Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
It's going on a decade since that night in May 1999, when three teens were gunned down in the East Mountains of Albuquerque, New Mexico while returning home from a graduation party in an incident that would later become known as the East Mountain Triple Homicide.
On May 29th, 1999, around 11:30 pm, 16-year-old Luis Garcia and his friends Kevin Shirley and Matthew Hunt, both seventeen years old, (pictured above Shirley, Hunt, Garcia) were murdered in a barrage of 24 bullets as they sat in Kevin's car at the intersection of Pinon Hills and Jennifer Drive.
Despite a massive investigation and a $100,000.00 plus reward the case remained a mystery for years until 2006, when a 27-year-old drifter, Brandon Craig, was arrested after being identified by three individuals who claimed to have witnessed the shootings. Craig was charged with three counts of murder and three counts of child abuse on the basis of the statements made by the newly discovered witnesses.
The case went to trial last month. Key to the prosecution case were the witnesses that belatedly came forward with details of the murder: Craig's former girlfriend, Jocelyn Schneider; Craig's cousin, Luke Morris; and an associate of Craig's named Jeffrey Moore. All three testified that they spent the afternoon of the murder getting high on drugs.
Per Schneider's testimony, during the course of that afternoon, the subject of a $500 drug debt that Kevin Shirley allegedly owed to Schneider came up in conversation. At some point, Craig, under the belief that he owned everything that Schneider owned, decided that he wanted to collect on that debt. Collecting that debt became a mission for Craig and the three drove to the party where Shirley was but left after Craig and Shirley argued over the money.
Schneider testified that after leaving, Craig decided to return to the party and confront Shirley again. Before they they could turn around they observed Shirley's vehicle heading in the opposite direction with Garcia and Hunt as passengers. Craig decided to chase Shirley's car and eventually cut it off blocking their path. He then went to the window and begin arguing with Shirley again. Craig then went back to Schneider's vehicle, pulled out a rifle and started firing into Shirley's car at close range. On April 2nd, after a two-week trial, Craig was acquitted of all counts after two days of jury deliberations. Although some jurors later expressed misgivings about their decision, feeling that Craig probably was the shooter, they felt that there was too much doubt for conviction. Inconsistencies in the witnesses testimony, the lack of physical evidence tying Craig to the murders, and the unreliability of key witnesses who all had rap sheets of their own, all contributed to the not-guilty verdict. Other factors that didn't help were Schneider admitting to lying to a grand jury and sending text messages to Morris's sister asking for details of the crime so that they could get their testimony to match.
Reaction to the verdict has been mixed in the news and on Internet chat forums. Many are passionate about their opinion that a murderer walked free. Others are equally adamant that the system worked as it should with the not-guilty verdict being the end result of contradictory and sparse evidence. Whatever your opinion, the fact remains that not-guilty verdicts create as many questions as they do answers.
Another question that has been asked is whether a person with a checkered past who has lied to a grand jury can be relied upon as a witness. I don't think that there is any correct answer to that question. Certainly a person who has made mistakes in the past can be reliable as a witness. More troubling is the issue of lying under oath to a grand jury. The question has to be asked how testimony under oath in a trial can be relied on when the witness has lied under oath before.
A lot of Internet posters have speculated that the eyewitnesses would have had more credibility if they had been charged as aiders and abettors for their roles in the crime. That begs the real question of whether the key witnesses were aiders and abettors or were merely present at the crime, which does not make them culpable under the law.
A not-guilty verdict is always a reminder to police and prosecutors that we don't make evidence; we only do what we can with the cards that we are dealt. However, it doesn't take the sting out of a "not guilty" verdict on a case like the East Mountain triple homicide.
