Articles Tagged with child abuse

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Toni Maurie Gwynn was a 17-month angel who died July 10, 2013 in Eden, North Carolina. She was found suffocated and strapped to a car seat. Apparently, she had not had food or water for many hours.

The latest “who dun it” was resolved last week with her father Antonio Gwynn pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

The mother who is being sentenced for manslaughter helped the police and sheriff’s department find a missing blanket in a pond in Rockingham County. The blanket was the murder weapon.

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Dear Carolyn,

I have been reading the horrid stories about children being left in hot cars. I also have been troubled by my next door neighbor leaving her seven-year-old son alone this summer while she goes to work. I have seen this mother lock the door when she leaves in the morning with the child apparently inside. I do think the seven-year-old has a cell phone.  I don’t like this situation for the seven-year-old who just finished first grade. Is there anything I can do?

~ Danger Lurking Next Door

 

Dear Danger,

Ohhhhhh! It is a crime for someone to leave a child under eight years of age unattended. Further, a child under age eight cannot be left locked up, as this is also a crime. Children under eight years of age must be left with a supervisor of suitable age and discretion. The parent can and will be prosecuted. The placement in the law of this statute is interesting as it is presented as a “fire protection” for little children. However, I do believe that leaving an unattended child under eight in a car would be a crime under this statute as well. (North Carolina General Statutes 14-318.)

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By: Carolyn J. Woodruff, attorney

While nothing in this article should be viewed to condone the horrific acts of Christopher Lee Neal, age 42, who shot at a social services worker after children were taken from his home, the event should be a wake up call for the Department of Social Services (DSS). Apparently this Reidsville man targeted at least two social services employees that had been working on his child custody case. He shot at one of the social workers through her car window in Burlington. According to news reports, she was not injured. He was later apprehended in Myrtle Beach.

Let’s face it. Taking away a child is serious business and emotionally drenching, and should only be done by DSS with all the proper protocols, which involve either having law enforcement or a Juvenile Judge.   Unfortunately, DSS in many instances is acting outside the bounds of the law and the Constitution, and they do not follow proper protocol regarding the removal of children, in allegedly dangerous situations, from homes. This makes a parent mad.

DSS is not law enforcement, and DSS is not a court of law. DSS is an agency that MUST apply to the Juvenile Court for the authority for search and seizure of children. DSS can assess the danger and apply to the Juvenile Court, but DSS is not permitted to “search and seize” children based on its own safety assessment. This seizure is improper. While I like Sheriff Page, his statement if reported accurately is both incorrect and not in keeping with the US Constitution. He reportedly said in a Press Conference, ‘Child Protective Services were investigating a case…During the process in their job, sometimes they have to remove children from the home because of neglect and abuse.” No, this is not correct. DSS can investigate, and DSS can apply to the court to obtain an order to remove the child, but DSS cannot do this removal simply because DSS thinks it should. To do so is unconstitutional search and seizure.

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Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

            The name “Responsible Individuals List” may sound like an accolade to parents; however, this is a misnomer. For those unfortunate enough to find their family in the midst of an investigation of child abuse, neglect, and dependency the List is likely to be mentioned. It is important that anyone who finds themselves in this situation be aware of what the term means and the ramifications of being on this list.

The Responsible Individuals List and Consequences

            The actual list is comprised of the names of individuals who are found to be responsible for the abuse and serious neglect of a juvenile. The List was created by statute in 2006 in response to federal requirements under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). The primary goal of the federal regulation was to create a child abuse registry that was accessible to certain authorized agencies which must determine the fitness of an individual to care for or adopt children.

In 2010, the NC Court of Appeals held that placement on the List impacts an individual’s Constitutionally protected liberty interest. In re W.B.M., 690 S.E.2d 41 (N.C. App. 2010). Placement on the List can prevent an individual from being able to care for children, whether it be through employment, fostering or adopting. Although the List can affect a person’s ability to care for children, the statutes do not address the length of time an individual is placed on the List. The statutes also do not provide for an expungement procedure after a specified period has expired.

The List and Caring for One’s Children

            Although placement on the List can prevent a person from adopting or fostering, the List does not necessarily prohibit an individual from caring for their child. There are currently no cases in North Carolina that address being added to the Responsible Individuals List and then being denied reunification with your children. Further, North Carolina statute, the North Carolina Administrative Code and the Department of Social Services Manuals only address using the Responsible Individuals List for employment purposes or foster/adoption/kinship placement determinations. Currently, it appears the impact of being placed on the Responsible Individuals List is limited to children who are not biologically your own.

