Saturday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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High Court Says State Improperly Requested Medical Records in Truancy Case,

Lisa Siefker has spent two years fighting to get her teenage autistic son to attend school regularly after he violated Nebraska’s controversial truancy law. But the 41-year-old Lincoln woman’s willingness to cooperate reached a limit when state officials overseeing the case wanted to see her confidential medical records . . .

The high court ruled that state caseworkers can’t demand access to a parent’s medical records unless they can show such information would help a child at the center of a juvenile court action. Because Siefker was not at fault for her son’s truancy, a juvenile court judge improperly ordered her to turn over records related to her past treatment for an anxiety disorder.

The ruling raised serious questions about the state’s practice of requiring parents to waive privacy rights when their children are caught in the juvenile justice system. “The issue is whether the court can order a fishing expedition that is unrelated to any rehabilitation plan. The answer is no,” said Judge William Connolly in a separate, concurring opinion.

Officials of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services were reviewing the opinion Thursday, said Russ Reno, a spokesman for the department.  “Generally, the more information DHHS has about a family, the better we can identify the services necessary to assist them, and the better we can do our job,” Reno said.

Lea Wroblewski, an attorney for Legal Aid of Nebraska who represented Lisa Siefker, said it’s not uncommon for juvenile courts to order state inspection of a parent’s confidential medical records. The court orders follow requests by Health and Human Services, which then uses the records to create rehabilitation plans for troubled children and their families . . .

New Hampshire Man Convicted of Killing Kimberly Cates, Maiming Child, Re-Sentenced to Life in Prison, CBS Boston

A New Hampshire man convicted of hacking to death a woman and maiming her daughter in a 2009 home invasion was sentenced once again Friday to life in prison without parole, plus 76 years.

Steven Spader was required to be resentenced under a US Supreme Court ruling last June [Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs] that threw out mandatory life in prison with parole for juveniles. The court held that children cannot be automatically punished the same way as criminal adults without considering their age and other factors.

Spader, who was a month shy of turning 18 when he killed Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon in 2009, did not appear in court for a hearing Monday or for Friday’s sentencing and had instructed his lawyers to present no evidence in support of a reduced sentence.  In a letter to the court, he apologized to the Cates family and said he accepted responsibility for his actions.

In her ruling, Judge Gillian Abramson said she gave no weight to that apology, noting that Spader earlier had said his main regret was not choosing better coconspirators.  She called his letter “self-serving, disingenuous, and inconsistent with the defendant’s true regret,” as well as his ongoing obsession with killing and torture.

“The circumstances of these horrific crimes and the extent of the defendant’s planning and participating warrant the imposition of life without parole and maximum consecutive sentences,” she wrote.

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