THE INTERSECTION BETWEEN CRIMINAL AND DEPENDENCY LAW
Written by Judge Marguerite D. Downing and Ashley Fan1
Having served as a Deputy Public Defender for 18 years, I had little knowledge about Dependency Law. My limited knowledge was the result of books, movies and newspaper headlines. So it was with apprehension that I assumed my new judge spot at Edelman Children’s Court 14 years ago. At once, it was clear that many of the parents who appeared before me were or could have been clients of my former employer, the Office of the Public Defender. Clearer still, is the recognition that the actions taken in Criminal Court can have long term effects on criminal defendants’ ability to parent and remain in the lives of their children that are not always considered.
So here are some tips, which we hope you find helpful, to foster better communications between attorneys with clients with matters in both areas of law.
- The first tip is to work on better communication between the criminal and dependency attorneys. Once a criminal attorney realizes that their client has a companion dependency matter, the criminal attorney should reach out to the dependency attorney and inform them about the details of the case, including all upcoming court dates. Furthermore, dependency cases go to adjudication (what dependency courts call trials) sooner than they do in criminal courts. If there is a lack of communication between dependency and criminal attorneys, issues may arise. For instance, sometimes witness information or victim statements in a social worker’s report may not be available to a criminal defense attorney and such information could be very helpful in a criminal case. Additionally, a defense attorney may have a defense strategy which can be jeopardized by client testimony or settlement negotiations. On the other hand, obtaining information supervision as a disposition in Dependency court may be a useful tool in arranging a plea agreement on a criminal matter. This drives home the point about the importance of good communication. Criminal attorneys should strive to make themselves readily available.
- Another area that overlaps is in the attendance in Dependency Court for incarcerated parents on in both state and local custody. When I first arrived at Children’s Court, incarcerated parents were often overlooked in proceedings and were written off because they were incarcerated. These same parents are routinely ordered in to court. Unfortunately, parents don’t always take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the proceedings. As a former PD, I am mindful that parents in state prison don’t want to attend and lose their beds/trustee positions to travel to court or to return to county jail. For county incarcerated parents, having to get up early and be away all day at court is a disincentive to come to court. However, as the client’s counsel, addressing the need to come to court or for state prisoners to waive their appearance but ask for counsel should be part of your general advice to these parents. By engaging in the process, an incarcerated parent can ask for visits, pictures and letters from their children. items that a parent might not receive without such a request asking for. Parents in Dependency Court are represented by the Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers (LADL). These attorneys are assigned to parents similarly as the Public Defenders are assigned in criminal courts.