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People v. Vang

March 6, 2009

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
CHUE VANG, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, Eugene L. Balonon, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. 05F11321).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sims, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1

An information accused defendant Chue Vang of violating Penal Code section 288, subdivision (b)(1)*fn2 (lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, accomplished by force, duress, or menace), on or about and between April 15, 2003, and December 31, 2004; the alleged victim was his niece A., aged six at the time of the offense. After trial, a jury convicted defendant of this offense. The trial court sentenced defendant to a state prison term of six years (the middle term).

Defendant contends:

(1) The trial court denied defendant his rights to due process, fundamental fairness, and confrontation under the federal and state Constitutions when it found A. competent to testify.

(2) The trial court deprived defendant of due process and a fair trial under the federal and state Constitutions by giving the jury the standard instruction on witness credibility (CALCRIM No. 226) and refusing defendant‟s proposed modification, which would have told the jury that it could reject A.‟s account if she testified inaccurately even though she did not deliberately lie.

(3) The trial court deprived defendant of due process, a fair trial, and the right to present a defense when it refused to allow defendant‟s medical expert to testify that A.‟s 11-year-old brother was physiologically capable of raping her. (4) Cumulative error compels reversal.

In the published portion of the opinion, we conclude the trial court properly refused defendant‟s proposed modification of CALCRIM No. 226. In the unpublished portion, we reject defendant‟s other contentions of error. We shall therefore affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Prosecution Case

In 2003 and 2004, defendant and A. lived with the rest of their extended family in a three-bedroom house on Cedar Springs Way in Sacramento. The household also included A.‟s father L. V., her mother N. L., her grandparents, her six siblings, and her other two uncles. Defendant slept either in the attached garage or in a trailer parked in the front yard. According to A., she slept in her parents‟ or grandparents‟ bedroom or in the living room on a sofa; other children in the family also usually slept in the living room on a sofa or on the floor. When she slept in her grandparents‟ bedroom, she shared a bed with her older brother J.

J., 13 years old at the time of trial, generally confirmed A.‟s account of the sleeping arrangements in the house, but denied ever sharing a bed with A.; according to him, she shared a bed only with their younger brothers. J. had never seen defendant in the living room while the children were sleeping there, but J. was a heavy sleeper.

On October 28, 2003, A. and her mother visited Dr. Pira Rochaanayon, a family practitioner untrained in sexual assault examinations, because A. had experienced vaginal bleeding for three weeks. They told him that A. had fallen from a bicycle. Examining her vaginal area by sight and touch alone, Dr. Rochaanayon could not detect a hymen; however, she denied sexual abuse, and he did not report it.

A., who was nine years old at the time of trial, testified that she had had a bicycle accident before her molestation which caused vaginal injury and bleeding, but it was not nearly so painful as what defendant did to her. After falling asleep on the living room sofa one night, A. awoke to find defendant on the sofa behind her, as her brothers and sisters in the room continued to sleep soundly. Although it was fairly dark, she could see defendant‟s face during his assault; she also smelled him.*fn3 She tried to scream, but he put his hand over her mouth. Having taken off his pants, he forced her pants and underpants down to her knees with his other hand. Then he put his "private part" inside A.‟s private part twice; the second time, he moved his body as he did so. She described the act as "rape," a word she had heard from other children at school. She could not escape because he had pinned her in place with his leg. She was finally able to make a "screeching noise," after which defendant stopped, put on his pants, and left, heading toward the garage.

The next morning and for several days afterward, A. experienced vaginal pain and bleeding. Seeing blood in her underpants before showering, she showed them to her parents and told them what had happened, even though she felt afraid to do so and afraid of defendant in particular. After this incident, A. saw Dr. Rochaanayon, but did not tell him about the rape.*fn4 In May 2005, A.‟s mother told the police about A.‟s alleged rape.*fn5

On June 9, 2005, when A. was seven years old, Melanie Edwards of the Sacramento MDIC interviewed her with the aid of a Hmong interpreter.*fn6 The videotape of the interview was played for the jury, which received a transcript. According to the transcript, A. said that her uncle raped her once and gave an account similar to her trial testimony.*fn7 She also said that she knew the difference between the truth and a lie and that it was bad to lie.

