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Supreme Court vacates parental termination for jailed mom

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A juvenile court abused it discretion by proceeding with a hearing and terminating a mother’s parental rights in her absence because she was in jail, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday. Her attorney’s failure to ensure she was heard from also denied her a fair hearing, justices ruled.

Justices vacated a termination order by Marion Superior Judge Marilyn Moores in In re the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of K.W., a Minor Child, and His Mother, C.C. K.W. v. Indiana Department of Child Services and Child Advocates, Inc., 49S02-1407-JT-458. The mother’s attorney filed a motion for continuance until the mother was released.

“The trial court denied this request and held the hearing in the mother’s absence — the end result was the termination of her parental rights with respect to her son. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we conclude that the denial of the motion for a continuance was an abuse of discretion,” Justice Steven David wrote for the court.

Two-year-old K.W. was declared a child in need of services a month after he was born after repeated instances in which his mother and father discontinued services, tested positive for drugs or were arrested, according to the record.

But the opinion notes that the hearing already had twice been continued, and found the judgment had to be vacated  because the mother, though represented by council, was deprived an opportunity to be heard from in any manner at the termination hearing.

The court relied upon the 11-factor test adopted in In re C.G., Z.G. v. Marion Department of Child Services, 954 N.E.2d 910, 922 (Ind. 2011), to reach its conclusion, while noting that test is typically applied to a motion to transport an incarcerated parent to a termination hearing.

“(T)he trial court opted to carry out a proceeding by which C.C.’s fundamental rights to parental autonomy were challenged, attacked, and taken away – without C.C.’s personal participation in any way,” the court held. “When viewed in such a light, we cannot help but find that C.C. showed good cause why her motion should be granted, and to do otherwise was clearly against the logic and circumstances of the case.”

The opinion also notes the mother’s attorney “certainly could have –    and probably should have” tried to arrange for her to be transported to the hearing.

“So while it is true that C.C.’s attorney attempted to mount a defense by cross-examining DCS witnesses and putting on one of his own, that is a far cry from saying that C.C. was heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner and far from being fundamentally fair – and it was therefore prejudicial,” the court held.  

 

 

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