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DeShaney v. Winnebago

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on 5 December 2013

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Transcript of DeShaney v. Winnebago

DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services
A project by Brenda and Tiffany
November 2, 1988-February 22, 1989
Facts and The Main Issues
In this case, the mother of the comatose child (representing her son) was suing the Winnebago County DSS.

The issue with this case is whether or not it was the DSS's responsibility to remove the child from his father's care, or if there was nothing they could have done without sufficient evidence.

When his son went into the hospital with a broken arm, the emergency room personnel suggested child abuse, but the evidence was not substantial enough to hold. However, they suggested to send in a child protective team consisting of a a pediatrician, a psychologist, a police detective, the county's lawyer, several DSS caseworkers, and various hospital personnel.

From November, 1983 to March, 1984 DSS officials visited Randy and Joshua's home and noticed a few bruises and such, but they took no action. The child went into a coma following a visit in March, 1984 where he was reported to be "too ill."

The petitioner, Melody DeShaney, hired Donald J. Sullivan to sue the DSS. Sullivan argued that it was the DSS' responsibility to take the child out of the father's custody after witnessing several instances that suggested physical abuse. The DSS did send in an investigatory team, but unfortunately they were not capable of gathering enough substantial evidence to have a decent case against Randy DeShaney. The petitioner argued that if the DSS had taken more fierce action, her son would still be healthy. She believed it was the state's responsibility to protect her child from his father.
The respondent, the Winnebago County Department of Social Services, was defended by Mark J. Mingo. Mingo insisted that the state had no responsibility to protect the child from his father. He argued that "it is the state's duty to protect citizens from the state, not from other citizens". Therefore, the DSS did the best they could do, due to the insufficient and circumstantial evidence.
"Respondents' failure to provide petitioner with adequate protection against his father's violence did not violate his rights under the substantive component of the Due Process Clause."
The Due Process clause swears to protect citizens from harm due to the state's actions. However, the situation at hand involved a citizen inflicting harm upon his son. He was a private actor, without support or backing from the state. Therefore, according to the Due Process Clause, the state does not expressly have to protect this child.
Two dissenting opinions were written in this case by Justice Blackmun and another by Justice Brennan. The premise was the Due Process Clause, that was created to be flexible and accommodating to situations where the state had a moral obligation to protect a citizen, and in the case of Winnebago County DSS, they failed to protect an innocent child that was so clearly in danger. The state had to have the responsibility of protecting Joshua.
DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services was a case that could have easily gone either way. However, the verdict shocked many. This case clarified just where the government's responsibility ends and citizen's begins. It defined to what extent of inaction a state can go to without it being unconstitutional.
The End
Who is Inolved?
This case can and has made an impact on American Society because there are multiple families and children who can relate to similar situations like Joshua who was physically abused by his father at the age of four, in which he is not able to protect himself.
Who was involved?
Joshua - Four year old boy.
Randy DeShaney - Father of the boy
Melody - Mother of Joshua
DSS (Department of Social Services)
Respondent: Winnebago County
Randy's girl Friend
Six Supreme Court Judges
Full transcript