By Leslie M. Kissinger, Esq.
When You Need to Prove Your Fitness as a Parent
If you are at the adjudication phase of a deprived child proceeding, Oklahoma Child Protective Services has already completed the investigation and show cause portions of a child welfare proceeding. Unfortunately, you have not convinced the Dept. of Human Services that your child or children should be returned to you.
At the adjudication phase, you will have to convince a judge of your fitness as a parent. This adjudication is like a mini-trial and the stakes are high.
This judge is not likely to be lenient. If anything, this judge will be more stringent at this stage of the process. If your presentation has not been successful before, you want to change your strategy.
If your case advanced this far into the process, you urgently need to retain an experienced CPS attorney. Work closely with that attorney. An attorney knows what you can expect at the adjudication.
Winning a deprived child adjudication requires a detailed understanding of the process. To begin with, the state must file documents with the court that alleges that you have either abused or neglected your children. Those documents are then served on you and you will need to have them with you at court. The state will also have filed a report regarding the alleged abuse. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) will have a copy of this report. The report provides the factual underpinnings for the court documents. You should also be given a copy of this report.
Child Welfare Defense Attorneys are Crucial to Success
Having an attorney at this stage is critical to winning the adjudication. Many people choose not to work with an attorney during the investigative and show cause portions of the proceedings. If that is the case for you, you want to make sure to hire and work with an attorney for this portion of the proceedings.
The adjudication is like a trial. It has its own rules and procedures. You have the option of conducting this trial before a judge instead of a jury. This is called a bench trial. The judge will expect you to know and follow all the rules and procedures in his or her courtroom. A simple mistake could cost you mean losing the adjudication.
The judge will listen to witnesses and take relevant documents in as evidence. At that bench trial, the state prosecutor will call DHS workers as well as other witnesses to prove that you did in fact abuse or neglect your children. The state can call you, your spouse, and law enforcement that may have been called to your home and witnessed conditions there.
You will also have the opportunity to call witnesses to rebut the state’s evidence against you. An instinctive sense of what is relevant and what the court wants to hear is not enough to enable you to present a viable defense. Attorneys are experts in their fields. An experienced CPS defense attorney knows what testimony and evidence are relevant, knows how to present it to the court, knows how to attack the state’s evidence, and knows what information to leave out. An experienced CPS attorney knows when the state prosecutor steps over the line and how to deal with that behavior effectively in a courtroom.
The Risks of Representing Yourself
All too often, a well-meaning parent who just wants the court to understand their situation ends up digging a deeper hole for themselves. You can end up having the court rule against you. Your testimony could make the judge think that you abused or neglected your children. This can lead to criminal charges of child abuse and neglect. If convicted of child abuse, you could spend years in prison and face a stiff fine.
It is critical that you have an attorney on your side. An attorney knows courtroom procedure and the rules of evidence. Importantly, an experienced attorney knows how to keep harmful testimony out and knows how to get helpful testimony in. An attorney can handle any necessary motions and ensure that helpful documentary evidence gets admitted. And finally, an experienced CPS attorney knows how to attack the state’s evidence. This can be done on cross-examination of DHS witnesses, by highlighting inconsistencies in DHS reports or records and by exposing DHS’ failure to follow policy and procedures.
A final note on state prosecutors. While most toe the line with regard to law and procedure, sometimes a prosecutor fails. They jump the gun and file baseless charges. They hedge on following court rules. Those failures can and should be brought to the attention of the court. These failures affect your rights as a parent. These types of cases present prosecutors with multiple procedural deadlines that must be met. Having an attorney at your side can make a difference when a prosecutor makes a mistake. You could have your children returned to you.
Remember that the state brings its A-game to an adjudication. You should too. Get the help you need to get your children back with as little stress as possible.
Free Consultation: Deprived Child Defense Lawyer
Before you risk breaking up your family forever, talk to an experienced CPS defense lawyer. I offer free consultations so you can be certain you need a lawyer and you are hiring the right lawyer before we start working together on your case. For a free, confidential consultation, call (918) 276-2444.