New Law May Create New Pitfalls for Anyone Accused of Child Abuse in Pennsylvania

By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

A recently amended law in Pennsylvania creates new and potentially serious consequences for those who find themselves investigated by a county Children and Youth agency for allegations of child abuse. The risks created by the new law will be especially high for those who find themselves investigated or accused criminally as a result of the same allegations.

Senate Bill 31 was passed into law last month and will take effect in December of 2014. A key component of this bill is a change in the definition affecting how and when a local Children and Youth agency can mark a report of suspected child abuse as “founded.” In the past, in order for a local agency to report a child abuse allegation as “founded,” the law required a judicial finding in a court of law that the facts underlying the allegation actually occurred, which included a criminal conviction based upon the same facts. Under the new law, the scope of a “founded” report is much broader, particularly in cases where criminal charges are filed. Of particular note is the fact that the acceptance of Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program (“ARD”) by the person subject to the investigation, which is not a conviction and requires no factual admission, will now be sufficient for a county agency to conclude that a report of suspected child abuse is “founded.”

This distinction can be critical to the investigated person because, even where an accused person is found not guilty or otherwise completely absolved in a criminal court of law, a report of “founded” or “indicated” in an unrelated county Children & Youth investigation can haunt that person for life. Once entered into the statewide child abuse registry, a person who is subject to a founded or indicated report of child abuse may be permanently unable to pass a state child abuse clearance. This can result in lifetime impairments in terms of eligibility for certain jobs, child custody cases, adoption, and a range of other future issues.

If you are subject to an investigation of alleged child abuse in any way, whether by law enforcement, county Children and Youth, Childline, or anyone else, the assistance of an experienced attorney is critical. Many allegations giving rise to local agency investigation may also give rise to law enforcement investigation for very serious charges. Moreover, the decision by local law enforcement not to file criminal charges does not mean that the potentially life long effects of an allegation have passed. Only an experienced defense attorney, with knowledge of your specific case, can help you to avoid pitfalls that cost you your entire future.

Contact us today for a no charge consultation with an experienced defense attorney.

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