DCF Involvement in Florida Criminal Cases
As a criminal defense attorney, and also a family/criminal defense attorney who helps people with DCF cases, I many times find criminal cases intertwined with issues that involve intervention by the Department of Children and Families. DCF involvement in criminal cases is at an alarming rate, here in Florida. Alleged criminal activity of the defendant that has no nexus with his or her children many times become the target of DCF.
Criminal defendants who have been arrested on drug related crimes, domestic battery accusations or find themselves facing incarceration often times also have a DCF matter to contend with. Florida law is clear on the termination of parental rights: “Termination of parental rights by the state requires clear and convincing evidence of: (1) a statutory ground for termination set forth in section 39.806, Florida Statutes; (2) that termination is in the manifest best interest of the child pursuant to section 39.810; and (3) that termination is the least restrictive means of protecting the child from harm.”
Specifically, mothers of children who are arrested on illegal drug crimes are many times the target of DCF investigations. Likewise, Fathers of children who allegedly batter their spouses, girlfriend, or other family members many times also find themselves the target of a DCF probe. The two previous examples are not an exhaustive list of crimes that place the parents of children into the hooks of DCF. Illegal drug crimes and domestic battery are the two most common examples of criminal activity, aside from child abuse and child neglect crimes, which place parents into the DCF courtrooms.
Another area of concern as a criminal lawyer, who also practices DCF defense, is the Department’s involvement with parents who face incarceration or imprisonment. Many times if not always for non-married criminal offenders, DCF will move to terminate the rights of the parent who is incarcerated in the Florida Department of Corrections. Judges in Family courtrooms throughout South Florida, on a daily basis, terminate the rights of incarcerated parents because they “feel” the quantitative analysis of time behind bars is more than the child should withstand. Most Judges throughout South Florida live a lifestyle much different then those that come before them and this is most certain in DCF and Criminal courtrooms. The tolerance and compassion that is reflected in DCF courtrooms for the parents of children who are incarcerated in the Florida Department of Corrections is lower than muck.
Florida Judges in DCF courtrooms still subscribe to the “old way of thinking,” which allowed termination of parental rights when a parent was incarcerated for a period constituting a substantial portion of the period of time before the child will attain the age of 18 years. See Section 39.806(1) (d) 1. Fla. Stat. (2011). This wrong way of Judicial thinking, allowed the judge to just sit back in their big chair, donned with their black flowing robe and do math on paper and state on the record that they believed the “time” of the parent’s incarceration constitutes a substantial portion of the period of the child’s life before he or she reaches the majority. The old way of thinking, is illegal, wrong, and unconstitutional in Florida; as it clearly is “not in the best interest of the parent child relationship” to terminate the rights of a parent strictly due to time of incarceration.
So under Florida law, the quantitative number or time in prison versus the child’s age before he or she reaches 18 years old is just a guide post that courts should use in determining whether or not to terminate a prisoner’s right to their child. The other equally important factor that courts must consider in deciding whether or not to terminate an inmate’s relationship with their child is the qualitative dimensions of the incarcerated parent/child relationship.
The key factor that the inmate should focus on if keeping their parental rights with their child is their goal is the “bond” between the incarcerated and the child. The “bond” between the imprisoned parent and the child is the other measure that the court record will reflect for appellate purposes, as the co-equally important factor in determining whether the trial court terminates the rights between the inmate and their child or keeps the family in tack.
To achieve this “bond” the inmate should ask that a family member bring the child to visit the inmate during their scheduled prison visits. The inmate should write letters to the child on a regular basis and ask that a family member read those letters to the child if the child is too young to read. The inmate should telephone the child on a regular basis and speak to the child. The inmate should inquire as to the child’s school performance and extra-curricular activities by writing the school, teachers, coaches, instructors and those involve instructing the child, while the inmate is incarcerated. Many inmates live by a code that bringing a child to prison is off-limits. While certain codes must be maintained within the confines of the prison walls, the code of not bringing a child to visit an inmate must be set aside, if the prisoner plans on keeping a parent child bond and their parental rights.
Many times an inmate may not have anyone on the outside to help bring the child on visits. This poses a great issue for an inmate whose parents are aged, deceased or whose wife, husband or paramour does not want contact with the inmate, so they refuse to bring the child to visitation. One possible remedy for the inmate without anyone on the outside to bring their child to visitation is to petition the court for a GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) to bring the child to visitation or to have a person approved from a church, synagogue or other civic leader in the immediate community to help in commuting the child to the incarcerated parent for visitation to maintain the “bond.” This bond is the “qualitative” element or branch of the tree that the courts must consider in determining whether or not to terminate the parental rights of those imprisoned. See D.S. the Father of the Child v. DCF, 4D14-3144 (4th DCA April 22, 2015).
If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges and DCF related problems contact West Palm Beach DCF Attorney Andrew D. Stine at 561 832 1170. Andrew D. Stine has insight, like no other Attorney in Florida, to the workings of criminal courtrooms, DCF courtrooms, prisons and the appellate process and is committed in helping those incarcerated with criminal/DCF problems. Hire Stine or Do the Time!