General Question

SuperMouse's avatar

When should an accuser be allowed to stay totally anonymous?

Asked by SuperMouse (30801points) October 6th, 2010

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives an accused party, among other things, the right to face their accuser. Yet when someone calls Child Protective Services on a parent they are allowed to remain 100% anonymous and are not required to provide any evidence at all, the same goes when a driver is reported to the DMV. In the case of CPS, they can interview children without the consent of parents or legal guardian and open an investigation based on a totally anonymous tip. Do you think an accuser should ever be able to remain anonymous? What if the allegations prove to be unfounded?

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10 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I don’t think an accuser should ever be allowed to remain anonymous.Anyone can charge anybody with anything without penalty.

josie's avatar

Anybody can call anybody.
But when and if it gets to court, the confrontation clause still obtains.
But I know what you mean, the Tenth Amendment is routinely ignored.

Cruiser's avatar

I agree with @lucillelucillelucille. Even more so I firmly believe accusers need to be fully accountable for their accusations as well.

Anonymous tip hot lines though IMO are pretty useful in addressing street crime that might otherwise continue unabated.

chyna's avatar

I’ve thought about this myself. It’s not fair that anyone can report someone for child abuse, drugs, etc. and not have to have any proof of their claims. I would imagine these laws were made in a different time period meant to make it easier for the authorities to find out about illegal or detrimental activities and to keep the accuser from harm. But it isn’t working like that now. Anyone that has an ax to grind with another person can call anonymously and report them for anything. Police feel they can invade someone’s home and ask questions later. There needs to be more done with this type of reporting. Checking facts first before grabbing kids and interviewing them or busting into someone’s home looking for drugs.

iamthemob's avatar

The sixth amendment really only applies in the context of a criminal prosecution – essentially allowing the defendant to be present for all of the evidence presented against him. A lot of the examples you gave regarding anonymity seem to be relating to the investigatory phase (i.e., prior to trial).

This seems not only acceptable, but necessary in order to have the system function. In the case of child abuse, children can be easily influenced, often they are abused by someone the know (well), and so it makes sense that law enforcement would want to preserve the testimony. In the case of reports to the DMV – well, I’m assuming these may be cases where the report was made anonymously, perhaps by a stranger leaving before properly ID’d. That too seems acceptable, considering that we would otherwise be tossing aside leads on crimes unless we got all the information necessary right away.

Of course, everything after that point depends on the conduct of officers and the prosecutor’s office in order to determine whether the situation was handled reasonably.

The issues you seem to be discussing are more along the lines of confidential informant issues, which is more of a fourth amendment issue regarding warrants.

Cupcake's avatar

I think people should be able to make anonymous reports. But I also think that if people are found to have made grossly false accusations that they should be held liable for the time and money that went into the investigation.

In terms of the safety of children, concerns should be able to be voiced anonymously without fear of retribution. If someone reported me anonymously to CPS… CPS could investigate away. I have nothing to hide. My belief is that the child’s potential safety trumps my privacy.

SuperMouse's avatar

I totally agree with the point that children need to be protected. I am however, concerned about the fact that in the case of CPS, parents are considered guilty until proven innocent and kids can be plucked from school and interviewed by a complete stranger without having any idea what is happening or why. Of course a parent who is innocent ideally should not have to worry about the outcome, but what about the impact of the investigation on the child? What about the children who aren’t getting the help they need because of the valuable time and resources of an already over-stretched system being wasted by someone with grudge or ax to grind against the parent?

I tend to think that, after the fact at least, someone who knowlingly made a false report should be held accountable to some extent.

MissAusten's avatar

Maybe it varies from state to state, but I don’t think complete anonymity is allowed here in CT. The identity of the person making the report can be kept from the family, but not from CPS because if they are suspected of knowingly making a false report, they can be prosecuted. From the CT CPS website:

Q. Will my report be Confidential?

A. Mandated reporters are required to give their name when they make a report to DCF, however, reporters may request anonymity to protect their privacy. This means that DCF would not disclose their name or identity unless mandated to do so by law (Connecticut General Statutes, Sections 17a-28 and 17a-101). Unless a reporter gives written consent, his or her name will not be disclosed except to:

* a DCF employee
* a law enforcement officer
* an appropriate state’s attorney
* an appropriate assistant attorney general
* a judge and all necessary parties in a court proceeding
* a state child care licensing agency, executive director of any institution, school or facility or superintendent of schools

If DCF suspects or knows that the reporter knowingly makes a false report, his or her identity shall be disclosed to the appropriate law enforcement agency and the person may be subject to the penalty described in the next section.

