July 25, 2018

In re Briana G. – 183 Conn. App. 724 (2018) – July
Reasonable efforts
Failure to rehabilitate

In October 2015, DCF took a 96-hour hold on Briana, a newborn, after mother tested positive for opiates and marijuana at birth.  It then filed neglect petitions on the other two children in the family, as well as an order for temporary custody for baby, alleging that the parents were using heroin heavily and abusing prescription pills. 

In February 2016, DCF also filed OTC petitions for the other two children, and they were placed with their grandparents.  At that time, father was incarcerated for 90 days, due to a probation violation.  Shortly thereafter, mother unexpectedly passed away.  Four days later, the court adjudicated all of the children neglected. 

DCF filed a petition to terminate father’s rights in March 2017, alleging that under C.G.S. § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i), he had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that he could assume a responsible position in their lives within a reasonable time. 

In September 2017, a trial was held.  The court found that father had failed to rehabilitate, and terminated his parental rights.  On appeal, father claimed that the court (1) prematurely determined that he failed to rehabilitate because DCF did not provide him with sufficient time and resources to do so, given that there was some evidence of rehabilitation and the untimely death of mother; and (2) improperly admitted into evidence transcripts of text messages obtained by the police, where a proper chain of custody was not proved prior to their admission.  

The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.  It found that the trial court had focused on the parents’ mutual involvement with illegal drugs, and DCF’s recommendations for substance abuse and mental health treatment.  Father had failed to engage in either treatment from the time the case opened until just prior to his incarceration.  He had no documentation of any progress that he was making, or of any proof of income as to how he would consistently provide for his children.   The court found that all of the services DCF offered to father constituted reasonable efforts at reunification, but that he had been unable to benefit from them, despite having been given 18 months to do so.   

On appeal, father also claimed that the court improperly admitted transcripts of text messages extracted from the mother’s cell phone into evidence, because DCF failed to authenticate the messages via a proper chain of custody.  The Appellate Court held that the trial court has great leeway and wide discretion in deciding the admissibility of evidence: its rulings will be reversed only if the court has abused its discretion or an injustice appears to have been done.  Here, in order to find an abuse of the court’s discretion in admitting the evidence, father had the obligation of affirmatively showing that the evidence was in some way tampered with, altered, misplaced, mislabeled, or otherwise mishandled.  He did not provide any evidence that the phone was tampered with or altered in any way, and the trial court therefore did not abuse its discretion.