Child Abuse and Child Neglect
Oklahoma law provides a number of avenues to protect vulnerable children. If child abuse or neglect is suspected,
- The Oklahoma Department of Human Services may investigate and take out-of-court action
- The Oklahoma Department of Human Services, together with the District Attorney, may file a petition to take the child into state custody
- Law enforcement may begin a criminal investigation and arrest suspects
- Parents may take action in a divorce or child custody case to protect their child
- Parents may file a protective order to protect their child
- Grandparents or other non-parents may file a guardianship to protect the child
There are very few limitations on action that courts and prosecutors may take to protect vulnerable children. In 1999, a pregnant woman was arrested for manufacture and possession of methamphetamine. A judge set an emergency hearing and took temporary emergency custody of the woman’s fetus. The judge ordered that custody of the fetus was placed with the Department of Human Services, and that if the woman made bail and was released from jail, she was required to report her whereabouts to child welfare. In 2001, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reviewed the case and held that the Oklahoma Children’s Code does not apply to a fetus, viable or nonviable, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that the trial judge had erred. You can read about that case here.
However, more recently there have been several cases in Oklahoma where pregnant mothers have been charged with child neglect for failure to protect an unborn fetus from the use or possession of illegal drugs. Some of those mothers have asked for dismissal of those criminal charges based on the logic and rationale of the 2001 Oklahoma Supreme Court case. In 2020, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals held that pregnant women who fail to protect their unborn child from the use, possession, sale, or manufacture of illegal drugs can be charged with felony child neglect. You can read that decision here.
An accusation of child abuse or child neglect is a life-changing event, even if you are innocent. Simply accusing a person of harming a child can cause that person to lose their job and their rights of custody and visitation to their children. Because of the harsh consequences associated with any allegation of abuse or neglect, our attorneys cross-train in family law and criminal defense organizations. We have specialized education for questioning children and cross-examining forensic interviewers who question children. We have special strategies to help clients successfully deal with false allegations. If anyone suggests that you or a loved one have committed child abuse or child neglect, contact us right away.