Statements made in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views, opinions, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.Tweet
Monday, April 27, 2009
This month, we observe the anniversary of a national tragedy. April 19th marked 14 years since the devastating act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by political extremist Timothy McVeigh and conspirator Terry Nichols that not only destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building (pictured left), but ended the lives of 168 innocent men. women, and children, injured over 800 people, and forever ravaged the lives of their countless loved ones . . . those who survived . . . and a nation. Who could forget the photo (below) that captured the heartbreak of senseless, sudden loss that day.
Hundreds gathered last Sunday at the site of the bombing to commemorate the day where 168 empty chairs sat on the grass in place of the building that once stood there. Loved ones of the victims and survivors read the names of each of those killed and the crowd observed 168 seconds of silence for each life lost.
Several pieces of important legislation were enacted by the U. S. government as a result of the bombing of the Murrah building and its aftermath. Among those, The Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, (AEDPA) was signed by Congress to "deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes.
Because the trials of the perpetrators and conspirators were moved out of state (from Oklahoma to Denver, Colorado), President Clinton signed the Victim Allocution Clarification Act of 1997, which allowed victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing, and those of any future acts of violence, to observe and offer victim-impact testimony at trials.
Clinton stated that "when someone is a victim, he or she should be at the center of the criminal justice process, not on the outside looking in."
Timothy McVeigh (pictured left) was arrested hours after the bombing for driving without a license plate and for carrying a concealed weapon. At his trial, the prosecution stated that McVeigh's motivation for the horrific act of domestic terrorism was his hatred of the U. S. government, which grew in part from the incidents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992, and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in 1993. The April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing occured on the anniversay of the end of the 51-day seige in Waco in which 50 adults and 25 children died after federal law enforcement launched a fiery assault. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection at a U. S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on June 11, 2001. It was the first federal exection in 38 years.
Terry Nichols was tried twice, once by the federal government, and once by the state of Oklahoma. He was found guilty of the federal charges of conspiring to build a weapon of mass destruction and of eight counts of involuntary manslaughter of federal officers. He was sentenced to life without parole. Although the State of Oklahoma sought the death penalty for 161 counts of first-degree murder, the jury became deadlocked on the issue of death and Nichols was instead sentenced to 161 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.
This month also marks the tenth anniversary of theColumbine High School Massacre where teenagers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot and killed 13 others before taking their own lives on April 20, 1999.
As the country observes the beginning of National Crime Victims' Rights Week today, I ask you to not only remember the victims of these and other highly publicized tragic crimes, but the hundreds of thousands of others—survivors, homicide victims, missing persons, and their families and loved ones left behind. To commemorate Crime Victims' Rights Week as well as the last week of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month, Women in Crime Ink will feature other observance posts over the next several days from our contributors and from you, our readers.Tweet
Friday, April 24, 2009
Rarely does a day go by when we are not inundated with the horrifying details of what some sexual predators are capable of doing to children, graphically laid out on shows such as Nancy Grace, Geraldo at Large, CNN News and local stations where we all live.
Victims are not taken at gun point. Instead predators are luring their young victims with a simple click of the mouse. Most parents remain computer illiterate, far behind their technology savvy children. Parents are not prepared to recognize the dangers waiting for their child on a computer or cell phone screen, similar to a one way mirror, into Hell.
As the Florida mother of 3 children, Jaemi Levine preached to each child the dangers waiting outside the walls of her 4-bedroom ranch home. Jaemi was a stay at home Mom, active in the P.T.A., Girl Scouts, and just about everything else related to her family. Her daughter Nicole had just celebrated her twelfth birthday. Nicole was your average pre-teen, playing the tuba in the high school band and a straight “A” student.
Jaemi was a vigilant parent. Always knowing at every moment where Nicole was and what she was doing and with whom, including monitoring her daughter’s online activities.
One night, Nicole went to hang out at a friend’s house to work on a report for school. While Nicole and her friends were on the computer, they took a break and headed onto a “Safe Site” approved for teen chat. Suddenly, up on the computer screen in an instant message, “Hi, I’m, lonely will you be my friend?”
