Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No Immunity for Child Protection Vigilantes

In classic western movies, we praise the vigilante who takes the law into his own hands.  While this may be true for the big screen - not so for Texas defendants Larry Scroggs and Alana Gariepy.

After realizing that a bottle of Oxycontin had been taken from their home, Scroggs and Gariepy broke into the home of Monique Graves as they believed she had stolen it.  Graves was pregnant and nearing the end of her term.  While Scroggs stood by the door, Gariepy pushed Graves onto the bed, grabbed her by the hair, and began slapping her.  Gariepy then escorted Graves outside, grabbed her by the throat and forced her into the backseat of Scroggs' car.  Scroggs then pointed a gun toward the backseat where Graves was seated.

In their subsequent joint prosecution for, inter alia, aggravated kidnapping and burglary of a habitation, Scroggs and Gariepy raised a creative defense:
[They] argue that Graves was “endangering and abusing or neglecting her unborn child” by consuming Oxycontin while pregnant. Rather than immediately report this belief to CPS or to a law enforcement agency, they decided to compel a blood test of Graves and then decide whether to report abuse or neglect. According to appellants, Texas Family Code § 261.1066 grants them immunity from the conduct giving rise to the indicted offenses because they were reporting and assisting in the investigation of a report of alleged child abuse or neglect.
While the Court may have granted style points for this argument, it held that "Appellants' contentions are without merit."  The Court further stated:
     Appellants’ assertions of immunity are defeated by the plain language of the statutes to which they refer.8 Reports of suspected child abuse or neglect under subchapter B of chapter 261 of the Family Code are made to law enforcement or other designated state agencies. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 261.101(a) (Vernon 2008) (requiring immediate report “as provided by this subchapter”); § 261.103 (with exceptions not relevant here, “a report shall be made to” listed agencies).  Investigations of such reports, under subchapter D of chapter 261, are conducted by designated state agencies. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 261.301(a) (Vernon 2008) (requiring investigation of reports by agency with assistance from law enforcement).  
     Scroggs asserts a “report” was made when another person, apparently Gariepy, related facts to him creating in his mind a suspicion of abuse or neglect. Thus appellants’ subsequent conduct toward Graves was an “investigation” of the report of Gariepy. But, as noted, a report under chapter 261 is made to an agency designated by § 261.103, not to a private individual. The investigation of a report under chapter 261 follows the report, it does not precede the report. And reports are investigated under chapter 261 by agencies, not private individuals.
Good try folks.  Some fancy "lawyering" no doubt, but the Court is not on board (nor is the law).

See the full opinion in Scroggs/Gariepy v. State, HERE.