In re A.S.T., 375 N.C. 547 (2020)

  • Facts: The juvenile had been adjudicated neglected based on conditions related to his parents’ substance use. During the underlying neglect case, respondent father made some progress on his case plan but continued to struggle with alcoholism and substance use. Due to criminal activity during the underlying case, respondent father entered an Alford plea to the charges and was incarcerated. DSS filed the TPR action on the grounds of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress. The TPR was granted and father appeals. This opinion focuses on the ground of neglect.
  • If the child has been separated from the parent for a long period of time, a TPR for neglect must be based on a showing of past neglect and a likelihood of future neglect by considering the evidence of changed circumstances given the history of neglect by the parents between the time of the past neglect and the TPR hearing.
  • In challenging the court’s findings, respondent “overly emphasized his successes and minimized his failings” regarding progress on his case plan. Sl.op. at 10. The court findings that father's inconsistency with complying with his case plan prior to his incarceration are supported by clear and convincing evidence, including the social worker’s testimony.
  • “[A]n Alford plea is not the saving grace for defendants who wish to maintain their complete innocence….” Sl.Op. at 10. “By entering the Alford plea, respondent ‘agreed to be treated as . . . guilty whether or not he admitted guilt.’ ” Sl.Op. at 11. Here, the respondent’s Alford plea that resulted in his 2+ year incarceration supports the finding that he “voluntarily made himself unavailable to care for [the juvenile] for a substantial portion of [the juvenile’s] life.” Id.
  • The conclusion of law is reviewed de novo, which allows the appellate court to consider the matter anew and substitute its judgment for that of the trial court. The appellate court is not limited to the trial court’s statements. In concluding neglect exists, the court’s findings show the juvenile was adjudicated neglected due to his parents’ substance abuse issues and that respondent father failed to appreciably address the issues and that during his incarceration, respondent failed to contact the juvenile and had limited contact with the social worker. These findings support the conclusion that respondent previously neglected the juvenile and that there is a likelihood of future neglect if the juvenile were returned to his care.
Termination of Parental Rights
Click on a term below for additional case summaries tagged with the same term.