Investigators Cannot Remove Child From Classroom Without Warrant, Absent Exigent Circumstances

When authorities are investigating allegations of sexual abuse, can they remove a student from her classroom without a warrant? The short answer is no, absent exigent circumstances. The case in question arose when a caseworker from Child Protective Service went to a school to interrogate a minor about allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of her parents. The Ninth Circuit noted that the caseworker (and the sheriff’s deputy who accompanied her) violated the student’s constitutional rights when they removed her and isolated her for questioning without complying with constitutional standards, which include first obtaining a court order and also providing notice to the parent and allowing the parent to be nearby when the child is questioned. Although there are exceptions to these rules in an emergency, a specific showing in that regard is required to satisfy Fourth Amendment standards. It should be noted that while the court held that the actions of the caseworker and sheriff’s deputy violated constitutional standards, the court also held that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because the law on this issue was not “clearly established” at the time the caseworker and the sheriff’s deputy took action. The case is Greene v. Camreta. The court’s opinion offers a detailed analysis of the standards to be applied to student searches and seizures, not only in the child abuse context, but generally as well. A copy of the court’s opinion is attached.

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