Fighting for Families and Youth
Changing the System
Case Summary: In re Jayvien E.
CFR represented Marisol T., a young woman of color, at the trial level and the appellate level. In the child neglect trial, ACS presented hospital records, a vague old domestic incident report of an argument between Marisol and her mother, and the testimony of an investigating caseworker in an attempt to show that Marisol neglected her son because of her mental health condition. CFR’s strategy at trial was to point out that the caseworker did not do a complete investigation and had a flawed understanding of notations doctors made at the hospital where Marisol gave birth. We called our own psychiatric expert to testify about what those notations actually indicated—and the upshot was that no mental health diagnosis had been made. CFR was able to argue many points in the birth records that showed Marisol behaving as a concerned and competent mother, feeding and talking to her newborn and attending to his needs. Although ACS prevailed at trial, the appellate division reversed that finding, reminding us all in a detailed decision that a finding of neglect “is not to be made lightly” and that the record at trial must support such a finding.
This case illustrates perfectly that it is an essential function of defense counsel to require that ACS meet its burden of proof and challenge the evidence brought against defendants and respondents. CFR’s role is critical, because many of our clients struggle every day against the effects of racism, classism, poverty, and the overinvolvement of the child welfare system and the police in their lives, sometimes with negative repercussions for generations.