Over the course of 3 weeks Nicole confessed private details to this new on-line friend of her life, the area she and her family lived in Florida where she attended Junior high school, to her favorite flavor of ice cream.
After gaining Nicole’s trust, the skilled child sexual predator convinced her they should get together and meet face to face.
Over the weekend Nicole asked her mother if she could walk to the bookstore 2 blocks from their home. " No Nicole, your sister is sick in bed and you know the rules about going anyplace by yourself. "Please Mom, Nicole begged, I'll only be gone for hour. I need to get a book for my homework assignment. After 15 minutes of debate her mother caved in to her daughters request. "Make sure you take your cell phone. If you are not back in exactly one hour, I will ground you for one week." Happily, Nicole kissed her mother goodbye and headed out the front door.
The hour passed, no Nicole. Frantically every 2 minutes Jaemi was calling Nicole’s cell phone, but she was not answering. Jaemi got into her car and drove to the bookstore and searched for her daughter. Jaemi continued to call and look for Nicole. Finally Nicole answered. She sounded strange. “Where are you?” her mother demanded. “Oh I’m almost home,” Nichole replied. But she was not. Jaemi called the cell phone again. It was the longest two hours of Jaemi’s life. Nicole walked out of the bookstore parking lot and into the car. Nicole was panicked and badly shaken. “I circled everywhere looking for you, who were you talking too?” Nicole had stared at the dashboard unable to look at her mother and respond. “Oh it was um, a 29 year-old man from Pakistan he just asked for directions.” Jaemi looked at her daughter in shock, “what if he had grabbed or hurt you?” Nicole tearfully replied, “I learned never to talk to older men on the computer.” Jaemi said, "my heart sunk down to my feet, knowing my daughter had already been raped."
Once inside the house, Jaemi Levine placed one call to 911 and the other to a friend of the family who was a child psychologist.
The day, the hour, the moment would forever be etched in the mind of both mother and daughter. First, police arrived and made a report followed by a detective removing Nicole's computer and taking it to an expert in capturing all conversations on the hard drive.
Two days later a Detective returned to Jaemi Levine's home with disturbing information. The 29-year old man from Pakistan was a known sexual predator who was part of a large human trafficking operation. They lure young girls. In Nicole's case, the man held her at knife point. This particular group of sexual predators video tape their victims (like Nicole) to show they are still virgins. And get the victim to meet them again where they are abducted and shipped overseas to a foreign country and sold as sex slaves.
And Jaemi Levine has worked to become a tireless advocate for families across the country, educating anyone whom invites her to speak in hopes that we read about one less tragedy with our morning coffee.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Roxana Dreamed of Becoming a Journalist Who Helps America
She was a lot like me...but much more courageous.
We dreamed of being journalists, and the hard work and hard lifestyle it takes to be successful didn’t stop us.
We both started out as one-man bands which is TV news lingo for a reporter who has to shoot all her own footage—a reporter and photographer in one.
She was a one-man band in the large market of Houston, Texas. By then, I had experienced photographers, editors and engineers. They were needed to keep up with the fast competitive pace of Houston news.
Most TV reporters dream of making it to network news in New York City, but Roxana Saberi had a bigger dream than most journalists…much bigger.
Roxana dreamed of making a difference by reporting from a dangerous part of the world that most Americans don’t understand and don’t trust. Roxana grew up in Fargo, North Dakota with a mom from Japan and a dad from Iran. Her dad grew up in North Dakota but his birth in Iran gave Roxana dual American-Iranian citizenship.
At the tender age of 25, Roxana moved to Iran. The former Miss North Dakota and top ten finalist in Miss America started wearing traditional Muslim dress so she could live in Iran and work as a freelance journalist for NPR, the BBC, and other prestigious news organizations. She started working on a Masters degree in Iranian studies and writing a book to explain the culture and people.
