CASEWORKERS ORDERED TO GIVE MIRANDA WARNINGS
Article From National Law Journal, 9/18/89, p.14; reproduced here via
the Arizona Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) BBS (602) 271 9357 and the
National Congress for Men BBS, (602) 840-4752. Both computer BBS's are
accessible at 300, 1200 and 2400 baud, N81.
By Gary Taylor, Special to the National Law Journal
PUBLIC WELFARE lawyers nationwide are watching closely to see
whether the highest criminal appellate court in Texas will reverse its
earlier controversial ruling that extended MIRANDA warning
responsibilities to child abuse caseworkers.
Linda Wolf, deputy director of the Washington, D.C.-based
American Public Welfare Association, a public welfare workers group,
say the Texas decision is troubling.
"We don't believe children's protective services workers should
have the responsibility for MIRANDA warnings. They have civil
authority and this adds to the complexities of their job, " Ms. Wolf
said. "The good side of it is that it forces more delineation to the
set of responsibilities between these workers and the police. But
MIRANDA warnings are something we would not support."
Prosecutors filed a petition for rehearing of the June 7 decision
by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, CATES v. STATE, 031-88. The
petition is currently pending before the court.
In an era of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have narrowed the
constitutional rights of criminal defendants, observers say the Texas
court ruling is significant. In its opinion, the Texas court
overturned the 1986 conviction of William Curtis Cates, sentenced to
10 years in prison on a charge of injury to a child. Crucial to the
prosecution's case was testimony by a child abuse caseworker who
interviewed the suspect in jail and obtained an oral confession.
"He told the welfare worker, 'I beat her, I'm not going to tell
you I didn't beat her. I took my belt off and I don't remember
anything after that.' " said Dallas sole practitioner Molly Meredith
LeNoir, who handled the appeal for Mr. Cates. "If they let them get
away with this, you can envision police in every child abuse case
telling a caseworker to go on up to the cell and see what the suspect
has to say."
But Blaine Nordwall, president of the American Association of
Public Welfare Attorneys and chief legal counsel for the North Dakota
Department of Human Services, describes a different scenario in most
child abuse cases. He says in a typical situation, an investigator
interrogates the suspect in his own living room, Mr. Nordwall notes
that the custodial aspect present in the Texas case, with the suspect
already incarcerated, presents a "completely special circumstance."
Nevertheless, the ruling has Texas welfare attorneys reviewing
the need for caseworkers to request police assistance more often now
just to ensure MIRANDA guarantees.
And overall, the decision brings added focus on the MIRANDA
duties of any number of professionals who might get involved in a
criminal case, then later be defined as a "'police agent" when called
to testify in court.
Judge Marvin O. Teague, in a concurring opinion, criticized the court
majority for expanding the requirements of one profession at a time
rather than establishing a "bright line rule" to cover the situations.
"The primary reason that I don not join in the majority opinion lies
in the fact it fails to expressly hold, in big bold print, for all the
world to see, that when caseworkers for the Department of Human
Services and professionals such as schoolteachers who investigate a
complaint against a natural parent.... for committing child abuse or
child neglect, they are then acting as the functional equivalent of
certified peace officers and should be held to the same standards
that certified peace officers must adhere to when they interview a
suspect to a crime," Judge Teague said.
Asst. Dallas County District Attorney Pamela Sullivan Berdanier
argued that the child abuse caseworker lacked the power to arrest and
therefore could not be described as a police agent.
And the Dallas Court of Appeals initially agreed, citing a 1984
decision by the higher court in which statements to a child abuse
caseworker were held admissible. PAEZ v. STATE, 681 S.W. 2d 34.
But Judge M.P. "Rusty" Duncan III, writing for the majority,
noted a 1981 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in another Texas case.
It held that a court-ordered psychiatrist had acted as a law
enforcement officer in interviewing capital murder defendants while in
custody. ESTELLE v. SMITH, 451 U.S. 454.
Judge Duncan wrote that a child abuse caseworker can trigger a
suspect's MIRANDA rights if the caseworker is "utilizing her capacity
so as to accomplish what the police could not lawfully have