Court overturns child molestation conviction, finding visa issues cloud accuser's testimony

A state appellate court overturned the child molestation convictions and a 125-year prison sentence against a Santa Rosa man this week, ruling that the jury should've been told that one of the two female victims was trying to use the case to obtain a migration visa for her mother.

The exclusion of the evidence violated the right of Cecilio Castaneda-Prado, 55, to confront a witness against him under the federal and state constitutions, according to Wednesday's ruling by the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

Charges were first filed against Castaneda-Prado in 2019 over allegations nearly a decade old. He was ultimately convicted in late 2021 of "five counts of committing a lewd act on a child under age 14," with "multiple victims and substantial sexual conduct."

The two victims were close friends and family friends of the plaintiff, spending time at his home on several occasions, according to their testimony.

Testimony from the two victims alleged that one awoke to Castaneda-Prado touching her as she slept, and the two were called into his bedroom and made to touch him, among other allegations.

At the preliminary hearing in July 2020, one of the two victims said she had attempted to obtain a U visa — a temporary visa for assisting in the investigation of serious crimes — for her mother.

At trial in October 2021, the court barred cross-examination of the witness on the visa issue. The defense counsel argued it was relevant, and could impact the victim's credibility after doubt had been cast on the credibility of the other victim.

The attempt to secure a migration visa by testifying, according to the defense counsel, could have indicated “bias, interest, other motives while testifying, motive to fabricate,” the filing said.

The three-judge panel from the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the conviction handed down by the Sonoma County Superior Court. The appellate court's ruling calls for a new trial, which has yet to be scheduled.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.