Now, six years later this beautiful, smart, hard working American journalist is locked up in Iran’s notorious Evin prison convicted of espionage. (Roxana's Dad Pictured Left Is In Iran Hiring Attorneys to Fight for His Daughter's Release)
Once again Iranian officials have proven why they cannot be trusted or underestimated.
Iranian Officials Arrested Roxana and Charged Her With Spying
On January 31st, Iranian officials arrested Roxana and put her in prison. Roxana told her parents she was arrested for buying a bottle of wine. Buying alcohol is illegal in Iran. Iran’s foreign-ministry spokesperson said Roxana was being jailed for reporting without valid press credentials. Iranian officials had taken away Roxana’s press credentials but then allowed her to keep reporting for some time.
Iranian officials hinted for months Roxana would be released and then all of sudden Iran’s judiciary said Roxana was being investigated for passing information to American intelligence members. Then they claimed she confessed to this ridiculous allegation. Roxana told her dad they threatened to kill her if she didn’t admit to spying. Roxana was charged with espionage, convicted in secret, and sentenced to 8 years in prison. The verdict was "beyond belief."
Looking duplicitous as usual, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday sent a letter to the judiciary calling for a fair appeal for Roxana.
Many experts believe Iranian officials are playing a sick game of political chess with Roxana’s life. They think Iran has trumped up these charges against Roxana in order to get the United States to free five Revolutionary Guard members Americans found training insurgents in Iraq.
President Obama Should Secure Roxana’s Release
The White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both said they are deeply disappointed by Iran’s actions. I hope that behind those politically safe statements, the White House is putting the fear back in Iran.
I am outraged as an American and as a journalist.
Iran has had no fear of any repercussions from the United States for some time. They are moving forward with an aggressive nuclear program. Remember, President Ahmadinejad said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. We should all worry when a nation is building nuclear capability and has no fear.
Now a young journalist is locked up in an Iranian prison for using her pen to help Americans and the world at a critical time when we all need as much understanding of the Iranian people as we can get.
My longtime friend Ray Magnant was Creative Services Director at News 34 Houston where Roxana worked. He says she earned the respect of all who knew her.
“She was smart and very driven. She was one of the best reporters we had. You knew she wouldn’t stay in Houston that long because she was so smart. We knew she was destined for bigger stories.” Magnant said.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, George Stephanopoulos asked Ahmadinejad if he would release Roxana as a good will gesture. I suggest you take a deep breath so you don’t blow a gasket or vomit when you read his response.
"I think Mr. Obama, as a sign of change and also to encourage friendship, should allow laws to be processed fairly and allow the judiciary to carry out its duties," Ahmadinejad said.
How dare he say President Obama, the leader of the free world, should just sit by while Iran trumps up charges and convicts an American journalist of espionage. President Kennedy once reminded Americans that the only job protected by the constitution is that of journalists. Journalists are crucial to justice. Nothing sanitizes like a pen writing the truth.
As for the White House, I can only hope they are using Big Stick Diplomacy which calls for speaking softly in public as to not worsen the situation while carrying a big stick and threatening Iran behind closed doors.
For now, I urge all Americans to contact the White House and let the president know you want strong actions that will bring Roxana home. You can visit the website dedicated to freeing her to follow her case and the fight for her. As we sit in our comfortable American homes, Roxana is starting a hunger strike today from prison doing what little she can to fight for her own freedom.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Some are honestly wondering about the legal ramifications of Madonna's recent fall from a horse, which her publicist blamed on an aggressive paparazzo. Her injuries, thank goodness, don't seem serious. But the incident offers a chance for a bit of exposition and education on the laws of personal injury. Can she sue? Would she win? Could she collect? The answers are sure, maybe, and probably not.
Can she sue?
Would she win?
Everyone, everywhere, at all times, has a "duty" under the law to act as a reasonable person would act in the same situation. That legal standard is vague, and it's usually up to a jury, and not a judge, to decide whether someone's actions were reasonable under the circumstances. I don't think it requires anything more than common sense to know that startling a horse can cause injury to its rider.
