In Michigan, the issue of protecting children has always been at the forefront of our legal system and this is a theme that spans all of the way from the Michigan Bar Exam to the Michigan Supreme Court. While there is no question that children need protections provided from our court system and the legislature, far too often, parents are falling victim to be being falsly accused of crimes. One issue that needs to be addressed whether or not Child Protective Services (CPS) is truly deemed to be a government actor? Today we will provide some clarity on this issue.
The Starting Point
From a global perspective, it is obvious that CPS is employed by the state but what is lost in translation is that the mere concept of where the employees are paid does not in and of itself afford a defendant constitutional protection. One of the leaders in fighting for the rights of parents and defendants as a whole across the state of Michigan is Scott Grabel of Grabel and Associates. We sat down with Grabel to gain his insight on the matter and what he had to say truly opened up a great deal of hope for parents falsely accused of hurting their children. Grabel stated, “There is actually case law in other jurisdictions that dictate that CPS and the Department of Health and Human Services are government actors in the same breath as a police officer. Due process violations require a great deal of detail but the launching point for the attorney is to argue that the CPS worker is the functional equivalent of a police officer. The functional equivalent argument, if crafted properly, can provide an amazing safety net for parents that are falsely accused of such crimes.”
One issue that particularly important is the anonymous informant that makes an allegation- and this often leads the CPS worker to go on a fishing expedition. In Michigan, the informant is viewed in a very broad fashion. Grabel commented, “Our state takes a totality of the circumstances approach. This was given to us in the famed case of Illinois v. Gates (462 U.S. 213 ). To contrast the Gates court, there is persuasive precedent that tells us that the tip standing alone does not amount to probable cause. Far too often we see someone just make a false claim and then the due process violation comes into effect. This is an issue that we need to address in our judiciary.”
While this article has just begun to scratch the surface on the issue, we do see that the laws in Michigan have the best of intentions: to protect children. The concept that is missing for many is that taking an innocent parent away from their children is actually going to hurt children a great deal. We need to meet a balance and always remember the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
William Amadeo is a partner at the law firm Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In addition to his legal duties, Amadeo owns and operates BAT Tutoring in Lansing, Michigan and works as a professional journalist.