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COA balances free speech vs. minor's privacy rights

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The Indiana Court of Appeals was faced with competing constitutional rights today: a mother’s right to free political speech versus her daughter’s right to privacy as to whether her father allegedly sexually abused her.

The court addressed this issue in Paternity of K.D.; T.N. v. B.D., No. 49A02-0907-JV-693, in which mother T.N. had spoken to an Indianapolis newspaper about her daughter’s alleged sexual abuse by the daughter’s father, B.D. The mother believed daughter K.D. had been abused by her father and was angry when the courts kept returning K.D. to his custody after the claims hadn’t been substantiated.

The articles ran a photo of the mother and named the judges, father’s attorney, and referred to K.D by a pseudonym that is very similar to her given name. The articles never mentioned how the abuse allegation wasn’t substantiated or that the CHINS case was dismissed because it was based on that allegation.

B.D. filed two petitions for rule to show cause and the juvenile court prohibited the parties from talking to the media or others about the case. The juvenile court found speaking with the media wasn’t in K.D’s best interest and the statements could result in permanent damage to the daughter.

The Court of Appeals agreed with T.N. that the order violates her right to free political speech under the First Amendment. The order constitutes an invalid prior restraint because it’s overbroad, wrote Judge Edward Najam. The appellate court balanced T.N.’s right to challenge the judiciary in the media against the privacy rights held by K.D. and father. K.D. has a privacy interest in not having the allegations of sexual abuse publicized, but there was no evidence presented that K.D. suffered or would suffer if her mother continued talking to the media.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right. And the right to challenge the government, inherent in freedom of speech, is at the foundation of our Constitution,” wrote Judge Najam. “Thus, we decline to say that Mother’s right to freedom of speech must yield absolutely to all facets of what the juvenile court broadly described as ‘a confidential matter.’”

The appellate court also found that B.D.’s privacy rights don’t outweigh T.N.’s right to free speech. B.D. is with recourse in the event of false accusations through a defamation action.

Examining whether the proceedings in K.D.’s case were confidential under Indiana Code sections 31-39-1-1 and -2, the judges found a literal reading of these statutes would prohibit the release only of documentation or “records” of the juvenile court but would not affect a party’s discussion of those records.

“However, such a construction would emasculate the rule by allowing a litigant to read the records or documents in whole to someone unaffiliated with the litigation. That absurd possibility cannot be the intent of our legislature,” wrote Judge Najam.

The order correctly prohibits T.N. from discussing with anyone the contents of the records listed in Section 31-39-1-1, but the order isn’t narrowly tailored. The order is overbroad to the extent that it includes mother’s independently obtained knowledge of incidents or facts that underlie the court proceedings, so it’s an invalid prior restraint on her free speech rights.

The Court of Appeals ordered the juvenile court to enter a new order that prohibits T.N. from disclosing to the media or anyone information that she learned exclusively through the juvenile proceedings and to prohibit her from using K.D’s name or similar pseudonym.
 

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  1. I can understand a 10 yr suspension for drinking and driving and not following the rules,but don't you think the people who compleate their sentences and are trying to be good people of their community,and are on the right path should be able to obtain a drivers license to do as they please.We as a state should encourage good behavior instead of saying well you did all your time but we can't give you a license come on.When is a persons time served than cause from where I'm standing,its still a punishment,when u can't have the freedom to go where ever you want to in car,truck ,motorcycle,maybe their should be better programs for people instead of just throwing them away like daily trash,then expecting them to change because they we in jail or prison for x amount of yrs.Everyone should look around because we all pay each others bills,and keep each other in business..better knowledge equals better community equals better people...just my 2 cents

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  4. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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