How would you like to wake up one day and find out that the State had put your name on a PUBLIC list of child abusers for all of your neighbors, employers, friends, relatives and fellow citizens to see?
You might think the idea preposterous. After all they can’t do that without telling you beforehand of the accusations against you and giving you a chance to argue your side. I’m innocent until proven guilty right?
The State CAN, and often does, put people’s names on the Tennessee Child Abuse Registry without informing the people of the accusations/evidence against them or giving them a change to argue their side.
The process is called being “indicated”. It usually begins when you receive a letter informing you that you have been indicated as a perpetrator of child abuse/neglect and that if you disagree with the decision you have 14 days to write the State and tell them you disagree. I’ve seen many of these letters and they contain no indication (pun intended) whatsoever of WHAT you allegedly did to be labelled a dirty rotten child abuser. If you do not reply within 14 days the “indication” is “upheld” and your name goes on the Tennessee Child Abuse Registry (PUBLIC list of dirty rotten child abusers).
If you do reply within 14 days the State “reviews” your file which basically means someone else at the State looks at the file. At this juncture you still do not have the right to see the evidence against you and so, even if you want to present an argument denying, you are kind of like Stevie Wonder trying to drive a cab. Not surprisingly the “review” almost always results in the “indication” being “upheld”.
At this point you will receive a second letter. If you work in a job that provides you access to children (i.e. teacher, day care worker etc) the letter will inform you that if you disagree you must request in writing a hearing within 30 days. If you do not work in a job that provides you access to children the letter will usually say something along the lines of “this completes your review process” and your name goes on the registry even though you still haven’t seen the evidence against you or been given the chance to argue your case.
Seems blatantly unconstitutional to me so what do you do?
Well first, you need to make sure that when you get that first letter you respond in writing asking for a review. And you need to A.S.A.P. consult with a lawyer that handles these types of matters. I and a few other attorneys in Tennessee do these types of cases. If you are one of the “lucky” minorities whose job provides them with access to children your attorney will want to get with the State to schedule a hearing when your “review” is “upheld”. Your attorney will want to get “discovery” from the State so you can see the evidence against you and prepare a defense to be presented at the hearing. If your job doesn’t provide you access to children your attorney may have to file a federal lawsuit just to get you the hearing and then prepare for the hearing as described above.
The process is blatantly unfair as it takes lot of work and time just to get you the RIGHTS we ALL supposedly have and once that is accomplished you basically have to prove you are innocent. But it is the current process and once your name is tarnished with the label “dirty rotten child abuser” there’s not much you can do to restore your good reputation.