The department that rendered aid to her is releasing its own opinion on the matter. I found their statements rather curious. If Madonna said nothing to them about the photographer, that is neither here nor there. In the usual trip-and-fall, there's no reason for a responder to deeply delve. "How did this happen?" "I fell from my horse." That's as much of a conversation as I'd expect to see reflected in a police report.
Could she collect?
The press says he was a freelancer. Since he had no regular employer that could also be held accountable for his actions, there would be no insured corporate deep pocket to shake down. As a private person, he might own a home and might have homeowner's insurance. But it probably isn't much, and it might not cover such a claim since it arose from his line of business. Most homeowner's policies have limits or exclusions when you're sued because of the work that you do.
Believe it or not, as a rule lawyers do not like to pursue the personal assets of tort defendants (unless they've done something particularly egregious, and even then, I don't know many lawyers who would push to collect personally from an uninsured or underinsured person). If the jury did slam the fellow with a large verdict, he would have the option of filing for bankruptcy and blowing out the judgment there.
So even if Madonna did win a lawsuit against the fellow, she'd probably have a devil of a time getting any money from him. That's not to say I wouldn't take the case. If she needs a lawyer to handle the claim, gosh, I'm available!
Bottom line: While Madonna has credibility problems in general and a lifestyle that most people disdain, the paparazzi aren't doing much better these days in the court of public opinion. Given all the times when some jerk of a photographer sued a star for some stupid dustup, it might be fun to see the shoe on the other foot.
Monday, April 20, 2009
With a foreword by Marc Klaas, founder and president of KlaasKids Foundation, this straightforward and clearly written guidebook answers one hundred of the most asked questions that Robin has encountered in her fifteen years of experience as a sex crimes prosecutor. From the definition of abuse to profiles of predators, to how to report an incident and to whom, Robin provides practical, reassuring, and appropriate information.
For ease of use, the book is organized into six major sections:
- Recognizing Predators: Molesters, Pedophiles, and Opportunists
- Talking to Kids About Risks and Identifying Potential Problems
- Recognizing Abuse
- Reporting Sexual Abuse
- Going to Court
- Healing and Moving On
Predators and Child Molesters is already debuting to rave reviews:
“Finally! A hard-hitting Q&A on predators and child molesters. Sax's book is a must read for anyone concerned about the safety and well being of America's children. As a former felony prosecutor of crimes on children, this is Crime & Prevention 101 . . .”
Nancy Grace, host of CNN Headline News' Nancy Grace
"Child Molesters and Predators" answers everything you wanted to ask and tells everything you need to know to prevent your worst nightmare and possible lifelong torment for your child. Sax writes in an easy to read format providing practical answers for keeping youngsters safe. This is a must read for every parent or anyone who cares for kids.
Mark Goulston, Huffington Post
Robin Sax makes it clear that prosecuting children against possible sexual assault begins with every parent in the home. Teaching preventative measures should be as important as teaching children to dial 911.
Predators and Child Molesters is available in bookstores now and online. Robin Sax can be seen frequently as a legal commentator on CNN’s Nancy Grace, Larry King Live, and Fox News covering criminal cases and trials. You can also hear her weekly on Justice Interrupted Blogtalk Radio where she covers the latest news in crime with WCI contributors Susan Murphy-Milano and Stacy Dittrich. Robin Sax resides in California with her husband and three children.
Also out this month: Reaching The Bar: Stories of Women at All Stages of Their Law Career. A comprehensive look into the lives of women lawyers, each chapter is introduced by Robin Sax, who also edited Reaching the Bar.
Friday, April 17, 2009
When did society force our innocent children to be treated so harshly and with such a lack of respect? Maybe it would be better to put them on the witness stand as they do in Canada and London. It is the parents who still “dangle their kids like carrots” to hurt the other parent.
