Legal Briefs (November 2012)

The NASW Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a petition asking the court to review the case City of New York v. Southerland. The brief requests review in order for the court to uphold immunity for a child protection caseworker who acted to remove children from their father’s home due to abuse and neglect.

The father challenged the legality of the removal due to imperfections in the application for the initial warrant that permitted the caseworker to gain access to the father’s residence, and because the caseworker did not return to court for a second warrant once he discovered that the children on the premises were not the same children named in the warrant petition.

The abuse and neglect, however, were substantiated in subsequent legal proceedings.

The amicus brief states that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to permit adjudicated abusers to seek damages from caseworkers who put an end to abuse would deter the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act’s goals of preventing child abuse and neglect.

NASW argues that there is a need to protect caseworkers when they make good-faith judgments in the interest of protecting children from abuse and neglect without undue fear of personal liability.

NASW was represented in the matter by a pro bono legal team from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

The New Jersey Supreme Court in September ruled in favor of requiring greater specificity from prosecutors when they seek to waive youth into the adult criminal court system. The ruling is a victory for NASW and other organizations that joined in filing an amicus brief in the case State in the Matter of V.A.

The brief, which was led by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, argued that minority youths are waived into the adult system disproportionately. As a result, these young people suffer disparate rates of incarceration and collateral consequences of conviction.

It notes that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling highlights the fact that youths are developmentally different from adults. Nonetheless, states across the U.S., including New Jersey, enact laws that expose an increasing number of young people to adult prosecution and imprisonment.

In order to change this practice, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that:

  1. before seeking to transfer a child’s case from family court to adult criminal court, prosecutors must evaluate the case carefully and exercise their discretion with great care;
  2. when prosecutors do seek waiver, they must present more particularized and individualized reasons than previously required; and
  3. judges must exercise meaningful review of prosecutors’ actions in this area by applying an “abuse of discretion” standard.

Visit the NASW LDF Amicus Brief Database for these and other cases.