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In re A.M.

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

February 13, 2014

In re A.M. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. SAN DIEGO COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
CRYSTAL C. et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Certified for publication 3/10/14

APPEALS from orders of the Superior Court of San Diego County, No. J518677A-B Garry G. Haehnle, Judge.

Cristina Gabrielidis, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant Crystal C.

Sahyeh S. Riopelle, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant Juan M.

Thomas E. Montgomery, County Counsel, John E. Philips, Chief Deputy County Counsel, and Paula J. Roach, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

HUFFMAN, Acting P. J.

Crystal C. and Martin M. appeal juvenile court jurisdictional and dispositional orders concerning their children, A.M. and Damian M. Crystal and Martin contend the court erred by exercising jurisdiction over the children without contacting their home state of Mexico as required by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Fam. Code, § 3400 et seq.), [1] and the court did not have emergency jurisdiction over the children under the UCCJEA. We affirm the orders because the court's assumption of emergency jurisdiction was proper, but we remand the proceedings to the juvenile court to allow it to contact and provide notice to Mexican authorities. If a Mexican court does not take action after notice and contact, the jurisdictional and dispositional orders will remain in effect. If a Mexican court commences proceedings, the juvenile court is directed to proceed in conformity with the provisions of the UCCJEA and void its jurisdictional and dispositional orders.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 29, 2013, Crystal was arrested as she attempted to smuggle three pounds of heroin from Mexico into the United States. Five-year-old A.M. and three-year old Damian were in the car with her when she attempted to drive across the international border. Crystal had been having financial problems and agreed with Martin to smuggle the drugs. She took the children with her in hopes of avoiding detection. Crystal claimed she knew there were drugs in the car, but not what kind of drugs or how much she was carrying.

Crystal said she and the children had lived both in Tijuana and in San Diego, and they had been living in Tijuana with Crystal's new boyfriend for at least six months. Martin also lived in Tijuana. Crystal and Martin had an informal shared custody arrangement and exchanged the children each week.

On May 1, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (the Agency) petitioned under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b) on behalf of the children, alleging they were at substantial risk because they had been in the car with Crystal while she and Martin were attempting to smuggle a controlled substance into the United States. At the detention hearing, the court assumed emergency jurisdiction under the UCCJEA because the children's home state is Mexico. It detained them in out-of-home care and set a further UCCJEA hearing to contact or provide notice to a Mexican court to determine whether Mexico would exercise jurisdiction and commence proceedings. The children were detained with their maternal great-aunt in San Diego.

Crystal admitted to the charges against her and was awaiting a sentencing hearing where she faced a prison sentence of three and one-half to five years. She visited the children twice each week. Martin called them daily. He admitted using drugs in the past and said he was willing to participate in services, but he did not wish to cross the international border because he was afraid he would be arrested.

At the hearing on June 14, the court received the Agency reports into evidence and heard argument from counsel regarding emergency jurisdiction. The court found it had emergency jurisdiction because of the dangerous situation the children faced and because the parents had used them as pawns in the hope they could help them pass the border checkpoint. The court noted if it did not assume jurisdiction, the children would be returned to Martin in Mexico where they would be at risk. After further argument, the court found the allegations of the petitions to be ...


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