Maturity is not often exhibited in family law court. It usually is put on the shelf while the adults—who once loved each other enough to marry and have children—display a pure hatred for one another. One might question if they were ever in the same relationship or had ever cared for each other. Divorce is ugly. What divorcing parents do to their children is even uglier.
I have seen this myself up-close and personal. I tried to be the better parent, to "get along.” The problem is that it takes two rational people to get along with one another for the benefit of the children. It is impossible to do, without the cooperation of a second party. One party can influence the children in a positive way and the other in a negative way, but how can the court tell who is providing which influence? That is the question the court deals with on a daily basis and this is what clogs the system.
The court decided to bring mental health professionals into the equation to try to determine the facts and what would be best for the family. The court calls this process a Child Custody Evaluation, referred to as a "730 Evaluation" in California. Court administrators attempt to ascertain what is really going on and where the children would be best suited to thrive. They also need to decide what is in the “best interest” of the children. We are still searching for how to reach that answer without being any closer to solving the problem after over 30 years of doing things the same old way.
The court sends family members to mental health providers to talk about their family issues and what is happening with their relationships. The evaluators are charged with the duty of figuring out what is going on within the family unit and then determining a child custody plan which they figure is in the “best interest” of the children.
The problem comes when there are any allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, or child sexual abuse. Then the evaluator needs to try to determine if the allegations are true or false. The next problem is the evaluators are not trained investigators and do not know how to investigate these criminal allegations nor do they have training in how to determine if their clients are untruthful. Evaluators are trained to believe their client’s reality is what the client tells them and not to question what they are told. Therefore, when the evaluator believes what the client tells them, then the problem is that both parents must be considered to be telling the truth. When stories conflict, as they do more often than not, the end result is that the evaluator does not know who is telling the truth.
Then we get to the children. We tell children to tell the truth and try to teach them to tell the truth. But when we are dealing with divorce, the paradigm changes. When parents use their children, they talk to them about things which are inappropriate. They make comments that they want the kids to repeat to the evaluator who conducts the child custody evaluation. Then the children repeat some statements and forget to repeat others. The evaluator does not know what the truth is as s/he must accept statements from both sides as truth because s/he is unequipped to detect deception or to conduct an independent investigation.
Now some evaluators will use personality assessment testing and other measures for the parents involved in the divorce process. These tests show if there are any personality disorders, mental disorders, and sometimes they try to determine if there is a propensity to use alcohol or drugs. What happens after you find out this information? If one parent has a personality disorder or mental disorder, does that in and of itself preclude them from parenting their child? Of course not. There are other factors which have to be taken into consideration.
If a parent has a propensity to use alcohol and/or drugs, how do you prove they are using or that it is affecting their parenting? Parents generally don’t admit they abuse alcohol or drugs, so the testing would not be useful to the evaluator.
The evaluator then has to write a report to the court, which has recommendations on parenting plans and schedules. The report is used by the judge to assist in making the decision about the visitation. Unfortunately, this does not solve the issues, and the parent who is not happy with the results can request their case be evaluated by another specialist. In California, this is called a 733 Evidence Code-Review of a Child Custody Evaluator’s Report.
Most often, evaluations are requested by one or the other parent on a yearly basis for one reason or another. This can cause a backlog in the court system and is not very efficient, as it is costly and does not accomplish the intended purpose. On the other side, the children get subjected to being put in the middle of the parents' ongoing battle and can find stability difficult, if not impossible.
Is an evaluator qualified to answer or to investigate those allegations when they believe whatever their clients tell them is true? Can they determine the truth from a lie or are they in place to put together parenting plans? Evaluators were never put in place to investigate allegations of abuse, yet they deal with these issues on a daily basis. Children are placed in their care and their futures in their hands, when the larger issues of their safety and welfare must be addressed. If an evaluator is not able to determine if the abuse allegations are true or false, then how can they determine a parenting plan?
