Social workers learn that U.S. Constitution applies to child abuse investigations
U.S. Court of Appeals is unanimous: CPS cannot trample home school family's Fourth Amendment rights
F O R I M M E D I A T E R E L E A S E
AUGUST 27, 1999
CONTACT: Rich Jefferson (540) 338-9104
YOLO COUNTY, CA—Social workers are bound to obey the U.S. Constitution when investigating child abuse cases, said a unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in an opinion handed down Thursday, August 26, 1999.
"This opinion will have a nationwide impact. With respect to the Fourth Amendment, the Ninth Circuit settled the social worker question once and for all. No longer can social workers enter a home without either a warrant or probable cause of an emergency," said Michael Farris, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "Child Protective Services agencies have too many times behaved as if there is a social worker exception to the Fourth Amendment's prohibitions against illegal searches and seizures," Farris explained, but there is no such exception, according to the Ninth Circuit ruling in Calabretta v. Floyd, et al.
The Fourth Amendment rights case was originally filed February 24, 1995, by Robert and Shirley Calabretta in the Eastern District of California federal court, after a Yolo County policeman and social worker illegally entered the Calabretta home and strip searched their three-year-old daughter. District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton ruled that unless there is evidence of an emergency, a social worker and police officer investigating a report of child abuse must have a warrant. The Ninth Circuit panel unanimously affirmed that decision in Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld's opinion.
Kleinfeld wrote that forcing the mother to pull down the three-year-old's pants "invaded...the mother's dignity and authority in relation to her own children in her own home. The strip search as well as the entry stripped the mother of this authority and dignity. The reasonable expectation of privacy of individuals in their homes includes the interests of both parents and children in not having government officials coerce entry in violation of the Fourth Amendment and humiliate the parents in front of the children."
"It's the best possible opinion for the Calabretta family and for the rest of the country," Farris said. "The family won on every point we raised. Police and social workers cannot force their way into private homes. They were wrong to strip search the three-year-old daughter. This ruling erases the possibility that the law is not clear in the rest of the country."
Submitted by: Rich Jefferson *
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