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Failure to object forfeits error in TPR case and prevents showing of harmful error

Barron County DH&HS v. Tara H., 2013AP2250, District 3, 12/27/13, unpublished; case activity

This is Tara H.’s 2nd trip to the court of appeals regarding this TPR.  The first time she won a new dispositional hearing.  At the start of that 2nd dispositional hearing, Tara’s counsel asked the trial court about the relevant time period for determining whether termination of her parental rights was in her son’s best interests.  The trial court held that the period extended until the date for the first dispositional hearing, but did not include the time between the first dispositional hearing and the second.  The County objected.  Tara did not. The GAL took no position.

The trial court proceeded with the second dispositional hearing, barring admission of evidence after the date of the first one, and terminated Tara’s parental rights.  On appeal she argued that the trial court should have considered evidence between the first and the second dispositional hearings.  The court of appeals held that she forfeited the argument and that error was harmless:

¶16 Tara acknowledges her trial counsel failed to object. She argues counsel was not required to object because the record shows the circuit court made up its mind about the relevant time period and any objection by Tara’s counsel would have been futile. We disagree. After the County objected, the court asked the guardian ad litem for further input before making its decision. It is disingenuous for Tara to acquiesce by silence to the error in the circuit court and now argue this error constitutes grounds for reversal. See id. We conclude Tara has forfeited her right to argue on appeal the court erred by failing to consider the proper time period.

¶22 In short, the court’s error regarding the relevant time period does not undermine our confidence in the outcome. There is no indication that any relevant evidence was erroneously excluded. Additionally, the evidence presented and the factual findings made by the circuit court sufficiently support its determination that termination was in Jeramiha’s best interests. Because the error does not undermine our confidence in the outcome, we conclude the error is harmless.


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