Baltimore DSS v. Bouknight
488 U.S. 1301 (1988)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Baltimore DSS v. Bouknight, 488 U.S. 1301 (1988)

Baltimore Department of Social Services v. Bouknight

No. A-494

Decided December 21, 1988

488 U.S. 1301

Syllabus

An application to stay the judgment of the Court of Appeals of Maryland -- that Jacqueline Bouknight's confinement for civil contempt violated her privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution -- is granted pending the timely filing and subsequent disposition of a petition for certiorari. At the request of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (DSS), the circuit court for the city determined that Bouknight's son, Maurice, who had received several suspicious injuries, was a "child in need of assistance" under Maryland law. Bouknight received supervised custody of Maurice, but failed to cooperate with DSS and refused to produce him or tell DSS where he was. Subsequently, she was arrested and ordered to disclose the child's whereabouts. After giving a false answer, she was jailed until she purged herself of contempt by either producing Maurice or revealing his location. The Court of Appeals found that the terms of the confinement violated Bouknight's privilege against self-incrimination, since the risk that producing Maurice would necessarily admit a measure of continuing control over the child that might be relevant in a subsequent criminal prosecution could not be outweighed by any governmental interest in finding Maurice. DSS meets the requirements for the issuance of a stay. The lower court's decision is based on the United States Constitution, and the burden on Bouknight's liberty must be weighed against the very real jeopardy to a child's safety and wellbeing, and perhaps even his life. If Bouknight is permitted to go free, DSS may not have the means to obtain information about or to locate the child. Also, it is likely that four Justices will vote to grant certiorari, and DSS has a fair prospect of persuading a majority of the Court that the state court decision was erroneous.

Page 488 U. S. 1302

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