When evaluators cannot determine what is really going on in the family, they are more likely to keep the case open for further evaluation, to review the family at a later date to see if there have been any changes. The problem with this plan is if the abuse allegations are not true, the children are then being subjected to being estranged from the alleged abusive parent without any justification. This can cause a parent to be away from their children for upwards of a year without any evidence against them. Then if they somehow get visitation after that time period, they have to be reunified with their children who they have now been alienated from due to the extensive time period apart.
Child Protective Services (CPS) is often involved. However, sometimes there is not any physical evidence to prove or file a criminal case. This does not mean the abuse did not occur. CPS might close their case "unsubstantiated," which simply means they could not prove or disprove the case.
These children and the possible domestic violence victims deserve to have an investigation to determine if the abuse did or did not occur, during the evaluation process. If domestic violence did occur, then there are specific court mandates which the judge must enforce. We are talking about people’s lives and the futures of the children. These decisions will affect them for the rest of their lives. This is not something to take lightly. It is something to take seriously and to put every effort into doing correctly and to the best of one’s ability.
The answer to the investigative needs for the family law courts is the Family Violence Risk Assessment (FVRA). The assessment is an investigative procedure which is able to investigate the allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, and child sexual abuse to determine the past, present, and potential future risk to the children and parents. The assessments provide evidence based reports in a timely manner, 6-8 weeks, as compared to the normal assessments which on average can take 4-6 months, or sometimes as long as 1 year or more. The assessments provide a final resolution and eliminate the need for expensive yearly annual evaluations.
The Family Violence Risk Assessment (FVRA) program is conducted by experienced investigators and mental health specialists, most Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) and Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs), all specifically trained in these fields. The program is conducted by a collaborative team under the supervision of John McLaughlin and myself. Combined, our firm has over 50 years' experience in law enforcement and mental health evaluations in family violence and child custody issues. The team also includes mental health professionals with Child Protective Services and other child welfare departments. Our experts have extensive experience testifying in criminal, civil, juvenile, and family courts, as well as forensic interviewing. The firm's team and its FVRA program qualify under the Domestic Relations Investigators, California Family Code 3110.
A Family Violence Risk Assessment is not a Child Custody Evaluation. However, we qualify as experts under Evidence Code 730. This is an investigative/assessment process rather than an evaluation. FVRA determines if there is a risk for future abuse or violence based on statistics and probability. It does not provide recommendations to a specific custody plan, but can be used in lieu of or as a compliment to a Child Custody Evaluation. Once there is a determination of risk, the Judicial Officer can then apply child custody plans based on established child custody guidelines.
These evaluations are not costly and are charged to the parents just like the Child Custody Evaluations. They actually end up costing less in the long run because it stops families from going through additional unnecessary evaluations over the years. Once a FVRA is conducted, there is no need to conduct another assessment because the risks to the children/parent(s) have already been established. This stops the game playing in family court and frees up court time for more important issues. This also helps to move the case along quicker, so the other issues can get resolved and the children have the stability they need regarding their living arrangements and visitation schedules.
There are some evaluators who recognize the value in our FVRA and use us in conjunction with their evaluations. This way they know if there is a risk to the children or either parent before they start their evaluation. They find this information invaluable to their evaluations and for setting up parenting plans.
Karen Borders is a retired police officer from Palm Springs where she served for 22 years. Karen has made a lifetime career out of helping victims of domestic violence and abuse. Karen is the co-creator of the Family Violence Risk Assessment program, which is currently being used extensively in family law courts throughout Southern California. As president of Borders, McLaughlin & Associates, Karen provides evidence-based risk assessments in high-conflict family law matters.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
All of their stories were the same as my own.
There is a right way to do things, and a wrong way, whether or not your intentions are the same.
It’s rather unfortunate that in my own pile of emails I have received some genuine pleas for voices to be heard, but it’s the others that take up my time and cloud my vision. The family of Davina Buff Jones was one of those “genuine” pleas, and I was more than happy to spread their heart wrenching—and legitimate, story. And, a few similar ones still remain.