Michael C., In re, 88-105-A

Decision Date12 May 1989
Docket NumberNo. 88-105-A,88-105-A
Citation557 A.2d 1219
CourtRhode Island Supreme Court
PartiesIn re MICHAEL C. ppeal.
OPINION

KELLEHER, Justice.

The parents of Michael C. are before this court on their respective appeals from a judgment of the Family Court in which the trial justice found that the couple's thirteen-year-old son had been sexually abused by his father 1 and neglected by both parents.

At the Family Court hearing, counsel for the Department of Children and Their Families (DCF), acting pursuant to G.L.1956 (1985 Reenactment) § 9-17-14, called both parents as adverse witnesses. The mother testified that at the time of the events in question she had been married to Michael's father for seven years. The mother would leave for work early in the morning. The father, who had been injured in a workrelated incident and was receiving Workers' Compensation benefits, remained at home. Consequently, he had the responsibility of awakening Michael and ensuring his readiness for school.

The mother testified that on two occasions in the spring of 1987 Michael told her that her husband was "after his body." When she relayed this information to her husband, he denied any such intent. Michael was told by his mother to stay away from his father and not to bother him.

In his appearance as an adverse witness, the father denied ever having engaged in any sexual activity with Michael. When his wife first told him of Michael's accusations, the father asserted, he thought she was joking.

Prior to Michael's testifying, an attorney for DCF and Michael's guardian ad litem explained to the trial justice that Michael had "expressed a great deal of anxiety about testifying in open court." He was described as being "most reticent and embarrassed to testify in open court."

It should be noted at this point that the trial justice decided that Michael's testimony was to be given in camera before him, with a stenographer recording the proceedings. After Michael had been questioned by the trial justice, his testimony was read back to the attorneys for the parents. The attorneys were then permitted to formulate written questions for cross-examination, which would also be posed by the trial justice in camera. The father's attorney submitted some fifty inquiries. The mother's attorney submitted an almost equal number.

Michael told the trial justice of various episodes involving the father's stripping him of his pants and pajamas and stroking his genitalia and, apparently on other occasions, committing what might be described as first-degree sexual assault. When Michael informed the mother of what was occurring, she did not believe him.

On cross-examination Michael denied that he complained about his father because he was afraid of being punished for a report card that did not measure up to parental expectations. He also denied that he was attempting to retaliate against the father after he had been punished for beating up a boy in school. The punishment included confinement to his room for a six-week period with the knob on the television set turned to the off position.

The parents, for their part, denied any wrongdoing by either party and described Michael's testimonial efforts as an attempt to gain revenge for his father's "failure to give him a motorcycle" or because of the parental discipline that had been imposed. The trial justice found Michael's testimony to be forthright, clear, and convincing. He rejected the parents' defense of fabrication, and he specifically ruled that the father's testimony was not worthy of belief.

The trial justice found that the father had sexually abused Michael and that the mother was "confused and bewildered * * * and perhaps torn between the love for the child and loyalty to her husband." Consequently the trial justice committed Michael to the custody of DCF after finding that he was an abused and neglected child. He also restrained the father from having any contact with Michael.

In their appeals both the mother and the father claim that the trial justice erred in allowing the in-camera testimony of Michael. They also claim that their due-process rights were violated by the trial justice's technique and their right to confrontation unduly restricted.

The father also argues that the trial justice erred in not permitting him to call Michael as an adverse witness.

The mother claims that DCF violated Rule 13(b) of the Rules of Juvenile Proceedings because its petition did not explicitly state the facts on which DCF relied to show that Michael had been abused and neglected. She...

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12 cases
  • In Interest of CWD
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • March 31, 1998
    ...3166-67(III), 111 L.Ed.2d 666 (1990); In the Matter of the Adoption of J.S.P.L., 532 N.W.2d 653, 660-661 (N.D.1995); In re Michael C., 557 A.2d 1219, 1221 (R.I.1989); In the Interest of B.G., supra at 494, 484 S.E.2d 293. There was no violation of the mother's rights of due process as to Ju......
  • Brock, In re
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • April 14, 1993
    ...courtroom setting, the judge need not attempt in-court testimony of the child witness and await the effect. See also In re Michael C., 557 A.2d 1219 (R.I.1989) (the adoption of the same procedure as in In re James A., in order to protect a child is a discretionary 22 We do not reach the iss......
  • Ynclan v. The Honorable Paul K. Woodward
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • March 25, 2010
    ...Muraskin v. Muraskin, 336 N.W.2d 332, 335 (N.D.1983) (sealing record from parties raises serious due process concerns); In re Michael C., 557 A.2d 1219, 1220 (R.I.1989) (transcript read to parents and counsel, who were then allowed to submit written questions for cross-examination); Callen ......
  • Adoption of J.S.P.L., Matter of
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • May 31, 1995
    ...consider the constitutionality of the procedure used here, where both rights were limited by the trial court. (1993); In re Michael C., 557 A.2d 1219, 1220 (R.I.1989). Furthermore, in Matter of Guardianship and Custody of A.O., 157 Misc.2d 177, 596 N.Y.S.2d 971, 974 (1993), the court held t......
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