A lot of people are familiar with one of the classic Catch-22 scenarios in criminal law. When a person is convicted of a crime and sent to prison, one of the conditions of parole is that he/she admit guilt and show contrition for the bad act.
The problem comes when the convicted person is innocent. The Innocence Project and many similar state-based organizations have often revealed the “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” nature of state parole systems. These guys (over 90% are men) are faced with a terrible choice – “admit” “guilt” and possibly get out of prison where you don’t belong in the first place, or maintain your innocence and stay inside.
Thus, in this Orwellian world, does actual innocence keep you in prison. (I’m aware that the word “Orwellian” is overused, but it clearly applies here.)
As I said, many people are aware of this. What they likely aren’t aware of (I know I wasn’t), however, is this (KTNV, 4/15/11).
It seems that Las Vegas resident Victor Fakoya was babysitting a roommate’s toddler when the child died. That got him charged with murder by local prosecutors, but it turned out that the child had been seriously ill for some time prior to its death.
Fakoya’s first trial resulted in a hung jury, so prosecutors tried again. The second time, Fakoya was acquitted, i.e. he was found not guilty of the charges against him. The jury foreman, Hale Benton, called the child’s death “an accident” that wasn’t Mr. Fakoya’s fault.
Fine. All’s well that ends well, right? Perhaps so, but this one hasn’t ended, not by a long shot.
As his attorney, Kristina Wildeveld describes it,
“After he was released from the criminal trial, he was released from jail,” says Wildeveld. “He went home and CPS showed up at his door and told him there was an active CPS case and he wasn’t allowed to reside in his home.”
That would be bad enough, but there’s more. CPS wants to terminate Fakoya’s parental rights based on the death of his roommate’s child. Fakoya, it seems has two children of his own who’ve been in the care of their mother since his arrest in 2008.
Dissatisfied by their failures in criminal court, Las Vegas prosecutors have now intervened in the family court to prevent Fakoya’s having any contact with his own children and to in fact terminate his rights altogether.
And here’s where that old familiar Catch-22 comes in. CPS is demanding that Fakoya take a child abuse class, of which one graduation requirement is… can you guess? That’s right, an admission of guilt.
So, he’s been found not guilty by the jury, one of whose members says the child’s death was not Fakoya’s fault. That’s enough to acquit him of criminal liability, but if he ever wants to see his kids again, he has to admit to something he and at least 12 other people, say he didn’t do.
What’s left unsaid is whether CPS and prosecutors would drop their efforts to terminate his rights if he were to admit guilt. After all, in a sense it’s as much a Catch-22 for them as it is for him. Their line runs something like this: “Continue to claim innocence and we’ll take your kids from you; admit that you’re responsible for the death of a child and you can keep them.” Needless to say, that’s an awkward stance for them to maintain.
Meanwhile, Fakoya has exhausted his financial reserves. Wildeveld says he can’t pay her fees, so he’ll have a court-appointed lawyer to try to keep his kids.
Fakoya’s not a hard case; he says he’ll gladly take the class, but without the requirement that he admit guilt. That’s not good enough for prosecutors and CPS for whom nothing but moral abasement and kowtowing to their authority will be good enough.
Now, theoretically, a mere finding of ‘not guilty’ in a murder case may not be enough to prove that a person is a fit parent. Murder is an intentional act and acquittal may mean nothing more than that the accused didn’t kill someone on purpose. And that’s far from enough to show that he/she is qualified to be a parent. After all, CPS rightly takes children from parents every day based only on neglect.
But in this case, the child’s death was not due to any failure on Fakoya’s part. That’s what Hale Benton says, at any rate. So at this point, prosecutors and CPS look to be acting punitively.
And there’s another issue that no one has brought up. Fakoya is married. His wife is the mother of his two children. So, what if prosecutors and CPS succeed in their mission to deprive Fakoya of his kids? Well, he obviously can’t live with his wife or have much contact with her.
So, in addition to trying to take his children, they’re apparently trying to take his marriage as well. If they succeed at that though, it’ll be because they terminated his parental rights which in all probability means he won’t be required to pay child support. That in turn means that his children not only won’t have a father, they’ll live on the earnings of their single mother alone, without the support of her ex.
In short, the ramifications of the actions of prosecutors and CPS go far beyond their dogged pursuit of an innocent man, bad as that is by itself.
‘Tis a tangled web indeed. But it’s one that could be untangled easily by prosecutors and CPS seeing sense and letting Victor Fakoya go home to his wife and kids.