In re AM, No. 93,899.

CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma
Writing for the CourtBOUDREAU, Justice
Citation2000 OK 82,13 P.3d 484
PartiesIn the Matter of A.M. and R.W., Children under 18 years of age. State of Oklahoma, Petitioner/Appellee, v. Patrice Walker, Respondent/Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 93,899.
Decision Date24 October 2000

13 P.3d 484
2000 OK 82

In the Matter of A.M. and R.W., Children under 18 years of age.
State of Oklahoma, Petitioner/Appellee,
v.
Patrice Walker, Respondent/Appellant

No. 93,899.

Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

October 24, 2000.


Richard Couch, Tulsa, OK, court-appointed counsel for appellant.

Tim Harris, Tulsa County District Attorney, Yvonne Fisher Glick, Assistant District Attorney, Tulsa, OK, for appellee.

Julie K. McMahon, Assistant Public Defender, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the children.

13 P.3d 485
BOUDREAU, Justice

¶ 1 Today we are asked to determine whether a mother's procedural due process rights were violated when the trial court excluded her from the courtroom while her seven year-old son testified in a proceeding

13 P.3d 486
to terminate her parental rights. We hold that under the circumstances of this case, the mother's procedural due process rights were not violated

I.

FACTS

¶ 2 The State of Oklahoma (State) filed a petition alleging R.W. (son) and A.M. (daughter) to be deprived children as to their natural mother Patrice Walker (mother). The State also sought immediate termination of the mother's parental rights to both children.1 The State alleged the mother had physically abused her son by beating him with an extension cord and that the physical abuse was heinous and shocking.

¶ 3 About two weeks before trial the State and the children's attorney filed a joint motion to exclude the mother from the courtroom when her son testified.2 The mother did not file an objection to the motion and the trial court did not rule on the motion prior to trial. The issue did not arise again until the morning of the second day of trial. Just before the son was to testify, the State and the children's attorney again moved, this time orally, that the mother be excluded from the courtroom during the son's testimony.3 The State pointed out that the son had recently testified against his mother, in her presence, during the criminal proceeding which arose out of the same conduct that led to the termination proceeding.4 The experience caused the son to exhibit major behavioral problems and as a result he had to be moved to yet another therapeutic foster home. He had finally begun to "calm down," but as the time for him to testify again drew nearer, he began to exhibit the same behavioral problems as before.

¶ 4 The mother objected, arguing she had an absolute right to be present during her son's testimony and that the State had not demonstrated harm to the child or an inability to testify. In response the children's attorney acknowledged that the son might be physically able to complete his testimony, even with his mother in the courtroom, but pointed out that the harm to him would be his increased emotional problems afterwards — similar to the emotional problems he experienced after he testified in the criminal proceeding.

¶ 5 The trial court found the best interest of the son outweighed the mother's right to be present in the courtroom. After the mother left the courtroom and the jury entered, the mother's attorney asked the trial court to explain her absence to the jury, which the trial court did.5 The son then testified and was cross-examined by his mother's attorney. After the son left the courtroom, his mother returned for the rest of the proceedings. The trial ended that day. The jury found both children to be deprived and found the mother's parental rights should be terminated as to both children. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict. The mother appealed.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 6 In passing upon a claim that the procedure used in a proceeding to terminate

13 P.3d 487
parental rights resulted in a denial of procedural due process, we review the issue de novo. See In re W.G., 349 N.W.2d 487, 491 (Iowa 1984); In re Ruth Anne E., 126 N.M. 670, 974 P.2d 164, 169 (N.M.Ct.App.1999); In re Christopher D., 191 Wis.2d 680, 530 N.W.2d 34, 42 (1995) (whether procedural due process rights were violated is a question of constitutional fact which is reviewed de novo); see generally Steven Alan Childress & Martha S. Davis, Federal Standards of Review § 17.05, at 17-21 (2d ed. 1992) ("[P]rocedure is probably always a pure question of law. . . ."). De novo review requires an independent, non-deferential re-examination of another tribunal's legal rulings. Neil Acquisition, L.L.C., v. Wingrod Investment Corp., 1996 OK 125, 932 P.2d 1100, 1103 fn. 1

III.

ANALYSIS

¶ 7 In determining whether an individual has been denied procedural due process we engage in a two-step inquiry, asking whether the individual possessed a protected interest to which due process protection applies and if so, whether the individual was afforded an appropriate level of process. Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 332, 106 S.Ct. 662, 88 L.Ed.2d 662 (1986); U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; Okla. Const., art. 2, § 7.6

¶ 8 In the context of a proceeding to terminate parental rights, the answer to the first inquiry is clear. Parents have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the continuity of the legal bond with their children. In re Delaney, 1980 OK 140, 617 P.2d 886, 890; In re Christina T., 1979 OK 9, 590 P.2d 189. "The fundamental nature of parental rights requires that the full panoply of procedural safeguards must be applied to child deprivation hearings." In re Chad, 1978 OK 94, 580 P.2d 983, 985.

