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Trial court’s errors in taking admission to TPR grounds were harmless

State v. Jodie A., 2015AP46 & 2015AP47, District 1, 7/7/15 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

The trial court that accepted Jodie A.’s admission as to grounds to terminate her parental rights failed to comply with two of the requirements for accepting an admission set forth in § 48.422(7)—namely, the court didn’t inquire about adoptive resources and didn’t require the submission of a report concerning potential financial exchanges. The errors were harmless, however.

¶13      The circuit court’s admitted error is not enough to undermine our confidence in the outcome because there is no evidence to suggest that if the court had asked the omitted questions, its decision would have been different. First, two affidavits submitted to the court following Jodie’s motion to withdraw established that adoptive resources were identified and that no impermissible financial exchanges took place. Moreover, the circuit court engaged Jodie at length to ensure that she understood what she was stipulating to, what rights she was giving up, whether she was coerced into the stipulation, and what the consequences of her decision would be. Indeed, Jodie admitted, through counsel, that her motion to withdraw her stipulation was not based upon an assertion that her stipulation was not knowing, voluntary or intelligent. Nor could counsel articulate any prejudice that Jodie suffered. Rather, Jodie’s counsel argued that the circuit court skipped certain statutory mandates and that this error automatically rendered the stipulation invalid. However, there is no evidence in the record to suggest that Jodie would not have stipulated had the circuit court not made the omissions Jodie complains of.

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