San Diego County may not remove children from their homes and subject them to highly intrusive physical examinations without parental permission, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ruled.
This ruling was eight years in the making. The case stems from an April 2010 incident involving Michael and Melissa Mann and their four young children. The Manns had apparently spanked at least one of the kids with a wooden spoon as a form of punishment—a dreadful thing, to be sure—which attracted the attention of San Diego's Health & Human Services Agency. The county took the children away from their parents and placed them in a temporary shelter, the Polinsky Children's Center, while the parents went to court to regain custody.
At Polinsky, a doctor performed a 22-step medical exam requiring "blood samples and a gynecological and rectal exam," according to the Associated Press. The 9th Circuit's decision elaborated on what this entailed:
For the gynecological exam, Dr. Graff testified that she asked the girls to "kind of drop their legs into a frog leg situation," and "separate[d] the labia and look[ed] at the hymen . . . ." Staff also administered tuberculosis tests, requiring pricks of the children's skin, and the children gave blood and urine samples for drug screening. If staff observed signs of abuse, the County required them to photograph the abuse for the children's records. No one notified Mark and Melissa that their children were examined.
County officials did not obtain a court order authorizing these examinations, nor did the parents sign off. Indeed, the Manns didn't even know what had been done to their kids until one of them said something about it later.
The county's actions violated the Manns' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the court ruled:
The Manns were deprived of their right to raise their children without undue interference from the government, the right to make medical decisions for their children, and the right to privacy in their family life. The Mann children were subjected to invasive, potentially traumatizing procedures absent constitutionally required safeguards. Although we must balance these fundamental rights against the state's interest, we conclude that the County is constitutionally required to provide parental notice and obtain parental consent or judicial authorization for the protection of parents' and children's rights alike.
This case calls to mind the insane actions of police in Manassas, Virginia, who sought—and obtained—a warrant to give a 17-year-old boy an erection so they could photograph it as evidence in a teen sexting matter. To protect children from things like spanking and sexting, the authorities evidently believed it was necessary to subject them to sexual abuse.
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