Camreta v. Greene

Camreta and Alford v. Greene, 09-1454/1478 significantly impacted children’s and parent’s rights to protect their privacy and family life. The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear this case on October 12, 2010, and numerous briefs were prepared and submitted on January 7, 2011. The case was argued in March of 2011 by Plaintiffs’ counsel, Carolyn Kubitschek of New York City. Ms. Kubitschek has brought numerous precedent setting cases upon which the Family Defense Center has relied in its own work, including, notably, Valmonte v. Bane which was an important precedent for Dupuy v. Samuels. Ms. Redleaf also written amicus briefs in support of Ms. Kubitschek’s important cases, including Tenenbaum v. Williams, which established the rights of children not to be subject to investigative searches without judicial review.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether police and child protective services investigators, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, may conduct a custodial interrogation of a child in a public school as to the details of her home life, without: (1) a warrant supported by probable cause, (2) consent of parent, (3) a court order, or (4) exigent circumstances. Press Supreme Court orders for the questions as framed in the petitions for certiorari.

What is Camreta and Alford v. Greene about?

This case was brought to the Supreme Court by a Bend, Oregon, child protection investigator (Camreta) and an armed deputy sheriff (Alford), two male officers who together interviewed a 9-year-old girl (S.G.) for two hours in a school office, after they pulled her out of her public school classroom without consent of her parents. The reason for the questioning was that S.G.’s father had been arrested due to a claim of sexual molestation of a family acquaintance’s son, and the boy’s parents made some comments that suggested possibly inappropriate conduct between S.G. and her father, but not enough reliable information to establish “probable cause.” In an effort to get the evidence that would establish a basis for court action against the father, Camreta and Alford went to S.G.’s school and pulled her out of class for questioning. Camreta, the child protection investigator, questioned S. G. for two hours about intimate details of her home life, giving her new information about sex that she had not known before that day, while deputy sheriff Alford sat silently in the closed room, with his gun visible in its holster.

S.G. insisted her father was a good father, who touched her in only appropriate ways. Camreta and Alford were not satisfied with her repeated negative answers to their questions, saying “that’s not it” to her when she denied any “bad touches.” By the end of the two-hour interview, S.G. finally told these officers the answers she thought would satisfy them: “yes,” her father had touched her private areas. Camreta and Alford let her go back home after she gave these answers. She went home and threw up five times that evening. S.G. later retracted all allegations in a juvenile court case, and that case was dismissed. No criminal conviction or juvenile court findings ever sustained the allegations that S.G. had been abused, but the father did take a plea agreement (without jail time) as to an allegation that he had fondled the family acquaintance’s son.

In the suit for violation of their civil rights by the two children and their mother, S.G. alleged that investigator Camreta and deputy sheriff Alford had seized her in violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be “secure” in her “person” and to be free from “unreasonable seizure.” It was conceded throughout the case that the actions of Camreta and Alford in questioning S.G. for a two-hour period in a closed room amounted to a seizure in Fourth Amendment terms. Traditional Fourth Amendment jurisprudence requires that, before a person can be seized and held for questioning, there must be: (a) a warrant issued by a judge, supported by probable cause, or other court order; (b) parental consent for a child to be questioned; or (c) exigent circumstances. Camreta and Alford argued that non-consensual, warrantless, custodial questioning of children who are potential witnesses to abuse by a parent is constitutional because it is “reasonable” when such questioning occurs in a public school setting.

The Family Defense Center coordinated amicus briefs in support of S.G. and her mother

Our goal was to have a comprehensive set of briefs addressing a variety of issues in which a wide range of grounds, such as legal, social science, and policy, would be brought to the attention of the Court. For example, we helped to present information to the Court concerning real world problems of interrogating children in public schools about their home life, and the importance of parental consent and in not assuming that a mother will automatically object to questions of her child, if done in a manner that is sensitive to the child’s needs. We fleshed out the due process interests of children, parents, and families to family integrity and privacy and discuss the reasons why caution is needed before traditional protections are eroded in the name of protecting children from their parent. Many of the issues raised in the briefs presented counterpoints to the positions taken by the petitioners, who minimize the harm to children of being torn from their classrooms to be interrogated about their home life and given a premature course in sex education, and who argue that the interests in ferreting out child sexual abuse are so great that children’s relationships with their parents, and their own rights of privacy, can be safely dispensed with as secondary. Click here to access opinions and briefs from the case.

Camreta in the news

Being the first child protection case heard in the United States Supreme Court in a number of decades, the Camreta case garnered a fair amount of media attention for the child protection and family privacy issues it raised. Click here to view news articles about the case.