I have practiced a good bit in juvenile court in the state of Georgia, mostly in child deprivation cases. Those are cases where the Deparment of Family and Children Services is petitioning the juvenile court judge to allow that department to keep a child in its custody, most often removing the child from the home and the child’s parents. It is my conclusion that the juvenile courts in Georgia are the forum where the constituional rights of Georgia citizens are most at risk of being completely lost.
My experience has been that juvenile court judges, in deprivation cases instituted by the Deparment of Family and Children Services, grant the relief sought by the Department of Family and Children Services, approving the actions of the department, based on little or no evidence of deprivation. In my opinion, there are two reasons for this. The juvenile court judges would rather err on the side of protecting the child and the juvenile court judge will not be reversed on appeal as the Georgia Court of Appeals defers to the fact-finding of the juvenile court judge and will not reweigh the evidence presented in juvenile court or judge the credibility of witnesses who testified in juvenile court.
These two considerations result in children routinely being removed from their home in the state of Georgia on really flimsy grounds, to the detriment of the parental rights of the child’s parents, not to mention the parents’ constitutional right to due process and equal protection of the laws. The fact that the rulings of Georgia juvenile court judges are generally to be upheld on appeal results in the appellate court giving deference to the fact-finding of the juvenile court judge to a ridiculous degree. For example, if a parent is on the witness stand in juvenile court testifying and trying to regain custody of their child, that parent need not get angry or upset while testifying. The demeanor of the parent while testifying can actually serve as evidence which will support the juvenile court’s finding of deprivation if it is challenged on appeal. So, what that means is if a parent becomes righteously indignant because the Department of Family and Children Services has taken custody of his or her child without good cause, and if that indignation shows through while that parent is testifying, the juvenile court judge can decide that this indignant behavior is evidence of psycholigical instability on the part of the testifying parent and can use that behavior itself to help reach a determination that the child is a deprived child. This decision based on such, in my view, inappropriate evidence, will be upheld by the Georgia Court of Appeals if the juvenile court judge’s finding of deprivation is challenged on appeal.
So, the bottom line is….when you have to appear in juvenile court in the state of Georgia in a child deprivation action instituted by the Department of Family and Children Services, be aware that the cards are stacked against you from the beginning and be prepared to fight. If you walk into that courtroom expecting fair and consitutional treatment, you’ll be badly, badly disappointed.