People in Interest of D.M.F.D., 2021 COA 95

In this appeal of an adjudication hearing, the Court of Appeals holds that the juvenile court improperly based its determination that the child was dependent and neglected on hearsay and improperly considered the parent’s criminal convictions and pending charges.

When D.M.F.D. was six days old, the department filed a petition alleging D.M.F.D. was dependent and neglected. While the allegations rested largely on hospital staff’s concerns and observations about the parents’ inability to care for the child, the intake worker and ongoing caseworker testified to these facts rather than hospital staff. Additionally, the intake worker testified that the child’s umbilical cord had tested positive for controlled substances; she also testified about her observations during a five-hour period she had spent at the hospital. While the court admitted the observations and opinions of the hospital staff for the limited purpose of its effect on the listener and not for the truth of the matter asserted, the court did not make specific findings as to why father was unable to meet the child’s needs. The ongoing and intake caseworkers also testified about father’s criminal record and pending charges.

The Court of Appeals reverses the adjudication order. It concludes that father’s convictions and charges could not support an adjudication without a link connecting them to the factors identified in § 19-3-102. The juvenile court’s findings did not explain how the convictions and pending charges impacted father’s ability to meet his child’s needs. With regard to hearsay, the Court concludes that the strongest testimony supporting the adjudication consisted of inadmissible hearsay and that the intake caseworker’s testimony regarding her observations and the ongoing caseworker’s opinion testimony were insufficient to support the adjudication.

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