People v. Gerald T. (In re J.T.), 4-19-0239

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Citation2019 IL App (4th) 190239 -U
Docket NumberNO. 4-19-0239,4-19-0239
PartiesIn re J.T., a Minor (The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Gerald T., Respondent-Appellant).
Decision Date28 August 2019

2019 IL App (4th) 190239-U

In re J.T., a Minor

(The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,
Gerald T., Respondent-Appellant).

NO. 4-19-0239


August 28, 2019


This order was filed under Supreme Court Rule 23 and may not be cited as precedent by any party except in the limited circumstances allowed under Rule 23(e)(1).

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Logan County
No. 17JA36

Honorable William G. Workman, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE DeARMOND delivered the judgment of the court.
Presiding Justice Holder White and Justice Turner concurred in the judgment.


¶ 1 Held: The appellate court affirmed, finding the trial court did not err in (1) finding respondent unfit and (2) terminating his parental rights.

¶ 2 In October 2017, the State filed a petition for adjudication of neglect with respect to J.T., the minor child of respondent, Gerald T. The trial court made the minor a ward of the court and placed custody and guardianship with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). In February 2019, the State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights. The court found respondent unfit and determined it was in the minor's best interests that respondent's parental rights be terminated.

¶ 3 On appeal, respondent argues the trial court erred in (1) finding him unfit and (2) terminating his parental rights. We affirm.


¶ 5 In October 2017, the State filed a petition for adjudication of neglect with respect

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to J.T., born in October 2017, the minor child of respondent and Kayla G. The State alleged the minor was neglected pursuant to sections 2-3(1)(b) and (1)(c) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b), (c) (West 2016)) because (1) his environment was injurious to his welfare as evidenced by his mother's drug use and (2) he was a newborn infant whose blood, urine, or meconium contained any amount of a controlled substance or a metabolite of a controlled substance.

¶ 6 Following a shelter-care hearing, the trial court entered a temporary custody order, finding probable cause to believe J.T. was neglected due to being born with drugs in his body and his mother's positive drug test during her pregnancy. The court also found an immediate and urgent necessity to remove J.T. from the home, noting his mother's drug use and respondent's history with DCFS and domestic violence. The court granted temporary custody to DCFS.

¶ 7 In December 2017, Kayla G. admitted the second allegation of neglect relating to J.T. being born with drugs in his system. The trial court found J.T. neglected. In its January 2018 dispositional order, the court found respondent unfit to care for, protect, train, educate, supervise, or discipline the minor and placement with him would be contrary to the minor's health, safety, and best interests. The court noted respondent was incarcerated and in need of services. The court made the minor a ward of the court, placed custody and guardianship with DCFS, and stated visitation would be at the discretion of DCFS.

¶ 8 In February 2019, the State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights. The State alleged respondent was unfit because (1) he is depraved (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(i) (West 2018)) and (2) the minor is in the temporary custody or guardianship of DCFS, respondent is incarcerated, he had been repeatedly incarcerated as a result of criminal convictions, and his

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repeated incarceration has prevented him from discharging his parental responsibilities (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(s) (West 2018)).

¶ 9 At the April 2019 unfitness hearing, the State presented certified copies of respondent's convictions, including (1) unlawful possession of a controlled substance (case No. 11-CF-31) (30 months in prison); (2) obstructing justice (case No. 12-CF-88) (18 months in prison); (3) three counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance (case No. 13-CF-153) (5½ years in prison); and (4) two counts of attempted first degree murder and one count of unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon (case No. 17-CF-202) (55 years, 21 years, and 10 years in prison, respectively). The State then rested.

¶ 10 Respondent's counsel objected to the use of the certified convictions in the determination of unfitness, arguing the State was seeking to terminate respondent's parental rights based on "older" convictions that occurred prior to J.T.'s neglect case.

¶ 11 The trial court found respondent unfit based on the allegations of depravity and repeated incarceration. The court noted respondent has been incarcerated for "almost the entire time of this child's life on the current charges that he is in the Department of Corrections for and is going to be there for some time, [and he is not going to] be able to fulfill the duties of a father on behalf of the child due to that incarceration."

