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Judges affirm finding teen is a CHINS

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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the finding that a 17-year-old is a child in need of services, ruling that evidence of her drug test wasn't irrelevant and was properly admitted by the trial court.

Teenager S.W. argued the trial court erred by admitting evidence of her marijuana use and that the Miami County Department of Child Services didn't present sufficient evidence to prove she is a CHINS.

A police officer saw S.W. and her friend A.C. walking along a rural road 12 miles from S.W.'s home around 11 p.m. A.C.'s mother called police to report she had run away. The officer called S.W.'s parents but her father told the officer they weren't coming to get her and that the officer should deal with the situation.

S.W. spoke with a family case manager, who also couldn't get her parents to pick up the phone. S.W. admitted to previous drug use and abuse in the home and was placed in a temporary shelter. The trial court admitted evidence of S.W.'s positive drug test for marijuana over her objection at the fact-finding hearing and authorized the filing of a CHINS petition. The trial court eventually determined S.W. is a CHINS.

The appellate court upheld that finding in In the matter of S.W., a child in need of services v. Indiana Department of Child Services, No. 52A05-0910-JV-1005. S.W. argued she was illegally detained when the drug test was administered so it shouldn't have been admitted, but S.W. was never illegally detained. The police officer attempted to have her parents pick her up but they refused. The officer then called DCS and took S.W. to the police station to ensure her safety, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. At the time of the drug test, DCS had probable cause to believe S.W. was a CHINS due to lack of supervision by her parents and received an order for temporary custody.

The Court of Appeals also rejected S.W.'s argument that the evidence of the drug use is irrelevant.

"Although an adequately supervised teenager may find ways in which to experiment with illicit drugs, a child's drug use can be a direct product of a lack of parental supervision," which would be relevant to the CHINS proceedings, wrote Judge Riley.

The judges also found S.W. was provided notice that her drug use could be an issue. S.W. told the case manager that domestic violence, drug use and abuse continued to happen in her home following DCS' previous involvement with the family one year earlier, so that put her and her family on notice that drug use by anyone in the home could be an issue in the CHINS proceeding, wrote Judge Riley.

Her parents refused to pick S.W. up, didn't answer repeated phone calls, and didn't inquire about her whereabouts when she didn't return home that night. Based on her parents actions, and S.W.'s statement about the previous drug abuse and violence in the home, DCS presented sufficient evidence to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that S.W.'s physical or mental condition was seriously endangered by her parents' refusal or neglect to provide necessary supervision, wrote the judge.

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  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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