¶ 9 The answer to the second inquiry, however, must be determined on a case-by-case basis because the due process clause does not by itself mandate any particular form of procedure. It calls for such procedural protection as the particular situation demands. McLin v. Trimble, 1990 OK 74, 795 P.2d 1035, 1040 (citing Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 322, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976)). In the context of a proceeding to terminate parental rights, the essence of procedural due process is a "meaningful and fair opportunity to defend." In re Rich, 1979 OK 173, 604 P.2d 1248.7 This includes a reasonable opportunity to confront and cross-examine witnesses. State ex rel....

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64 practice notes
  • Andrews v. McCall, Case Number: 111905
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • October 14, 2014
    ...fact which this Court reviews de novo. Pierce v. State ex rel. Dept. of Public Safety, 2014 OK 37, ¶7, 327 P.3d 530; In re A.M. & R.W., 2000 OK 82, ¶6, 13 P.3d 484. De novo review requires an independent, non-deferential re-examination of another tribunal's legal rulings. Pierce, 2014 OK 37......
  • K. H. v. State, Case Number: 118035 Comp. w/118078
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • June 8, 2021
    ...Parents have a "constitutionally protected liberty interest in the continuity of the legal bond with their children." In re A.M. & R.W., 2000 OK 82, ¶ 8, 13 P.3d 484, 487. "The fundamental nature of parental rights requires that the full panoply of procedural safeguards must be applied to c......
  • Andrews v. McCall (In re Adoption of K.P.M.A.), 111,905.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • October 14, 2014
    ...this Court reviews de novo. Pierce v. State ex 341 P.3d 43rel. Dept. of Public Safety, 2014 OK 37, ¶ 7, 327 P.3d 530 ; In re A.M. & R.W., 2000 OK 82, ¶ 6, 13 P.3d 484. De novo review requires an independent, non-deferential re-examination of another tribunal's legal rulings. Pierce, 2014 OK......
  • Hill v. Am. Med. Response, Case Number: 115558
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • June 26, 2018
    ...341 P.3d 38 ; Thompson v. State ex rel. Bd. of Trustees of Okla. Pub. Employees Ret. Sys. , 2011 OK 89, ¶ 16, 264 P.3d 1251 ; In re A.M. , 2000 OK 82, ¶ 7, 13 P.3d 484. ¶ 44 Hill correctly cites Maxwell v. Sprint PCS , 2016 OK 41, ¶ 18, 369 P.3d 1079, for the proposition his award of PPD ve......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
64 cases
  • Andrews v. McCall, Case Number: 111905
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • October 14, 2014
    ...fact which this Court reviews de novo. Pierce v. State ex rel. Dept. of Public Safety, 2014 OK 37, ¶7, 327 P.3d 530; In re A.M. & R.W., 2000 OK 82, ¶6, 13 P.3d 484. De novo review requires an independent, non-deferential re-examination of another tribunal's legal rulings. Pierce, 2014 OK 37......
  • K. H. v. State, Case Number: 118035 Comp. w/118078
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • June 8, 2021
    ...Parents have a "constitutionally protected liberty interest in the continuity of the legal bond with their children." In re A.M. & R.W., 2000 OK 82, ¶ 8, 13 P.3d 484, 487. "The fundamental nature of parental rights requires that the full panoply of procedural safeguards must be applied to c......
  • Andrews v. McCall (In re Adoption of K.P.M.A.), 111,905.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • October 14, 2014
    ...this Court reviews de novo. Pierce v. State ex 341 P.3d 43rel. Dept. of Public Safety, 2014 OK 37, ¶ 7, 327 P.3d 530 ; In re A.M. & R.W., 2000 OK 82, ¶ 6, 13 P.3d 484. De novo review requires an independent, non-deferential re-examination of another tribunal's legal rulings. Pierce, 2014 OK......
  • Hill v. Am. Med. Response, Case Number: 115558
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • June 26, 2018
    ...341 P.3d 38 ; Thompson v. State ex rel. Bd. of Trustees of Okla. Pub. Employees Ret. Sys. , 2011 OK 89, ¶ 16, 264 P.3d 1251 ; In re A.M. , 2000 OK 82, ¶ 7, 13 P.3d 484. ¶ 44 Hill correctly cites Maxwell v. Sprint PCS , 2016 OK 41, ¶ 18, 369 P.3d 1079, for the proposition his award of PPD ve......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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