Santosky v. Kramer Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Petitioner parents challenged the constitutionality of a New York statute permitting permanent termination of parental rights based upon a preponderance of the evidence standard.

Facts of the case

Question

Is the New York statute permitting the State to terminate the rights of parents in their natural child upon a finding that the State has proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the child is permanently neglected constitutional?

Answer

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires more than a preponderance of the evidence standard in a termination of parental rights hearing.
New York authorizes its officials to remove a child from the home if the child appears neglected. If convinced that positive, nurturing parent-child relationships no longer exist, the State may initiate permanent neglect proceedings to free the child for adoption. However, New York permits the establishment of permanent neglect by a preponderance of the evidence, a lower standard than most states.

Conclusion

“The United States Supreme Court held that before a state could sever completely and irrevocably the rights of parents in their natural child, Due Process under U.S. Const. Amend. XIV required that the state support its allegations by at least clear and convincing evidence. The Court found that the “”fair preponderance of the evidence”” standard was inconsistent with Due Process because the private interest in parental rights affected was substantial and the countervailing governmental interest favoring the preponderance standard was comparatively slight. The Court held that a clear and convincing evidence standard adequately conveyed to the factfinder the level of subjective certainty about the factual conclusions necessary to satisfy due process, and that determination of the precise burden equal to or greater than that standard was a matter of state law properly left to state legislatures and state courts.”

  • Case Brief: 1982
  • Petitioner: Santosky
  • Respondent: Kramer
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 455 US 745 (1982)
Argued: Nov 10, 1981
Decided: Mar 24, 1982