Cathy Boyle, a pediatric nurse practitioner at UC Davis Medical Center who has examined over 5,500 children in cases of suspected sexual assault and has testified as an expert witness around 390 times in Sacramento County, examined A. on June 10, 2005. (She received A.‟s history after it had been taken by a social worker, but did not rely on it in forming her opinion.)

A. had very little hymen, and none at all from the 5:00 to the 7:00 position. This was an abnormal finding for a child of her age. On a classification scale from one (normal) to seven (sexually transmitted disease), Boyle rated this case a five (healed hymeneal trauma). She could not date the injury because even injuries as significant as this heal within three weeks. However, it was consistent with forcible sexual molestation and with penetration by a large object.*fn8 It could have been caused by either a single penetrating act or multiple penetrating acts. It could not have been caused by an injury from a bicycle accident. The only other scenario capable of producing such damage would be childbirth.

Defense Case

On the theory that defendant was being scapegoated for someone else‟s conduct, the defense called A.‟s mother, N. L., to show that she had a grudge against defendant. Asked whether defendant had accused her of improperly receiving government funds, N. L. did not confirm or deny it, but said she had not done so. She admitted that she had been angry because he used the house‟s electricity for his trailer without paying for it.

The defense called A.‟s father, L. V., to corroborate that N. L. had been angry about the electricity. L. V. also testified that defendant had spanked the children and A. had complained about it.

Sacramento Police Officer Paul Jacobs, who interviewed A. about the alleged molestation on May 29, 2005, in L. V.‟s presence, testified that he ended the interview after 10 minutes because A. did not seem forthcoming or able to recall events independently of what L. V. had said about them.

Dr. James Crawford, medical director of the Center for Child Protection at Children‟s Hospital in Oakland, California, having reviewed the records in A.‟s case, agreed with Cathy Boyle that A. had been sexually assaulted but disagreed that her injuries could have resulted from a single incident.*fn9 He could not say what minimum number of incidents would have been needed, but he had never seen this degree of trauma produced by a single incident and most children with such injuries report multiple incidents.

In closing argument, defense counsel asserted that the jury should refuse to credit A.‟s testimony, which was "a mess."*fn10

Counsel argued that A.‟s parents had coerced or manipulated her into accusing defendant because they bore grudges against him and sought to protect the real molester, J.

DISCUSSION

I.

Defendant contends that the trial court deprived him of due process, a fair trial, and his right of confrontation by ruling, over his objection, that A. was competent to testify.

The People reply: (1) defendant did not preserve this contention for appeal, and (2) A. met the standard for competency. We conclude the contention was preserved for appeal, but fails on the merits.

Background

At the start of A.‟s testimony, the prosecutor asked if she knew the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie.

A. said: "No." When the prosecutor tried to ask the question differently, A. said: "I don‟t understand."

The prosecutor asked: "If I... put my hands on a table right now, would that be true or would that be a lie if I said I‟m touching a table?" A. said: "That would be true." However, when the prosecutor then asked: "If I said your -- the color of your sweater is -- that you‟re wearing today is black, would that be true or a lie?", A. said: "I don‟t understand." The prosecutor asked what A. would say if her teacher asked her whether she had seen someone in her class take a pencil without permission; again A. said she did not understand.

A. said she was nine, but did not know what year she was born (although she knew her birthday). Asked if she would turn 30 on her next birthday, she said: "I don‟t know."

Asked whether she would tell a police officer that she had broken a window if she really had, she said: "Yes.... Because I need to tell the truth." She said it would not be the truth if she told the officer she did not break the window; however, she did not know what it would be. When asked: "Something that‟s not the truth?", she said: "No." She said it would be a good thing to tell the officer the truth, but did not know if it was a good thing or a bad thing not to tell the truth.

When asked: "Can we agree that when we‟re here today we‟re only going to talk about true things?", A. said: "I don‟t know either." Asked what she would say if the prosecutor asked a question to which she did not know the answer, she said: "I don‟t know." However, she answered, "Yeah" to the question ...


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