It was 26 months ago that Jacqueline Bouknight, a mildly retarded Baltimore woman, was jailed for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of her young son, Maurice. Bouknight had been accused in the past of abusing the child, and when he disappeared, officials suspected he had been killed, or was at least in need of help. But Bouknight, through an attorney, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Forcing Bouknight to reveal Maurice's whereabouts was tantamount to forcing her to provide evidence that could be used to bring murder or child-abuse charges against her, the lawyer argued.
Bouknight, now 24, was jailed for contempt in April 1988 and remained behind bars while her case moved from juvenile court in Baltimore to the Maryland Court of Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And she is still locked up today -- seven months after the Supreme Court ruled against her. "She was given an opportunity to purge herself of the contempt" recently by revealing the boy's whereabouts to a juvenile court, a lawyer familiar with the case said. She refused.
Baltimore's state-run Department of Social Services, which was supposed to monitor Maurice's care by his mother, lost track of the boy after Sept. 8, 1987. The agency did not report him missing until April 12, 1988.
When Bouknight challenged the order for her to disclose Maurice's whereabouts, child-welfare advocates foresaw disaster if her appeal succeeded.
But in February, the Supreme Court, in a 7 to 2 decision, ruled that Bouknight could not use the amendment as a shield.
Maurice's whereabouts, though, remain a mystery. Homicide detectives suspect he is dead. If he isn't, he will turn 4 on Oct. 3.