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COA reverses and remands CHINS finding regarding stepfather

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After the juvenile court adjudicated two minor children as children in need of services following their mother’s admission to allegations filed by the Indiana Department of Child Services, the majority of a Court of Appeals panel today reversed and remanded that finding in favor of the stepfather, who denied the allegations and asked for a fact-finding hearing. One Court of Appeals judge dissented, writing that she disagreed that the trial court violated the stepfather’s right to due process in this case.

In K.D., et al. Alleged to be C.H.I.N.S.; S.S. v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, et al., No. 49A02-1004-JC-462, stepfather S.S. in 2005 married the mother of K.D., a girl born June 19, 1992, and K.S., a boy born April 1, 1995.

S.S. was convicted of child molesting and criminal confinement in 1995, served a term of incarceration, but did not complete sex-offender treatment, according to allegations in the record.

As part of an informal adjustment with the stepfather and mother after DCS conducted a preliminary inquiry, both agreed to provide an appropriate home for the children and to attend counseling. S.S. also agreed to complete a sex-offender treatment program, but failed to comply with the requirements of that program.

DCS subsequently claimed that coercive intervention was necessary because the stepfather did not comply with the treatment and because the mother allowed him to continue to live in the home with the children.

Mother and stepfather were represented by separate counsel when the court convened a hearing on the petition. The mother admitted to the allegations, and the stepfather denied them. He then asked for a fact-finding hearing.

However, at the beginning of the subsequent hearing, the court stated that because the mother already admitted to the allegations, the court would treat the hearing as a contested dispositional hearing to determine what services might be ordered regarding the stepfather.

The stepfather objected and argued the mother’s admission was not enough to sustain the CHINS determination. DCS joined the father in the objection and said he was entitled to a fact-finding hearing if he wanted to request one. The juvenile court overruled the objection.

The juvenile court ordered that K.D. and K.S. were to be removed from stepfather’s care. It also ordered stepfather to complete sex-offender treatment and home-based counseling. The stepfather was also ordered to remain out of the home until his counselors recommended that he return.

“The question in this case is: what procedure must the juvenile court follow when one parent, guardian, or custodian admits to the CHINS allegations but another denies the allegations and requests a factfinding hearing?” wrote Court of Appeals Judge Nancy Vaidik.

“In attempting to harmonize the statutes at issue, we can identify no reason why the admission of one parent, guardian, or custodian in a CHINS proceeding should abridge the statutory procedural due process rights of another,” she continued. “The CHINS adjudication may have consequences for any parent, guardian, or custodian involved, such as separation from the child or required participation in a program of care, treatment, or rehabilitation, so any such party should be afforded an opportunity to be heard and to controvert DCS’s claims, even when another party has elected to admit the allegations.”

Judge Vaidik also referred to the Indiana Supreme Court’s recent decision, In re N.E., 919  N.E.2d 102 (Ind. 2010), reported in the Jan. 6, 2010, IL daily. In that case, the mother admitted to allegations that N.E. and her half-siblings who lived with her were CHINS, but N.E.’s father, who did not live with N.E. but had at one time, did not agree with the allegations N.E. was a CHINS.

While the Court of Appeals agreed that a “split analysis” was warranted in that case, the Supreme Court disagreed.

Judge Vaidik wrote that the principles in N.E. do not affect today’s opinion because the stepfather was claiming that the children were not CHINS, not that the children were not CHINS in relation to him.

“In short, N.E. is a 'sufficiency' case addressing the type of proof required to support a CHINS determination. This case, on the other hand, concerns when and by whom that proof may be disputed,” she wrote, and concluded the stepfather was denied due process.

Judge Melissa S. May dissented with the majority. She wrote that she did not believe the father was denied his right to due process.

“I agree with the majority that the trial court erred by denying Stepfather the hearing provided by statute, but I am not convinced the error was reversible under the facts of this case,” she wrote.

She continued that DCS’s report included information regarding stepfather’s sex-offender status, and that he did not comply with the sex-offender treatment ordered as part of his criminal sentence.

“It is not apparent what evidence Stepfather could have presented that would have led this trial court to find there was not proof by a preponderance of the evidence that these children were CHINS,” she wrote. “The paperwork DCS filed with its request that the court approve the Informal Adjustment made the court aware Stepfather had been convicted of child molesting and had not completed the sex offender treatment ordered as part of his sentence.”



 

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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