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COA split over whether DCS has authority to interview sibling

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An Indiana Court of Appeals judge reached the opposite conclusion of her colleagues Wednesday in finding that the Department of Child Services lacks the statutory authority to conduct a forensic interview of a non-subject child residing in the same home as a child who has claimed abuse by a resident family member.

Mother A.W. appealed the Brown Circuit Court order granting the DCS’ petition to interview then 9-year-old G.W., whose 12-year-old sister M.F. had alleged then recanted that her stepfather touched her inappropriately. In investigating the claim, DCS received copies of diary entries stored under M.F.’s password on her grandmother’s computer that described sexual intercourse between the girl and her stepfather. M.F.’s biological father also claimed that G.W. told her mother about the inappropriate touching between M.F. and the stepfather.

M.F. recanted her claims, saying she was angry with her mother for not spending enough time with her, and denied making the diary entries. DCS wanted to interview G.W., but her mother refused. DCS then filed an emergency petition with the court to be able to interview the girl, based on I.C. 31-33-8-7 and 31-32-12. Those statutes make reference to interviews with the child subject to the investigation. G.W. never claimed to be abused.

The trial court granted the order, relying on the language that requires an assessment of the name and condition of the other children in the home when investigating an abuse claim.

Judges Terry Crone and L. Mark Bailey affirmed in In the Matter of G.W. (Minor Child); A.W. (Mother) and J.W. (Stepfather) v. The Indiana Dept. of Child Services, 07A01-1201-JM-6, interpreting I.C. 31-33-8-7 as applicable to a child who is not the subject of an abuse investigation. The majority pointed to the seriousness of M.F.’s allegations and that the two girls are close in age. Just because their mother vouched for G.W.’s safety doesn’t mean the DCS’ and the trial court’s concerns are unwarranted, he wrote.

Judge Patricia Riley’s dissent focused on the statutes in question. She believed the language did not apply to children who are not subject to the abuse investigation. The only route the DCS could take because A.W. refused to make G.W. available for a forensic interview is for DCS to file a certification by a physician that an emergency existed, which would allow the trial court to order the examination. The DCS did not do that.

“Although the majority invokes its ‘common sense’ in interpreting the statute, in essence, it just presented the DCS with a broad enlargement of its authority by effectively erasing the safeguards our Legislature granted to ‘other children in the home,’” she wrote. “I refuse to subscribe to the majority’s interpretation of ‘common sense.’”

 

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  1. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  2. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  3. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  4. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

  5. Agreed on 4th Amendment call - that was just bad policing that resulted in dismissal for repeat offender. What kind of parent names their boy "Kriston"?

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