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by Jennifer Crissman, Woodruff Family Law Group

            JACAs a parent, it is a nightmare even to imagine your child being harmed. But for some families in the Piedmont, this is a grim reality. The scenario turns even darker when there are allegations that your spouse harmed the child. This places the parent in a terrible position: trying to protect your child from harm, and to reconcile how your spouse could be responsible for the alleged conduct. The parent may not have been aware the abuse was occurring, but may still be called to testify about the facts and circumstances of the alleged abuse either in a juvenile proceeding, a custody trial or criminal proceedings. What is the innocent parent to do? The natural inclination may be to stand mute to try to hold the family together. However, this is not an option.

Those who have watched television courtroom dramas are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of spousal privilege. The general idea is that one spouse cannot be compelled to testify against the other spouse, that private communications made during the marriage are confidential. However, there are nuances to the privilege and how it is applied, especially as it relates to the abuse of a child. Due to the case of State v. Godbey, it now appears that the spousal privilege is not applicable in any North Carolina court where there are allegations of child abuse. State v. Godbey, No. COA15-877 (N.C. App. 2016). Spousal privilege is not permitted in juvenile, civil and criminal courts where there are allegations of child abuse.

Typically juvenile cases begin when a report of suspected abuse or neglect is made to the Department of Health and Human Services. This report triggers an investigation into the allegations. After an initial investigation, the allegations will either be substantiated or unsubstantiated. If the claims are baseless, then the case is closed out with no court action. If the allegations are substantiated there could be a hearing in Juvenile Court to determine whether the juvenile is abused, neglected and dependent, or even criminal charges filed. This, in turn, can affect civil custody cases involving the child and the parents.

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Jennifer Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law GroupJAC

In the final installment of our twelve-part practical series for attorneys practicing in Guilford and surrounding counties, we will review the case of State v. Deanes. In our hypothetical situation from Part 1, there were multiple hearsay statements made by the children to various family members, social workers, medical practitioners and detectives. While we have covered the prime hearsay exceptions to have these statements admitted, there is always the possibility that the court will not allow the hearsay in under the already enumerated exceptions. If this happens, the best alternative is to use Hearsay Exceptions Rule 803(24) – “Other Exceptions.” The court in Deanes gives us a broad overview of “other exception where there is inherent trustworthiness” under Rule 803(24), and the proper procedure to utilize this hearsay exception. State v. Deanes, 323 N.C. 508, 374 S.E.2d 249 (1988).

In the case of State v. Deanes, the child victim was a five-year-old girl who was raped by a friend of her mother. The child woke her mother the night of the attack and told her about the assault. The next day the mother confronted the alleged assailant, but took no further action when the assailant denied the attack. Simultaneously the Department of Social Services received an anonymous report that the child was raped. As a result of this report, a social worker became involved in the case. The social worker went to the child’s home, met with the child and the child told the worker about the rape. The social worker arranged for the child and mother to meet with a pediatrician the following day for the child to have a medical exam. At the medical exam, the child was nervous, and the social worker was called in to talk to the child and calm her down. Following the medical exam, the social worker interviewed the child at the social worker’s office with anatomically correct dolls and the child demonstrated what had occurred with the dolls. At trial, the social worker testified about statements the child made to her at the initial interview, at the pediatrician’s office, and at the social worker’s office. On appeal, the Defendant contended that the social worker’s testimony regarding the hearsay statements was improperly admitted under Rule 803(24).

The court in Deanes outlines the six steps the trial court must consider to admit the hearsay statement under Rule 803(24). The order of the steps are: 1) Was proper notice given, 2) Is the hearsay specifically not covered elsewhere, 3) Is the statement trustworthy, 4) Is the statement material, 5) Is the statement more probative on the issue that any other evidence which the proponent can procure through reasonable efforts, and 6) Will the interests of justice be best served by admission. Id. at 255.

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Jennifer Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

JACIn this installment of our series for family law practitioners in Guilford and surrounding counties, we will discuss the case of State v. Burgess. In our hypothetical scenario, the two children made statements to their grandmother about the abuse by their uncle. Although the timing and circumstances surrounding the statements were not discussed, the statements could qualify for admission under the hearsay exception of excited utterances, Rule 803(2). The case of Burgess provides very clear guidance on this hearsay exception. State v. Burgess, 639 S.E.2d 68, 181 N.C.App. 27 (2007).

