Today, a Muskogee mother was forced by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to give up her children’s Constitutional rights under threat of having them taken away from her.
The mother, whose husband is facing felony charges of child neglect after a young son was burned during what the defense says was a grilling accident, is not herself charged with a crime. Still, DHS workers told her today that her nine- and 11-year-old children would have to submit to forensic interviews at Kids Space without a lawyer or they and the two-year-old who was burned would be taken away from her. The mother was escorted to Kids Space by attorney Steve Money, who represents the parents and the children.
A representative of Kids Space told Money it was against DHS and Kids Space policy to allow attorneys to be present, even in a separate viewing room, while the children are being interrogated.
“I was pretty shocked that someone thinks their policies and procedures outweigh the United States Constitution, but in Muskogee it apparently does. A murderer can have an attorney sitting next to him during an ‘interview,' but in Muskogee a nine- and 11-year-old can’t even have an attorney in the next room,” Money said. “Look, but for this criminal case, mom and the kids would never have been summoned for this interrogation. They call it a ‘forensic interview’ to make it sound nice, but at the end of the day it is an interrogation conducted under color of law — and that makes this subject to all the protections of the law.”
The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantees citizens cannot be unreasonably searched or seized. The Fifth Amendment ensures the right of citizens to not be compelled to testify against themselves, and the Sixth Amendment guarantees citizens the right to be represented by counsel. When Money asked to be present for the questioning of the children, he was blocked, being told that only the referring source (in this case DHS) or law enforcement could observe the questioning.
“My client and her children were summoned to Kids Space yesterday and upon my advice I told them to not go until we had a better feel for what this was about,” Money said. “She got a call and was literally told to be at kids space at 10 this morning or her children would be taken away from her - even though she’s not accused of a crime.”
No law has been found to authorize depriving citizens of their Constitutional right to be represented by counsel during questioning. The Supreme Court has ruled that children have the same Constitutional rights as adults.
“A nine and eleven year old are not allowed to have an attorney present while they’re being interrogated?” Money said. “And their mother is told if she doesn’t subject them to this, she will lose her kids? This isn’t the way things are supposed to be done in America.
“If you have an accident at your house it’s a pitiful state of affairs that you risk losing your children. I guess in Muskogee County if you have a charcoaling accident you risk losing all your children. I’m not sure what happens if your kid runs with a pencil and puts his eye out.”
DHS has not returned calls for comment.