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COA rejects claim that glowing testimony about children’s likely post-TPR home during grounds phase prejudiced parent

J.S. v. J.T., 2023AP38-39, 10/31/23, District 3 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

“Jack” filed for termination of “Jasmine’s” parental rights to their two children. At trial, Jasmine’s counsel didn’t object when Jack’s lawyer elicited testimony from a social worker that the children “seemed to love it” at the house Jack shared with his wife, that the couple were transparent, and that they had a “great support person.” The court of appeals doesn’t decide whether this was deficient performance, instead concluding that Jasmine didn’t show she was prejudiced by the admission of the testimony against her.

It’s easy to understand why Jasmine believes this information prejudiced her: it wasn’t relevant to the question the jury was supposed to decide (her own parental fitness) and it certainly could lead a juror to think the kids would be better off in a different home. “No matter,” says the court of appeals, and then repeats, ad nauseam, that the jury was properly instructed that it was to decide only whether Jasmine had failed to accept parental responsibility. Courts, of course, “presume” the jury follows instructions, and this formalism is enough, in the court of appeals’ view, to defeat all Jasmine’s claims about the troubling possibility that the jury in her trial was led astray by prejudicial information. (¶¶16-26)

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