November 18, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Expert Witness Need Not Recite Exact Statutory Language for ICWA Finding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of D.B. on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—Indian Child Welfare Act—Termination—Expert Witness—Hearsay.

This dependency and neglect proceeding was governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Mother’s parental rights were terminated after the trial court determined that continued custody of the child by one of the parents would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child due to the parents’ extensive substance abuse, extensive domestic violence, lack of housing, and lack of income to meet the child’s needs.

On appeal, mother contended that the trial court erred in terminating her parental rights without testimony from a qualified expert witness that her continued custody of the child would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child, as required by the ICWA. The ICWA provides that a court may only terminate parental rights if it determines that there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the child is likely to suffer serious emotional or physical damage if the child remains in the parent’s care. Such determination must be supported by evidence that includes testimony from qualified expert witnesses. The statute does not mandate, however, that an expert witness specifically opine that the child is likely to suffer emotional or physical damage in the parent’s custody. Rather, the expert testimony must constitute some of the evidence that supports the court’s finding of the likelihood of serious emotional or physical damage to the child. Here, although the expert witness’s testimony did not track the ICWA language, the record as a whole contains sufficient evidence, including testimony from a qualified expert witness, to support the trial court’s determination that the child would likely suffer serious emotional or physical damage if placed in mother’s care.

Mother also contended that the trial court erred in relying on inadmissible hearsay statements in the termination report to conclude that she had failed to maintain sobriety and that the child would thus likely suffer serious emotional or physical damage if he remained in her custody. The trial court, however, had access to other admissible evidence to support its determination that mother had failed to maintain sobriety. Further, this was not the sole basis to terminate mother’s parental rights.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind

*