Wilcox v. State, 112032.

CourtUnited States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Civil Appeals of Oklahoma
Writing for the CourtLARRY JOPLIN
Citation327 P.3d 542
PartiesIn the Matter of B.D.W. and H.W., Alleged Deprived Children: Charlie Wilcox, Appellant, v. State of Oklahoma, Washita County, Appellee.
Docket NumberReleased for Publication by Order of the Court of Civil Appeals of Oklahoma, Division No. 1.,No. 112032.,112032.
Decision Date14 May 2014

327 P.3d 542

In the Matter of B.D.W. and H.W., Alleged Deprived Children:
Charlie Wilcox, Appellant,
State of Oklahoma, Washita County, Appellee.

No. 112032.Released for Publication by Order of the Court of Civil Appeals of Oklahoma, Division No. 1.

Court of Civil Appeals of Oklahoma,
Division No. 1.

May 14, 2014.

[327 P.3d 543]

Appeal from the District Court of Washita County, Oklahoma; Honorable Christopher S. Kelly, Judge.


Ryan A. Meacham, Clinton, Oklahoma, for Appellant.

Brooke S. Gatlin, Arapaho, Oklahoma, for Appellee.

LARRY JOPLIN, Presiding Judge.

¶ 1 Charlie Wilcox, Appellant/Father, seeks review of the trial court's order sustaining, upon the jury's verdict, the State's petition to terminate his parental rights to B.W. (born March 25, 2009) and H.W. (born June 15, 2007). Father argues the court improperly denied his due process right to testify at the trial seeking termination of his parental rights. Father argues his constitutionally protected interest in his relationship with his children was violated and he was denied a meaningful opportunity to defend himself when he was prevented from testifying, a violation of his right or opportunity to be heard.

¶ 2 “In passing upon a claim that the procedure used in a proceeding to terminate parental rights resulted in a denial of procedural due process, we review the issue de novo.... De novo review requires an independent, non-deferential re-examination of another tribunal's legal rulings.” In the Matter of A.M. and R.W., 2000 OK 82, ¶ 6, 13 P.3d 484, 486–87.

¶ 3 The State filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights in November 2012.

[327 P.3d 544]

B.W. had been removed from Father's home in November 2010, following a home inspection where the Department of Human Services (D.H.S.) recommended removal to the court, due to unsanitary and unsafe conditions at the home Father and son shared. At the time he was removed, B.W. was eighteen months old. The deprived adjudication was based on the following: (1) Father's failure to maintain a safe and sanitary home; (2) failure to maintain a home free from illegal substances and alcohol; and (3) failure to protect the child from harm.

¶ 4 The State sought termination of Father's parental rights in November 2012 due to failure to correct the deprived conditions, abandonment, and failure to contribute support. With respect to H.W., the basis of termination rested on Father's failure to correct the conditions that led to B.W. being adjudicated as deprived.1 D.H.S. first sought the children's reunification with Father and implemented an Individualized Service Plan (ISP) in an effort to bring Father to a degree of parental competency wherein he could properly care for B.W. and H.W. The ISP included securing employment, drug and alcohol counseling, maintaining visitation with the children, and providing a safe and secure home. Father was in contact with D.H.S. in furtherance of these ISP goals for some period of time, but he then moved to another state, after which Father failed to maintain contact with D.H.S., failed to visit the children, and failed to complete the ISP goals.

¶ 5 In January 2013, approximately two months after the State filed its petition to terminate his parental rights, Father was incarcerated in Texas for a probation violation relating to a previous forgery conviction. His release was scheduled for January of 2014.

¶ 6 The jury trial on Father's termination of parental rights began May 28, 2013. At a hearing prior to trial, Father's counsel requested Father be transported to the trial from his place of incarceration in Texas or in the alternative be able to participate via phone or by some other means, including video. The trial court agreed Father could attend the trial by phone, but denied Father the opportunity to testify by phone, stating:

I am—he will not be allowed to make statements or to testify because we are talking about a jury trial here, and I think it is important that if a person is going to testify in front of a jury, I think the jury must be able to consider their demeanor, their—whether or not they're being truthful based upon their actions when they're testifying rather than just the words they give.

At the start of trial, Father's counsel renewed the objection to his client's inability to testify, asking trial be continued several months until Father would be released or permit him to testify via phone. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict terminating Father's parental rights with respect to both B.W. and H.W.

¶ 7 Father's overarching proposition of error on appeal alleges he was denied due process when the trial court prevented him from testifying at the trial to terminate his parental rights. This court will engage in a two-step inquiry to determine if Father was denied procedural due process. In the Matter of A.M. and R.W., 2000 OK 82, ¶ 7, 13 P.3d 484, 487. First, we must consider whether the individual possessed a protected interest to which due process protection applies. Id. Second, if such protection does apply, was the individual afforded an appropriate level of due process. Id.

¶ 8 In the context of this termination of parental rights proceeding, we answer this first question affirmatively; “Parents have a...

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