Miranda Monday: Mirandizing Family Justice

Harris County Law Library celebrates Law Day 2016: More Than Words, and the effort to expand Miranda rights to civil matters. 

Throughout the month of May, the Harris County Law Library is celebrating Law Day and the historic Miranda v. Arizona ruling of 1966. This decision, which established our right to remain silent when questioned by the police, is a cornerstone of our freedom and, for the last 50 years, an essential safeguard in guaranteeing procedural due process under the law.

Commemorating this decision and the fundamental rights it guarantees, including the protection against self-incrimination, is important. We at HCLL are committed to safeguarding justice and to reducing the barriers that impede equitable outcomes. We embrace all efforts that increase access to the legal system, especially for those in the greatest need, and we fully support any initiatives that improve expediency and fairness in the delivery of legal services. One such effort, which is slowly making a foothold in Texas, is the Family Justice Center initiative. (Bexar County, Hays County, and Tarrant County all have well-established FJC programs.)

Originating in San Diego, the Family Justice model was designed to increase efficiency and eliminate fragmentation in the delivery of legal services for victims of family violence. According to the program's design, combining governmental and community-based agencies under one roof allows for greater efficiency and better coordination of services, resulting in more effective intervention strategies for those in need of domestic relief.

At the same time, however, those who provide intervention services, including police, prosecutors, social workers, safety advocates, and medical personnel, are required to report any instances of violence, leading to a very problematic conflict of interest: the same duty that obligates these professionals to report abuse also grants them de facto authority to open criminal cases against the perpetrators, ostensibly in the best interests of their clients, but often in opposition with the confidentiality to which their clients are entitled.

A brilliant article by UC-Irvine law professor Jane K. Stoever explores this very conflict and raises the need for extending Miranda-like protections to those involved in the FJC system. Her article, "Mirandizing Family Justice," is worth a careful read. In academia, journalism, and politics, much has been written on the expansion of Miranda rights to civil matters.  As discussed in a previous Miranda Monday post, these protections are typically limited to criminal situations despite recent arguments in favor of the need for civil safeguards.