Colorado

ABUSE

PREJUDICE

People v. Curtis, 2014 WL 3955302 (Colo. Ct. App.). Defendant was properly convicted of sexual assault and two counts of aggravated incest when he sexually abused his two daughters. He was not subject to unfair prejudice when victims testified that defendant had a stillborn baby with one of his daughters, placed it in a jar, and then joked that there was the baby in a jar. This joke and defendant’s efforts to conceal the birth showed he was the father of the stillborn and he attempted to hide the birth and sexual abuse.

DEPENDENCY

ADJUDICATION

In re J.W., 2016 WL 4474192 (Colo. Ct. App.). Trial court lacked jurisdiction to terminate mother’s parental rights to two children. Although trial court held adjudicatory hearing, it did not enter order adjudicating children as dependent until after it held termination hearing, terminated mother’s parental rights, and mother had appealed. Fair procedure at dependency adjudicatory stage is critical because termination of parental rights is impossible without preliminary determination that child is dependent.

In re N.G., 303 P.3d 1207 (Colo. Ct. App. 2012). Trial court erred in placing child in uncle’s custody without first determining that father was unfit to parent child. Though father was out-of-state when child was removed from the mother and had not seen the child in some time, dependency adjudication requires  finding that the child can not safely remain with either parent.

INTERVENTION

In re O.C., 312 P.3d 226 (Colo. Ct. App. 2012).Grandparents’ motion to intervene was improperly denied because they had not cared for their grandchild for over three months. Though statute reading “parents, grandparents, relatives, or foster parents who have the child in their care for more than three months” did not clarify whether the three-month requirement applied to grandparents, the requirement did not apply because grandparents were likely to have a substantial interest regardless of having had custody of a child, which would not be true for foster parents. 

PERMANENCY PLAN

In re L.B., 254 P.3d 1203 (Colo. Ct. App. 2011). Where child was removed from her mother and placed with her father, court did not err in finding the agency made reasonable efforts to reunify child with the mother; extensive services were provided, including inpatient treatment for the child, and placement with father still preserved mother’s relationship to extent possible because father was better equipped to deal with child’s special needs.

INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT

RELATIVE PLACEMENTS

In re A.R., 310 P.3d 1007 (Colo. Ct. App. 2012) Although trial court improperly used reasonable efforts standard, agency’s efforts fulfilled active efforts requirement of Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), making error harmless. However, reversal was required because the trial court improperly balanced relative placement and continued foster home placement, giving too little weight to ICWA relative preference provisions.

JUVENILE JUSTICE

SEXUAL ABUSE

In re A.L.-C., 2016 WL 6208377 (Colo.). Juvenile charged with sexual assault of 11-year-old sister successfully sought to suppress statement to police, and prosecution appealed. Statute stating juvenile could not validly waive constitutional rights against self-incrimination and to remain silent unless accompanied by parent, guardian, custodian, or attorney did not require that interests of juvenile’s mother, who was present during questioning by police, align with juvenile’s interests.

TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS

CONFIDENTIALITY

In re L.A.N., 292 P.3d 942 (Colo. 2013). In a termination of parental rights case, guardian ad litem (GAL) was in the best position to determine whether to waive the patient-client privilege and release therapist’s records if child lacked the age or competence to decide. Since statute was silent on discovery of therapist records, except regarding abuse or neglect reports, GAL, as compared to parents, agency, or the court, was in best position to hold privilege. GAL had least practical or ethical conflicts in substituting judgment for the child patient.

DEFAULT

In re R.D., 277 P.3d 889 (Colo. Ct. App. 2012). In termination of parental rights proceeding, father was improperly found in default and denied his statutory right to counsel when his attorney was dismissed on the first day of trial. A defendant should not be found in default where he answers and actively litigates his case simply for failing to appear for trial. Denial constituted reversible error per se given the substantial portions of trial where father was unrepresented.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

E.S.V. v. People, 2016 WL 2997117 (Col.). Evidence showing mother had extensive contacts with abusive father, and failed to disclose and actively concealed majority of contacts in violation of treatment plan requirement to report all contacts with father to caseworker and guardian ad litem, supported termination of her parental rights to two children. Treatment plan did not require no contact with father, only that mother report any contact. She had 180 phone calls with father but only reported six or seven and was pregnant with father’s child while denying contact.

FOSTER PARENTS

In re A.M., 296 P.3d 1026 (Colo. 2013). Allowing foster parents to participate as parties did not violate parents’ rights to due process in termination proceeding. Parents enjoy  due process protections in termination proceedings, including a right to a hearing, an appointed attorney, a finding by clear and convincing evidence, and that the court consider other alternatives to termination. Further under an Eldridge analysis, limiting foster parent participation would actually increase the likelihood of erroneous judicial decisions because it would tend to limit the court’s information about the children.

People v. A.M., 310 P.3d 89 (Colo. Ct. App. 2010). A trial court erred when it let foster parents participate as full intervenors in termination of parental rights proceeding. State statute permitting foster parents to fully intervene in dependency proceedings limits foster parents’ participation to dispositional hearings, not termination hearings. Foster parents also lacked a constitutional liberty interest in their relationship with foster child and thus  could not advocate a position at the termination hearing. Full Summary

JUDICIAL IMPROPRIETY

People v. C.M., 262 P.3d 646 (Colo. 2011). In termination of parental rights proceeding in which mother sought to have trial judge disqualified because of his clerk’s relationship with a witness in the case, the mother failed to allege facts that proved prejudice or that the proceeding was fundamentally unfair and the trial judge was impartial. At most, the mother’s claim suggested an appearance of impropriety and was insufficient to establish that the judge was prejudiced to disqualify him.

VOLUNTARY RELINQUISHMENT

In re C.L.S., 252 P.3d 556 (Colo. Ct. App. 2011). Judgment terminating father’s parental rights was void due to fraudulent statements by mother indicating she did not know identity of father; mother’s false statement that she did not know father’s name or contact information resulted in termination via publication and default denying father opportunity to challenge termination petition.