Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
It should go without saying that if you are a suspect in a crime, you should never talk to the police without an attorney (or at least consulting with an attorney), but what happens if you are in Los Angeles or anywhere else in California and you are contacted by Department of Children and Family Services or Child Protective Services to discuss a suspected child endangerment case?
Conventional wisdom in this situation has always put parents in a tough spot. On one hand, refusal to cooperate with county social workers or child welfare investigators can be used against a parent in child dependency proceedings. It could be enough to convince a judge to remove a child from the family home. On the other hand, if a parent is suspected of child abuse or child endangerment, admitting any potentially criminal conduct to a county social worker is equally inadvisable. It could lead to a prosecution or be used against the defendant in an ongoing prosecution.
For anyone in this situation, a perceived safety net was WIC 355.1(f) which prohibits any testimony from a dependency proceeding from being used in any other legal proceeding, including a criminal case. But the California Court of Appeal just made matters even more difficult. The case is People v. Keo; B286844; 9/23/19; C/A 2nd, Div. 7. The court ruled that WIC 355.1(f) only applies to adjudication (equivalent of a trial) in dependency court. This applies even if the person being questioned has already been charged in a criminal case and is represented by a lawyer. County social workers are still allowed to take statements and those statements can be used against the defendant.
Why? Because, according to the court, these are only interviews with county social workers which are just that – interviews. They are not court proceedings. And even worse, no Miranda warning is needed because the county social workers are not law enforcement officers. The whole opinion is a problem. It puts criminal defendants at a terrible disadvantage and stuck with making a nearly impossible decision of whether to risk incriminating themselves.
Bottom line: If you or a loved one is suspected of child endangerment and has been contacted by a county social worker to discuss the case, contact an attorney immediately. For a free and confidential consultation, call criminal defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg in Los Angeles at (323) 633-3423 or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page.