Oregon DOJ settles case involving improper investigation of child sexual abuse

The Oregon Department of Justice recently agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a case in which a Bend family accused a government agency of conducting an improper interview during a child sex abuse investigation.

The interview took place back in 2003. State authorities, concerned that a nine-year-old girl was being sexually abused by her father, send a child protective services worker into a Bend elementary school to interview her as part of an investigation, without her parent's consent. At the time of the interview, the child's father was under investigation for abusing another child. The man agreed to a plea deal in that case, but charges that he abused his daughter were eventually dismissed.

In the midst of that case, the girl and her sister were placed in foster care and the mother filed suit against the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court eventually got involved in the case. Though the high court didn't rule specifically on the legality of such interviews, it struck down an appeals court ruling which had banned the practice of conducting such interviews.

Police and other state authorities responsible for investigating criminal activity do not have unbridled freedom to gather information. There are very specific laws and regulations regarding such investigations, and failure to follow them can tarnish the investigation itself. In some cases, for instance, defendants can have evidence excluded from trial if that evidence is the fruit of an improper search.

Child abuse charges, if they lead to a conviction, can have long-term consequences, and it particularly important that defendants have their rights defended.

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