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Record shows that parent’s TPR plea was valid

State v. T.G., Sr., 2017AP1715, District 1, 4/10/18 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

T.G. sought to withdraw his no contest plea to the grounds alleged in a TPR petition. He argued that his mental health issues prevented him from understanding the TPR proceedings and that his lawyer failed to fully explain that a no contest plea waived the right to a jury trial. The court of appeals holds that the record of the no contest plea demonstrates T.G. understood what he was doing and the consequences of his plea.

¶23     Our review of the record shows that the [plea] colloquy was not deficient. The trial court thoroughly described and explained all of the rights that T.G. Sr. would give up as a result of the plea. The trial court also took into account T.G. Sr.’s mental health issues and the fact that he was not receiving his medication at that time. The court compared T.G. Sr.’s demeanor at the time the plea was entered to [a] previous hearing .., when T.G. Sr. was unresponsive: the court stated that it had “dramatic concerns” about T.G. Sr.’s mental state at the [previous] hearing, but at the subsequent hearing .., when the court took T.G. Sr.’s plea, he was “fully responsive” and “clearly oriented.” Additionally, the court noted that the sexual assault case against T.G. Sr. had recently been resolved by plea, and that the court in that case “must have been satisfied that he was able to offer a valid plea in the criminal proceeding.”

¶24     Furthermore, the trial court engaged in a dialogue with T.G. Sr. in which T.G. Sr. explained to the court in his own words his understanding of what a jury does; he then told the court that he understood he was giving up his right to have a jury decide the grounds of the TPR petition. In fact, T.G. Sr. asked several questions regarding the proceedings that the trial court noted demonstrated “a more sophisticated ability both to understand and to verbalize some of the more complex nuanced issues in a plea colloquy” than most parents that the court encounters.

¶25     This dialogue indicates that T.G. Sr. had a full and complete understanding of the information relayed to him by the trial court during the colloquy, including the waiver of his right to a jury trial. As a result, the trial court determined that the plea colloquy “established with certainty” that “despite his mental health struggles” T.G. Sr. had a firm understanding of the ramifications of entering the plea. In fact, the court stated that “[n]o reasonable fact-finder … could reasonably reach the conclusion” that he had not understood. We agree.

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