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California Juvenile Court Erred in Removing Child from Imprisoned Father’s Care

California’s Second District Court of Appeal vacated a juvenile court’s finding that an incarcerated father was a detriment to the child. It also vacated the order that removing the child from the father’s custody.

The court’s April 2, 2021, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by V.N., an imprisoned father, who was incarcerated in August 2019 to serve an eight-year sentence. He is eligible for parole in February 2023.

The case originated in the juvenile court after the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) filed a petition alleging J.N., who is now seven years old, and his half siblings were at risk of serious physical harm due to the violence and substance abuse of the mother and her boyfriend. No allegations were made concerning the father. The juvenile court made findings on May 5, 2020, and detained the children.

Another hearing was held on DCFS’s amended petition that alleged the father’s “violent criminal history” presented a risk of serious physical harm to J.N. The court found placement with the father would be detrimental to J.N. and removed him. J.N. was placed with the mother and the father was denied parent reunification services. The father appealed.

The Appellate Court found it had jurisdiction. It agreed with the father that the evidence “does not support an actual nexus between his current criminal history and any specifically identified, substantial, current risk of physical harm to J.N.” While the evidence shows the father may commit violent crimes in the future, there was no evidence that J.N. will be harmed. The father never exposed J.N. or any other child to his criminal activities, nor was J.N. in the father’s care at the time of his crimes. The court rejected the use of a violent criminal record alone to establish that a parent has a disposition to establish the requisite risk of physical harm to a particular child.

The order removing J.N. from the father was reversed, as was the order finding the father was a detriment to J.N. Error was also found is refusing the father reunification services. In all other respects, the order below was affirmed. See: In re J.N., 62 Cal. App. 5th 767 (2021).

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Related legal case

In re J.N.