Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Attorney Defends Handling of Rape Case, The News Desk

Defense attorney Denise Rafferty spent roughly 80 minutes on the witness stand Tuesday, defending her handling of the case against a former Aquia Harbour teen now fighting to get his name off the state’s sex-offender registry.

She said she asked Edgar Coker’s parents multiple times for help finding people who would support him in his defense of a 2007 rape charge and for copies of his school records but got no help.

Coker was 15 on June 4, 2007, when he and a 14-year-old neighbor engaged in what the girl and her mother now say was consensual sex.

Attorneys for Coker, who is now 22, are in court this week to try to get his criminal convictions set aside and remove him from the state’s sex offender registry.

Seven Officers at Georgia RYDC Removed after “Egregious Policy Violations,” Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) announced that seven employees at the DeKalb County Regional Youth Detention Center have been removed, following findings from a three-week investigation.

According to Jim Shuler, an official DJJ spokesman, three of the officers, among them the facility’s night shift sergeant, resigned while the review was still being conducted. The other four officers, all of whom were suspended during the investigation, have been dismissed from their positions.

In a press release, DJJ Commissioner Avery Niles said that several night shift officers at the facility allegedly allowed youths to enter and exit the facility at-will.

Perps or Pupils?  Safety Policy Creates Prison-like New York City Schools, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

When Minerva Dickson first saw her high school she thought it looked like a prison. After her first week she realized how right her initial impressions were.

Every day when she arrived at the Thomas Jefferson Campus in Brownsville, Brooklyn, she waited in a line that snaked out onto Pennsylvania Avenue. She would shuffle up two steps passing beneath words from Abraham Lincoln inscribed on the neo-classical pediment: “Let Reverence for the Laws Become the Political Religion of the Nation.”

Next, she reached into her pocket for her identification card and slid it through a machine. When it recognized her, it blurted an approving beep and a green light would flash. When it didn’t, the machine made an abrasive buzzing noise and lit up red.

Clear of the reader, she headed to the metal detectors. There, at least a half dozen school safety agents waited. School safety agents, who answer to the New York City Police Department, wear a police uniform and a shield. A pair of handcuffs dangles from their belts.

Baby Veronica’s Birth Mother: Girl Belongs With Adoptive Parents, The Washington Post

Christy Maldonado lives in Oklahoma. This month she filed a brief urging the Supreme Court of South Carolina to finalize her birth daughter’s adoption by Matt and Melanie Capobianco.

In the summer of 2009, I made the most difficult decision of my life: to place my baby, Veronica Rose, with adoptive parents. Many know her as “Baby Girl” or “Baby Veronica” because her adoptive parents and I fought all the way to the Supreme Court for Veronica’s right to be treated like a human being — not property owned by a Native American tribe.

I am Latina and not a member of any tribe. When I became pregnant, I was already a single mother with two children, in a relationship that was on the rocks. I thought hard about my options and decided I could not have an abortion. I was briefly engaged to Veronica’s biological father, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, but our relationship was over by my third trimester.

When I asked my ex whether he wanted to be involved, he told me, by text message, that he wanted to give up all parental rights. And that was the last I heard from him. It was clear that my pregnancy and my baby were my responsibility.
New DelhiThe Supreme Court has refused to reduce the age for being considered juvenile to 16 years and has said that even those accused of heinous crimes, but below 18 years of age, will continue to be tried by a juvenile board under the Juvenile Justice Act, and not by a regular trial court.The top court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by an advocate seeking an amendment to the existing Juvenile law to allow those below 18 to be punished under regular law if they are charged with serious crimes.”We uphold the provisions of Juvenile Act. Interference is not necessary,” said a bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir.

The petition was filed after the brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in a moving bus in Delhi in December last year.One of the six men accused of the horrific crime was a minor when the incident happened. He has been tried by the juvenile board and if found guilty, faces a maximum punishment of three years in a correction home.

Indian Child Welfare Act and Adoption Tragedy

NPR recently reported on The Indian Child Welfare Act, a piece of legislation that has landed at the center of a contentious U.S. Supreme Court case. The NPR story is entitled, “Adoption Case Brings Rare Family Law Dispute to High Court.

The Indian Child Welfare Act, was passed in 1978 by Congress to prevent  the improper removal of Native American children from their families.   Ironically, in this case, a little girl was forcefully removed from her loving parents because of the Act.

Dusten Brown, the biological father of the child, and two percent Cherokee, expressly told his then-pregnant ex-fiance, Christy Maldonado, that he was giving up his custodial rights and would not be providing financial support for the child.  Deciding that she could not support the child herself, Ms. Maldonado decided to put the child up for adoption.

Ms. Maldonado notified the Cherokee Nation of her plans, “giving them a chance to intervene under the Indian Child Welfare Act,” but the tribe did not object to the adoption because they did not find any record of Mr. Brown as a tribal member.  She then found a couple, the Capobiancos, in South Carolina, who agreed to an open adoption.   The couple helped support Ms. Maldonado and were present during the child’s birth.

Four months after the child’s birth, when the adoption was almost final, Mr. Brown was notified of the adoption.  He initially signed off, but filed a formal objection a few days later, invoking the Indian Child Welfare Act.  He had wanted Ms. Maldonado to keep the child so he could “come visit and stuff.”

The South Carolina courts held that the federal Indian Child Welfare Act preempted state law and ordered the Capobiancos to give up custody of their two-year-old daughter to Mr. Brown.  The Capobiancos appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the Court to represent the best interests of the child.

A child forms an attachment to the people who have loved and raised her since birth, and this is her first social relationship. The security of this very basic relationship was destroyed when this little girl’s biological father invoked the Indian Child Welfare Act to “recover” his daughter, when he had been the one to reject custody of her in the first place.

Mr. Brown had nine months to consider his custody rights before his daughter was born, before his indecisiveness and irresponsibility could substantially affect the welfare of the child, but he did not.  He decided that he did want custody, after all, and disregarding the anxiety and trauma that his daughter may feel, he tore a toddler away from the loving parents who had been raising her since birth.

Instead of protecting her happiness and best interests, Mr. Brown seems to be serving his own interests by exploiting existing federal law.  There are many facets to this difficult case that must be considered.  But above all, the welfare and best interests of the individual child should be the Court’s priority when deciding the fate of this little girl.

Day One of the Juvenile Defenders Summit

Friday was the first day of the National Juvenile Defenders Leadership Summit.  The Center for Children, Law & Policy scholars had the opportunity to meet many practicing defenders and learn practical tips as well as current research and statistics.

The breakout session that I enjoyed the most was on the issues facing Native American delinquent youth.  Unlike non-Indian children, Indian youth can be subject to tribal, state, and federal courts.  The jurisdictional issues alone are daunting, but if the child is also in a dependency proceeding, then the Indian Child Welfare Act applies, further complicating their legal proceedings.

Also, there is not a one size fits all tribes solution for handling delinquent tribal youth because of the significant different cultural backgrounds as well as the difference between tribes in abject poverty and tribes will resources they have been able to use to their advantage.  For attorneys working with Native Americans in general, remember to do more listening that talking, ask questions, and be comfortable if your client or their tribe chooses not to answer as some traditions are not to be shared.

We are all looking forward to learning more about working with youth in the juvenile justice system today on the second day of the Summit.