege, doctor-patient privilege, psychotherapist-patient privilege, and several others.

A legal privilege typically prevents someone from discussing something without another’s consent or permits someone to stay quiet about certain communications. Because of attorney-client privilege, for instance, neither you nor your lawyer can be required to disclose your communications with each other – unless you or your attorney told someone else about the secrets you shared, which typically destroys the privilege.

Exceptions to Privileges

However, California also has the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) which requires “psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, professional clinical counselors, alcohol and drug counselors, and other health professionals to report to law enforcement” “child abuse, neglect, [or sexual exploitation].”

In 2014, the Legislature expanded CANRA to bring possessing or viewing child pornography into the definition of “sexual exploitation.” Under CANRA, failure to report such constitutes a misdemeanor and also allows revocation of one’s professional license.

Case Challenging CANRA

In Mathews v. Becerra (December 26, 2019, S240156), two licensed marriage and family therapists and one certified alcohol and drug counselor argued that they should not have to disclose their patient’s possession or use of child pornography to law enforcement because CANRA violates the psychotherapist-patient privilege and constitutional Right to Privacy protected by the California and U.S. Constitutions.

Matthews and the other professionals involved had experience treating patients with sexual disorders, addiction, and compulsions. They alleged many or their patients posed no threat to society. They also claimed CANRA was counterproductive to its intended purpose because it prevents treatable and curable people from seeking professional help due to fear of disclosure and arrest.

The Attorney General filed a demurrer in Matthews’ case, meaning they asked the court to throw out the case before listening to any evidence, on the basis Matthews failed to assert a valid claim. The initial court granted the demurrer. Matthews then appealed to the California Court of Appeal; the Court of Appeal affirmed the previous decision granting the demurrer.

Matthews then appealed to the California Supreme Court. On December 26, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled Matthews had originally made a valid claim, and that the first court should have received evidence on the matter and rendered a decision on the merits. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the first court to receive evidence and render a decision on the merits. The “merits” in question are, essentially, the question:

Does CANRA actually further, or undermine, its intended purpose of protecting children from sexual exploitation?

The Importance of Appeals

The case above exemplifies why the appeals process is so important!

If the trial court rules against you, you can file an appeal. If the appellate court also rules against you, you can appeal to the California Supreme Court. Even if the trial court and Court of Appeal both agree with each other, against you, that does not mean the California Supreme Court will. If the California Supreme Court also rules against you, you may be able to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Principles We Discussed CAN Apply to You

If you are facing criminal charges regarding CANRA, the existence of legal privilege, an appeal, or any other criminal defense matter, please contact Ivan O.B. Morse and Ryan L. Smith for a free consultation. We can be reached at 925-525-5307 or online at www.IvanMorseLaw.com.

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