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DCS supervisor testimony did not sway case against father

November 3, 2014

Allowing a child services supervisor’s hearsay testimony about a father’s fitness to retain his parental rights was, at most, a harmless error, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.  

Allen County Department of Child Services Supervisor Heather Rouns testified at the trial to terminate H.B.’s parental rights to his son, D.B.M. She told the court the father had stopped communicating with her office and had not given the agency a valid address.

H.B.’s attorney objected, arguing the supervisor’s testimony was hearsay.

The agency’s counsel countered that Department of Child Services employees routinely rely on hearsay when monitoring parents. It is an acceptable hearsay because it is part of their job.

After the Allen Superior Court terminated H.B.’s parental rights, he appealed, again raising the issue that the supervisor’s testimony was inadmissible hearsay.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling in In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of D.B.M. (minor child) and H.B. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 02A03-1405-JT-171.

The unanimous panel noted the supervisor’s testimony supported the other evidence presented. She reiterated the testimony of the case worker and the guardian ad litem that the father had not spent any time with D.B.M and that D.B.M. was thriving in his foster-care placement.

Even if the supervisor should not have been allowed to testify, her testimony was cumulative of the other evidence, making any error a harmless one.  

The court noted it could not examine whether exceptions for public or business records applied because an evidentiary foundation was not laid on the issue.

 

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