May 26, 2011
• Posted in

The decision vacates a 9th Circuit ruling that law enforcement officers must get a warrant to interview children who may have been sexually abused

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Oregon case released today will give law enforcement officials and child welfare workers greater leeway to protect children from abuse.

The Supreme Court vacated a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that required law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant or parental consent before interviewing children who may been sexually abused. Because the 9th Circuit decision was vacated, it no longer has any legal effect.

“This was a very challenging case,” said Attorney General John Kroger, who argued Camreta v. Greene earlier this year. “Because the 9th Circuit decision was vacated, it will be easier to protect children from abuse in Oregon and across the West.”

The case dates to 2003, when a Department of Human Services investigator and a Deschutes County deputy sheriff removed a 9-year-old girl from her classroom in Bend to interview her about allegations that her father had sexually abused her.

The girl’s mother sued, claiming that removal of her daughter from the classroom without a warrant or parental consent violated the child’s Fourth Amendment rights. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Breaking ranks with most other courts that had addressed the issue, the 9th Circuit held that held that government employees must obtain a warrant or parental consent before conducting such an interview. The court also held, however, that the employees were not liable financially for violating the child’s rights because of “qualified immunity.” Because the 9th Circuit decision would negatively impact countless child abuse investigations, the Oregon Department of Justice and Deschutes County then sought review in the United States Supreme Court.

Today’s Supreme Court decision rejected arguments Oregon and Deschutes County lacked standing to appeal the case because they prevailed in the lawsuit on qualified immunity grounds. It was the first time the court has addressed that issue, and the result is important because it allows for Supreme Court review of controversial Constitutional decisions such as the one the 9th Circuit reached in this case. This was only the third time in U.S. legal history that the Court has granted relief to a prevailing party below.

The Court did not address the merits of the 9th Circuit ruling, holding the case was moot because the girl did not have a sufficient interest in the outcome because she no longer lived in Oregon and was nearly 18. “Though we would have preferred a ruling on the Fourth Amendment merits, we are very pleased the Court agreed to review the case and vacate the 9th Circuit’s decision,” said Attorney General Kroger. “I want to thank counsel for Deschutes County for their outstanding work on this case.”

Attorney General John Kroger leads the Oregon Department of Justice. The Department’s mission is to fight crime and fraud, protect the environment, improve child welfare, promote a positive business climate, and defend the rights of all Oregonians.


Tony Green, (503) 378-6002 tony.green@doj.state.or.us |