¶ 12 Thereafter, the trial court conducted the best-interests hearing. The best-interests report indicated J.T. had resided in his current placement since October 2017. J.T. "appears to be healthy and enjoys living in his current placement." He is also up to date on his medical needs and is developmentally on track. The report indicated respondent had been asked to complete services relating to substance abuse, domestic violence, and anger management, as well as obtain/maintain a legal means of income and housing. Respondent did not complete any

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services prior to his arrest in December 2017. He was later convicted of attempted first degree murder and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon. His projected parole date is 2087. Since his arrest, respondent did not request visitation with J.T. and stated he did not want to see him while incarcerated.

¶ 13 Shannon Kennedy, a foster-care caseworker with the Center for Youth and Family Solutions (CYFS), testified she had been J.T.'s caseworker since April 2018. She asked respondent if he wanted visitation, but he stated he did not want his son to visit him in jail. Respondent receives updates about J.T. from the foster parents. Kennedy stated J.T. "is doing really well," and he has been placed with his half-sibling.

¶ 14 On cross-examination, Kennedy stated respondent asked how J.T. was doing and showed an interest in and concern for him. Respondent has been unable to comply with his service plan because the Logan County jail does not offer any services. Upon request, Kennedy stated CYFS could conduct quarterly visits at the prison. Kennedy noted respondent has not provided any type of financial support for J.T.

¶ 15 Respondent testified he has been in jail or prison since 2017. He has asked for and received reports on how J.T. is doing. Because he has "been going through the process of going back and forth from prison to prison," he has been unable to contact anyone regarding visitation with J.T. Respondent stated the Department of Corrections offers services relating to parenting, anger management, and psychological support, and he is willing to avail himself of those services. When asked if he could develop and maintain a relationship with J.T. while incarcerated, respondent stated it is not "what you can provide," but "[i]t is just being there period." He stated J.T. "needs his father in his life regardless of my situation." Respondent also noted he was wrongfully convicted and his conviction will be overturned.

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¶ 16 On cross-examination, respondent stated he requested not to have visits with J.T. while in the county jail. In explanation, respondent said the visitors at the jail are behind glass and since J.T. was a toddler, he would not understand what was going on. Respondent also stated he had given "about a few thousand dollars" in financial support to J.T. while incarcerated.

¶ 17 In addressing the trial court about not asking for visitation while in jail, respondent stated he did not want J.T. to talk on "a phone that hundreds of other people's germs and bacteria" are on when J.T. "wouldn't even understand me." Now that he is in prison, respondent stated he could have "contact visits" with J.T. and could communicate with him.

¶ 18 The trial court stated J.T. "needs to have permanency in his life" and he is "thriving" in his present placement. Further, the court noted there was "no way" for respondent to undertake the duties of being a father due to his incarceration. The court found it in the minor's best interests that respondent's parental rights be terminated. This appeal followed.

¶ 20 A. Unfitness Finding

¶ 21 Respondent argues the trial court's finding of unfitness was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We disagree.

¶ 22 In a proceeding to terminate a respondent's parental rights, the State must prove unfitness by clear and convincing evidence. In re Donald A.G., 221 Ill. 2d 234, 244, 850 N.E.2d 172, 177-78 (2006). " 'A determination of parental unfitness involves factual findings and credibility assessments that the trial court is in the best position to make.' " In re Richard H., 376 Ill. App. 3d 162, 165, 875 N.E.2d 1198, 1201 (2007) (quoting In re Tiffany M., 353 Ill. App. 3d 883, 889-90, 819 N.E.2d 813, 819 (2004)). A reviewing court accords great deference to a trial court's finding of parental unfitness, and such a finding will not be disturbed on appeal

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unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. In re N.T., 2015 IL App (1st) 142391, ¶ 27, 31 N.E.3d 254. " 'A court's decision regarding a parent's fitness is against the manifest weight of the evidence only where the opposite conclusion is clearly apparent.' " In re M.I., 2016 IL 120232, ¶ 21, 77 N.E.3d 69 (quoting In re Gwynne P., 215 Ill. 2d 340, 354, 830 N.E.2d 508, 517...

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