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April 01, 2011

High Court Declines to Consider Fourth Amendment Rights in Child Welfare Interviews

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide whether police and social workers must get a warrant before interviewing a child at school about alleged sexual abuse. In its 7-3 decision, the court found the issue was moot.

Camreta v. Green, 131 S.Ct. 2020 (2011).

The Fourth Amendment lawsuit had been filed on behalf of a child who was 9 years old when she was interviewed by police about alleged sexual abuse by her father. Now the youth is “only months away from her 18th birthday—and, presumably, from her high school graduation,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion. What’s more, the teen has moved and “so will never again be subject to the in-school interviewing practices whose constitutionality is at issue."

Because the issue was moot, the Supreme Court vacated a prior finding of a Fourth Amendment violation by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit had said a warrant was required absent “exigent circumstances” or parental consent.

The Supreme Court addressed a separate issue, however. The court held that government officials who secure a favorable judgment on immunity grounds may nonetheless ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review an adverse constitutional holding. Two concurring justices would not have reached that issue. Two dissenters would not permit review because the officials were prevailing parties based on their immunity.

Based on ABA Journal summary.