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In re Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise

September 7, 2018

In the Matter of: JANE DOE, A Child Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
v.
JOHN DOE (2018-17), Respondent-Appellant. IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent,

          Appeal from the Magistrate Court of the Seventh Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bonneville County. Hon. Ralph L. Savage, Magistrate Judge.

         The judgment of the magistrate court is affirmed.

          Trent A. Grant, St. Anthony, for appellant.

          Honorable Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.

         SUBMITTED ON THE BRIEFS

          BRODY, JUSTICE

         This is an expedited appeal from a magistrate court's order terminating John Doe's parental rights as to his minor child, J.G. We affirm the judgment of the magistrate court because there is substantial and competent evidence to support the magistrate court's determination that Doe will likely be incarcerated during a substantial period of time during J.G.'s minority and that termination is in the child's best interests.

         I. BACKGROUND

         John Doe is the biological father of minor child, J.G. J.G. was conceived in Oklahoma about a month before Doe began serving a thirty-five year prison sentence. J.G. was born in 2011 and is presently seven-years-old. Doe saw J.G. one time when she was less than twenty months old. Someone brought the child to the prison to see him.

         J.G. and her mother moved to Idaho in approximately 2013. In August 2016, law enforcement removed J.G. and her half-brother from their mother's care and placed them in shelter care after determining they were in imminent danger. After an adjudicatory hearing, the magistrate court determined it was in the best interest of the children to vest legal custody in the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Eventually the Department and the guardian ad litem for J.G. recommended termination of Mother and Doe's parental rights. Doe's termination hearing took place on January 12 and 19, 2018. The magistrate court determined that Doe will likely be incarcerated for a substantial period of time during J.G.'s minority and that termination is in the child's best interest. The magistrate court entered a judgment terminating Doe's parental rights. Doe appealed. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Parents have a fundamental liberty interest in family autonomy and in maintaining a relationship with their children. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753 (1982); Idaho Dep't of Health & Welfare v. Doe (2015-01), 158 Idaho 764, 767, 351 P.3d 1222, 1225 (2015). Thus, a court must be provided clear and convincing evidence before it may terminate a parent's rights. "Clear and convincing evidence is generally understood to be evidence indicating that the thing to be proved is highly probable or reasonably certain." Doe (2015-01), 158 Idaho at 767, 351 P.3d at 1225. This Court will not disturb a lower court's decision to terminate parental rights if substantial, competent evidence in the record supports the decision. Id. "Substantial, competent evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. This Court must independently review the magistrate court record, but is required to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the magistrate court's judgments since "the magistrate court has the opportunity to observe witnesses' demeanor, to assess their credibility, to detect prejudice or motive, and to judge the character of the parties." Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Substantial and competent evidence supports the magistrate's finding that John Doe will likely remain incarcerated for a ...


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