Oct 122010
 
 October 12, 2010  Court, Youth & Schools

Lyle Denniston reports on SCOTUSBlog:

The Supreme Court, stepping into a new controversy over child sex abuse,  agreed on Tuesday to decide whether the Constitution puts limits on the authority to interview children at school about claims of sexual assault.  The specific issue is whether police and social workers must obtain a warrant before conducting such interviews.  The Court granted that issue among six new cases it accepted for review.

[…]

A deputy sheriff and a state social caseworker took the issue of child interviews to the Court in a pair of cases, Camreta v. Greene, et al. (09-1454) and Alford v. Greene, et al. (09-1478); the Court consolidated the cases for one hour of oral argument, probably in January or February.  The appeals argue that, because the details of child sex abuse are known only to the victim and the perpetrator, police may not have sufficient evidence to support a warrant, so they need the authority to interview an alleged victim without the parents’ presence — often, at school.  The Ninth Circuit Court required a warrant, if parents’ consent is not obtained or there are no other “exigent circumstances.”  Supreme Court review of the warrant issue was supported by 27 states.

This is a tough one. If a parent is sexually abusing a child, you don’t want to tip the fact that the child is going to be interviewed because of what the parent might do to the child. By the same token, the child is usually the victim, not the perpetrator (although there are child-child sex abuse cases), and who represents their rights?

I need to think more about this, but my first impression is that I would be okay if the court appointed a guardian ad litem to look at what information is available and to advise the court whether CPS or police should be allowed to interview the child at school, but  a probable cause standard is probably too high a standard to adequately protect children.  The risk, of course, is that if the interviewer is not highly trained, they might subconsciously lead the child into making inaccurate statements that could wreck an innocent adult’s life.

A complicated situation, although I don’t know if it’s that complicated from a legal perspective?  Lawyers… chime in on your blogs, please?

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