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Trial court didn’t deprive parent of right to present evidence at TPR dispositional hearing

State v. Q.M., 2022AP1245, District 1, 10/4/22 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

Q.M. challenges the termination of her parental rights to J.W., arguing the circuit court erred in depriving her of the right to present evidence at the disposition hearing. The court of appeals rejects the challenge.

J.W. was removed from Q.M.’s home after a domestic violence incident arising out of Q.M.’s drug use. J.W. was placed out of the home under a CHIPS order and the state eventually filed a petition to terminate Q.M.’s parental rights, to which Q.M. pleaded no contest. At the dispositional hearing Q.M. sought to question the case manager from the agency providing out-of-home care to J.W. under the CHIPS order as to why J.W. was removed from her home instead of allowed to remain. The circuit court sustained an objection to this questioning. (¶¶2-4).

The trial court didn’t violate Q.M.’s right to present relevant evidence regarding disposition under § 48.427(1) because the court appropriately  concluded that the case manager would not have personal knowledge of the initial assessment and removal because she works for the agency managing the CHIPS case, not the agency involved in the removal decision. Further, Q.M. doesn’t explain what specific evidence she was barred from offering or eliciting. (¶9).

To the extent Q.M. wanted to present evidence relevant to § 48.426(3)(b)—“[t]he age and health of the child, both at the time of the disposition and, if applicable, at the time the child was removed from the home”—the record doesn’t show that the court prevented her from attempting to offer evidence that J.W. was not severely neglected at the time of removal. Indeed, “[t]he court acknowledged that Q.M. felt that the ‘removal happened really fast, but DMCPS has to err on the side of caution with a six month old because they could die really, really quick.’ Q.M. asserts that it was unfair that the necessity of the removal was raised by the court, but that she was unable to present a counter view. However, Q.M. was not disputing J.W., Jr.’s health at the time of removal, only that DMCPS could have taken a different approach. Suggesting a different approach is pure speculation. It is not relevant evidence.” (¶10)

In addition, a review of the evidence from the disposition hearings and the trial court’s explanation of its decision to terminate, there’s no basis to conclude the trial court erreonesly exercised its discretion in terminating Q.M.’s rights. (¶¶12-13).

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