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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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