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Justices nullify ruling on interviewing children about abuse

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday threw out a lower court’s ruling that authorities need warrants to talk to potential victims of sex abuse at school, without saying whether it thought the earlier decision was wrong.

The high court tossed out the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of a 9-year-old who was interviewed by a social worker and a police officer at school in Oregon because they suspected that she was being abused by her father. The girl is now nearing her 18th birthday and living in Florida.

The challenge to a court ruling that affects children in Oregon is moot because the girl, known in court papers as S.G., would no longer be affected by its outcome, Justice Elena Kagan said in the 7-2 decision.

“She faces not the slightest possibility of being seized in a school in the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction as part of a child abuse investigation,” Kagan said. “When ‘subsequent events make it absolutely clear that the alleged wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur,’ we have no live controversy to review.”

Because the case is moot, the 9th Circuit’s decision forcing child social worker Bob Camreta and other authorities to get warrants also is moot, Kagan said. “The happenstance of S.G.’s moving across country and becoming an adult has deprived Camreta of his appeal rights,” she said.

Camreta and a police officer interviewed S.G at the child’s public school so that her father wouldn’t be present. The girl said during the interview that she had been sexually abused by her father. She later recanted the statements.

Charges against her father were dropped.

But the girl’s mother sued, saying her daughter had been unconstitutionally seized at school because she was removed from her classroom, taken into another room and questioned.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, saying the social worker and police officer should have gotten a warrant, a court order or parental consent before talking to the child, or should have demonstrated that they acted with probable cause and under exigent circumstances. But it also ruled that Camreta and the police officer had immunity from damages resulting from the lawsuit, saying no clearly established law warned them of the illegality of their conduct.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer joined Kagan’s opinion.

Justice Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas dissented, saying they would have dismissed the case because Camreta and the police officer had immunity from damages.

The cases are Camreta v. Greene, 09-1451 and Alford v. Greene, 09-1478.

One comment

  1. The 9th Circuit appellate court ruling was VACATED, but it was not overturned. As Daily Record readers well know, that’s more than a technicality. It does not mean the 9th Circuit was right or wrong, only that there was no way the Supreme Court could review the decision. This has no effect on the rest of the country. Where other appellate courts in other circuits have ruled that children DO have full Fourth Amendment rights, their rulings still are the law.

    NCCPR is pleased that the court recognized the case is moot and the record was not sufficiently developed to reach the merits. We are pleased that in those other circuits that have recognized children’s and families’ need for full Fourth Amendment protection, those decisions still are the law. That is, in itself, a victory for children’s and families’ rights. And the Ninth Circuit remains free to issue the same ruling, should child protective services workers in Oregon or another state within that circuit behave the same way in the future.

    The 9th Circuit ruling made all children safer, by requiring only the most minimal due process protections before subjecting children to needless, traumatic interrogations. To see just how much DHS forced the child in this case to endure, and why Oregon’s approach makes all children less safe, see our website about the case, http://www.camretavgreene.info We hope that Oregon DHS will not put other families through what S.G.’s family went through, doing the child enormous harm in the name of “child protection.”

    There is much more about the case on our website, http://www.camretavgreene.info

    NCCPR’s volunteer Vice President, Carolyn Kubitschek, represented S.G. and her mother, pro bono, before the Supreme Court.

    Richard Wexler
    Executive Director
    National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
    http://www.nccpr.org / http://www.camretavgreene.info