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Law School Case Brief

Balt. City Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Bouknight - 493 U.S. 549, 110 S. Ct. 900 (1990)

Rule:

The U.S. Const. amend. V privilege may not be invoked to resist compliance with a regulatory regime constructed to effect the state's public purposes unrelated to the enforcement of its criminal laws.

Facts:

Based on evidence that respondent parent Bouknight had abused petitioner infant son Maurice M., petitioner Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS) secured a juvenile court order removing Maurice from Bouknight's control. That order was subsequently modified to return custody to Bouknight pursuant to extensive conditions and subject to further court order. After Bouknight violated the order's conditions, the juvenile court granted BCDSS' petition to remove Maurice from Bouknight's control and held her in civil contempt when she failed to produce the child as ordered. Rejecting her subsequent claim that the contempt order violated the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against self-incrimination, the juvenile court stated that the contempt would be purged by the production of Maurice and was issued not because Bouknight refused to testify but because she failed to obey the production order. In vacating the juvenile court's judgment upholding the contempt order, the State Court of Appeals found that that order unconstitutionally compelled Bouknight to admit through the act of production a measure of continuing control over Maurice in circumstances in which she had a reasonable apprehension that she would be prosecuted.

Issue:

May a parent who is the custodian of her child pursuant to a court order invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to resist a subsequent court order to produce the child?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States sought to determine whether a mother, the custodian of a child pursuant to a court order, may invoke the Firth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to resist an order of the juvenile court to produce the child. The Court held answered the question in the negative.

Reversing, the Court held that, assuming that the testimonial assertions involved in the production of the child were sufficiently incriminating and sufficiently testimonial for the purposes of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, the privilege did not protect the mother's resistance to the order to produce the child because (1) once the child was adjudicated a child in need of assistance, his care and safety became the particular object of the state's regulatory interests, and by accepting the care of the child subject to the conditions of the juvenile court's custodial order, the mother submitted to the routine operation of the regulatory system and agreed to hold the child in a manner consonant with the state's regulatory interests and subject to inspection by the BCDSS; and (2) the order to produce the child was made for compelling reasons unrelated to criminal law enforcement and as part of a broadly applied regulatory regime not directed at a selective group inherently suspect of criminal activities.

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