ARD Does Not Automatically Violate Child Protective Services Law, Says Court

March 22, 2019

In a recent case from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, the appellate court found that the acceptance of ARD does not remove the need for a hearing on child neglect charges from the Department of Human Services. In the case of J.F. v. Department of Human Services, J.F. (the anonymous Mother) appealed an order of the Department of Human Services that dismissed her request for a hearing on two founded reports naming her as a perpetrator of abuse of her twin daughters.

The background facts in this matter are that on May 7, 2017, at 2:00 a.m., the police found Mother semi-conscious and intoxicated on a public street and transported her to a hospital for suspected alcohol poisoning. At 6:30 a.m., the hospital contacted police because Mother informed the staff that her two children were home alone. The police went to Mother's residence, where they met W.F. (Father), who worked the late shift. He had been called to the hospital but headed home when he learned that the children were alone. Father and the police found the twins asleep in their cribs. The report from CYS stated that Mother admitted that she had left the twins home alone to go to a bar. As a result of this, the police charged Mother with child endangerment.

Mother ultimately accepted ARD on her criminal charges, which is a program in which she could have her record expunged upon completion of certain requirements. As stated above, Mother was denied a hearing on the CYS charges because it was determined that her acceptance of ARD conclusively established that she committed the acts. Mother claimed that the facts recited in the affidavit of probable cause for the criminal charges did not constitute serious physical neglect under the Child Protective Services Law. She further asserted that acceptance into the ARD program to resolve a criminal charge of child endangerment did not constitute an adjudication of the facts set forth in the criminal complaint or in the founded reports. The Hearing Board disagreed and found her to have violated the Child Protective Services Law without a hearing. Mother appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The Commonwealth Court reversed finding that "'admission into an ARD program 'places the criminal proceedings in abeyance' and 'successful completion of ARD 'is not equivalent to a conviction under any circumstances.'" The Court found that even though the "A founded report is unquestionably an adjudication," but "[n]o adjudication ... shall be valid ... [without] notice of a hearing and an opportunity to be heard." Mother argued that the allegations in the criminal complaint and the statements in an affidavit of probable cause cannot become adjudicated facts based solely on entry into ARD and the Court agreed. The Court found that it was error to deny the Mother's hearing request and sent the matter back for further proceedings.

One of the main lessons from this case is that even though ARD proceedings are treated like a guilty plea, they are not a determination of guilt and do not establish certain facts as established. The Pennsylvania Courts have found that despite Mother's acceptance of ARD on criminal child endangerment charges, she should not have been prevented from challenging a determination of child abuse in another forum and her rights were violated by doing so. You should always consult with an experienced attorney in situations like this to know your rights. The lawyers at Conway Schadler have the experience and knowledge to counsel you in these areas and a lawyer that you can count on can make the difference in litigation.