"It's a victory—it's a victory for all home schoolers!" was Maria Kennedy's response when she learned that a federal judge had ruled in her family's favor. On February 28, 1997, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled in the case of Robert and Maria Kennedy v. Doonan, et al. that police officers violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution when they entered the family's home without a warrant, consent, or an emergency to investigate a child abuse allegation. (See below.)
This is the second federal court judge in 60 days to rule that the Fourth Amendment, which protects every citizen's right to be secure in his home, applies just as much to child abuse investigators as to any other government official. (See Calabretta story in the March/April 1997 Court Report, page 4.) So when a social worker or accompanying law enforcement officer demands entrance to a home and tells the parent that a warrant is unnecessary, that official is wrong. And we have two federal court cases to prove it.
However, if the official reasonably believes that an emergency exists in the home, he will not face liability for his actions, even if he proves to be mistaken. For this reason, it is sometimes prudent for HSLDA members to present their smiling, healthy children at the door. This reduces the official's later claim that he thought the children were facing immediate, serious harm.
In the Kennedys' case, the only issue remaining for the jury to decide is the amount which the officers and the City of Covina must compensate the Kennedys. In the meantime, the defendants have appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We will keep our members updated on this important case.
History of the Kennedy Case
On Saturday, August 19, 1995, at about 5:00 p.m., two police officers and a social worker arrived at Robert and Maria Kennedy's home in Covina, California, demanding entry, inspection of the house, and interrogation of the children (then ages 6, 5, and 8 months). Although the officials refused to tell the Kennedys the charges, the Kennedys would discover later that this visit was the result of an anonymous tip.
The Kennedys questioned the police officers' and social worker's right to enter their home without a search warrant or a court order, but the officials walked through the Kennedys' unlocked front door and proceeded with their investigation.
The officials found nothing to substantiate the allegations, yet promised to return with a subsequent, unannounced visit. No follow up visit was ever made. In November 1995, HSLDA filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the Kennedys against the individuals and agencies responsible for this outrageous conduct.