In Burgess, the child victim was sexually abused by her uncle. One evening the child was playing with her dolls and was placing the dolls in sexually suggestive positions. When the child’s mother saw this, she yelled at the child to stop playing with the dolls in that way. The following morning the mother asked the child if anyone had been touching her privates. The child told her mother that her uncle had been in her room the previous night, had touched her privates and that he scared her. The trial court allowed the statements made to the mother into evidence under Rule 803(2), the excited utterances hearsay exception, over the objections of Defendant.

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Jennifer Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law GroupJAC

In part 10 of our practical series for family law attorneys practicing in the Piedmont Triad, we will review the case Matter of Lucas which provides guidance on hearsay statements made to physicians regarding sexual abuse. In our scenario in part 1 of the series, the two children told their grandmother about the incident, which in turn led to the children being seen by a doctor. In the visit with the doctor, the children made statements about the abuse. One of the grounds opposing counsel may bring up is that a physician did not treat the children, but merely examined them to gather evidence for any criminal investigation stemming from the abuse allegations. The case of Matter of Lucas is directly relevant. Matter of Lucas, 380 S.E.2d 563 (N.C. App. 1989).

In the case of Lucas, the young child victim was sexually assaulted by a juvenile. The child victim told the mother about the assault within several days, and within fourteen days of the incident, at the suggestion of a Sergeant working on the case, the mother took the child victim to the local hospital, and later for a follow-up appointment with another physician. The juvenile argued that the child victim’s statements to the physician were not made for the purpose of receiving medical treatment, but were made for the purpose of preparing for prosecution, based on the fact that the doctor never treated the child victim.

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Jennifer Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law GroupJAC

            Part 9 of our continuing series for family law attorneys practicing in Guilford and surrounding counties focuses on the admission of hearsay from social workers and the Department of Social Services. When there is a case that has allegations of abuse, there will likely be intervention from the Department of Social Services at some point. As in our scenario, there usually will be an initial investigator, and at some point, the case will be assigned to another worker for follow up after the initial investigation. By the time that the case goes to hearing, there can be multiple workers who have interacted with the family and touched the case. The prospect of getting not just one, but multiple social workers with heavy caseloads in to court to testify is a daunting task to say the least. This segment will review the case of In re C.R.B. and the admission of DSS records authored by multiple social workers. In re C.R.B., 781 S.E.2d 846 (N.C. App. 2016)

The case of In re C.R.B. involves the termination of parental rights. One of the children in this case was discovered unattended in a car. During an assessment by the Department of Social Services it was discovered that the mother suffered from substance dependence, multiple debilitating mental illnesses, and intellectual disabilities. As a result of these issues the mother was unable to provide proper care for the children, and mother consented to an order adjudicating the children as neglected. The children were placed in foster care, and mother signed a case plan designed to address her issues, which included mental health, substance abuse and intellectual disability. The mother attended all meetings with DSS and completed some goals contained in her case plan, but did not complete the substance abuse assessment required by the case plan. As a result, her visitation with the children was suspended, and ultimately the permanent plan was changed from reunification to adoption.

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Jennifer Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

JACIn this part of our continuing practical series, we will address the issues family law attorneys face when trying to admit DSS records and social worker’s testimony into evidence in Guilford and surrounding counties. Matter of Smith is a particularly useful case for when the child has made statements to one social worker, but that worker is not available to testify on the day of the hearing. As most attorneys who have needed a social worker’s testimony can attest, these are very busy people with important jobs. It is hard to get a social worker in court as they are usually dashing from one case to the next. Also, the social worker who initially receives the case may not keep the case in the long run. This is where the holdings of Smith can be applied.

The case of Matter of Smith is a termination of parental rights case. Matter of Smith, 287 S.E.2d 440, 56 N.C. App. 142 (1970). The children in Smith were removed from the mother’s care due to neglect and were placed in foster care system nearly ten years before the petition for termination of parental rights being filed. Within that almost ten-year time span, DSS provided services to the mother. However, the mother failed to maintain contact with the children and did not make sufficient progress towards correcting the conditions that initially led to the children’s removal. As a result of the mother’s lack of action, the Department of Social Services filed the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights.

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