Thursday, February 11, 2010

Recent Appeals Court Decision Impacts Law Enforcement

Law Enforcement constantly adapts daily business to rulings and decisions made at venues such as the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  In December 2009, the Ninth Circuit held that in an Oregon case involving in-home child abuse, the interview of a child victim at school, by an armed police officer and a social worker, constituted a seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  Although this type of decision by the Ninth Circuit is not binding authority for California state courts, it does have impact even at a local level for potential federal civil liability.

It is not uncommon for police officers to interview children during school hours for a variety of reasons.  However, specific to alleged in-home child abuse investigations, according to this decision, officers are required to obtain a court order prior to conducting an interview with the victim.  There are circumstances that would allow child victim interviews outside of a court order such as a documented exigency or parental consent.  Social workers may still interview the child in the absence of the police officer.

This type of a decision is unfortunate.  Los Angeles County law enforcement works closely with the Department of Children and Family Services to intervene and investigate cases of child abuse.  When additional steps impede and prolong the investigation, it has the potential to put these child victims at greater risk.     

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