As a seasoned Mesa criminal defense attorney, I have defended many parents who have been arrested on child abuse or child endangerment charges simply because the adult’s life choices place him or her near illegal drugs on a daily basis. These are not typical child abuse cases, such as when children are neglected or corporal punishment has gone awry. Child abuse in these cases is the direct result of the child living in a home that doubles as either a meth lab or as a distribution center for illegal drugs.
For these parent/defendants, the otherwise simple and straightforward drug charges turn into significant investments of time and legal fees. This is because the parent must now fight two separate, but factually entwined, legal battles. Not only does the government add additional felony charges, but in most cases, the children have been removed from the parent’s care and control. Sadly, too many criminal defense attorneys have absolutely no training or experience in helping parents get their children back.
Whenever the Department of Child Safety removes a child from a parent’s care, that parent has the absolute right to fight the reasons behind the removal. This legal battle does not occur before the same judge that presides over the felony case. Child removal is litigated before a juvenile court judge, and is civil in nature. Parents fighting to get their children returned at the same time that they are fighting to stay out of prison get treated much differently in front of a juvenile court judge than they do before a criminal court judge. For example, there is no right to a jury trial in the juvenile court. More importantly, there is no privilege against self-incrimination. Thus, if a parent invokes his or her right to silence (because criminal charges are still pending regarding the child abuse allegations), a juvenile court judge may assume that the only reason the parent has refused to speak is because the child abuse allegations are true.
While some may not have much sympathy for a mother who raises her child near the harsh chemicals that are utilized inside a meth lab, the same legal theories also apply to a female medical marijuana card holder who becomes pregnant. Many state and federal websites warn that smoking or ingesting medical marijuana during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding, can be dangerous to the fetus or newborn child. Recent Arizona legislation requires physicians to certify that they have warned all female medical marijuana patients about these health risks. See A.R.S. §36-2803(B) (as amended in April of 2016).
From the state’s perspective, a mother who uses medical marijuana consciously ignores these medical risks to her child, and is, therefore, in the exact same position as a mother who chooses to raise her child near a meth lab. As a result, should you or a loved one ever be charged with child abuse (or have a child removed from your care) solely because of medical marijuana use, it is essential to find an attorney who understands how to combat both the prosecutor in the criminal courts and the Department of Child Safety in the juvenile courts. Our child abuse defense attorneys have vast experience in the criminal and the juvenile court systems – including many years of experience on the bench of both courts.