The above seems to only refer to mandated reporters (people who work with kids and are required by law to report suspected abuse). I don’t know if it also applies to someone who isn’t considered a mandatory reporter. If you’re having trouble with this, you should call CPS and ask them specifically.

I absolutely believe that anyone who makes a false report should be prosecuted. The trouble would be proving that the person knowingly made a false report. And yes, your child can be interviewed without your knowledge or consent, but I think there are limitations on that. For example, if the school reports suspected abuse, the CPS social worker can go to the school and talk to your child before anyone contacts you. However, they have to have your permission to come into your home, talk to your other children, or even contact your doctors, dentist, extended family, or anyone else. They will do their investigation with or without your cooperation, but you do have a say in how much access you give them. I don’t know if a social worker would make it clearly known upfront what you can and can’t say no to, so it’s best to inform yourself before making any decisions.

I used to work in daycare and was considered a mandatory reporter. Once a year we had a mandatory meeting to go over all of this, but luckily I never had cause to make a report. I did once have CPS visit my house after a comment one of my kids made at school. He was in kindergarten and the staff member who reported it didn’t know us well (right at the start of the school year). It was a horrible experience, even though the social worker told me right from the start he didn’t think there was anything to investigate. You can’t help worrying and obsessing and feeling completely embarrassed. The teacher, school nurse, and principal all met with the social worker and made it very clear they knew our family well (my oldest was also a student there) and had no concerns at all or had seen anything that would lead them to suspect abuse or neglect.

It all turned out fine, of course, even though we refused to let our other children be interviewed or give the social worker contact information for our extended family. We were sort of cooperative, but apparently it was enough because the social worker told me the case would be closed before he even gave the report to his supervisor. Still, it was such an emotionally terrible thing to go through. :( I don’t blame the staff member who made the report because, as I well know from my own time working with children, she was only doing her job. At the same time, I firmly believe that anyone who would do such a thing to a family on purpose just to be mean or cause trouble should go to jail.

It’s been more than two years since that incident. My husband and I thought at some point we’d look back on it and laugh, but that hasn’t happened yet. For a long time I was paranoid about what my kids might say at school that could be misinterpreted, and whenever they had a bruise or scrape I’d ask them a hundred times how it happened and pray to God they didn’t decide to make up their own stories at school. The paranoia has gone down quite a bit, but still inwardly cringe whenever I see the staff member who made the report (she actually works in my youngest son’s class now! argh!). She’s very, very nice to me. :P

Just read your comment above: When my son was interviewed, the social worker basically went into the classroom, struck up a conversation, and spent a few minutes observing him. I guess he also went to my daughter’s class and observed her for a while but didn’t speak to her. The kids didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it in front of my son, who had just turned 5. It wasn’t his fault at all, just a misunderstanding. I didn’t want to scare the kids, worry them, or make my son feel responsible for something he had no way of understanding. If the kids had been older, we would have had no choice but to address it with them, and I am really glad we didn’t have to deal with that aspect of it. I was actually very angry, and so was my husband. I’m glad the social worker was actually a very good guy. If he’d been a jerk or had a different attitude, I would have had a much harder time biting back comments like, “Why aren’t you out hunting down the REAL child abusers!?” I don’t think that would have gone over very well.

wundayatta's avatar

Accusers should be allowed to stay anonymous when their lives would be in danger (witness to a murder kind of thing) or when their standing in the community would be so seriously compromised that they probably couldn’t live there any more. I would use this standard even if the accusation is wrong. I think that anonymous accusers should be allowed to stay anonymous until a court decides whether either of those conditions is the case.

YARNLADY's avatar

Their identity should be revealed to the court of law, but I have no problem with it not being made available to the general pubic.

For allegations anonymity can be essential in catching criminals.

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