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Judge dissents on reversal of CHINS adjudication

January 7, 2015

A father who claimed his due process rights were violated when his daughter was adjudicated as a child in need of services before the conclusion of a fact-finding hearing won his appeal before the Court of Appeals Wednesday. But one judge believed that the trial court correctly found the girl to be a CHINS.

In In the Matter of: L.C. (Minor Child), Child in Need of Services and S.C. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 49A02-1405-JC-333, father S.C. denied the allegations set forth in the CHINS petition regarding his 10-year-old daughter, whereas her mother admitted to the allegations. L.C. had been living with her mother when she witnessed her mother’s boyfriend assault the woman, requiring hospitalization. The mother was under the influence of alcohol during the incident. L.C. had lived with her father until May 2013 because of “personal issues.” The incident with her mother occurred in February 2014.

The juvenile court held a fact-finding hearing and adjudicated L.C. as a CHINS at the beginning of the first day of the hearing. It heard additional evidence on other days and granted wardship of L.C. to the Department of Child Services, ordered father to participate in reunification services, and placed the girl in a temporary in-home trial visit with father. The court noted that father allowed L.C. to live with her mother despite knowing she had issues with alcohol, he did not ensure the girl was properly supervised, and the court must intervene to make sure L.C. is safe until the father is provided services to learn to ensure her safety.

S.C. argued that he was deprived of a meaningful CHINS hearing. Judge Paul Mathias, writing for the majority, noted the procedure employed by the juvenile court in the fact-finding hearing in this case has been expressly rejected by the Indiana Supreme Court.

“Following Mother’s admission, the juvenile court was required to reserve its judgment on the petition until the completion of Father’s fact-finding hearing. The court’s failure to do so rendered the apparent fact-finding hearing for Father meaningless because nothing Father said or did at his fact-finding hearing could have affected the court’s adjudication ‘as to Mother,’” Mathias wrote. A CHINS adjudication is not rendered as to a father or mother, but rather as to a child.

Mathias and Judge Edward Najam reversed the adjudication and remanded for a new fact-finding hearing. Judge Cale Bradford dissented, finding father failed to establish he was denied a meaningful opportunity to be heard. He found the juvenile court’s findings supported its conclusion and the disposition was appropriate.  

 

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