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People in Interest of J.R.M.

2023 COA 81. No. 22CA1578. Juvenile Court—Trial by Jury or by the Court—Waiver of Statutory Right to Jury Trial.

September 14, 2023

The Adams County Human Services Department (Department) filed a petition in dependency and neglect regarding J.R.M. and L.P-S. (the children). Mother requested an adjudicatory jury trial, which was delayed due to COVID-19 concerns in Adams County. About six months after the original petition was filed, the Department amended the petition to include additional allegations, and the court continued the trial to allow mother and her counsel more time to prepare. The juvenile court advised mother that she needed to appear in person at a pretrial conference or the court would convert the jury trial to a bench trial. Mother failed to attend the pretrial conference, but counsel appeared and advised the court that mother had been sick for a couple of weeks and that she had sent counsel a photograph of a positive COVID-19 home test. The juvenile court noted mother’s absence and granted the county’s request to convert the trial to a bench trial. After hearing testimony, the juvenile court adjudicated the children dependent and neglected.

On appeal, mother argued that the juvenile court erred by determining that she waived her right to a jury trial because she failed to appear in person at a pretrial conference. A juvenile court lacks authority under CRCP 39 to convert a jury trial to a bench trial based on a respondent parent’s failure to appear at a pretrial conference. Additionally, the record does not reflect that mother voluntarily waived her right to a jury trial, and at the pretrial conference, mother’s counsel expressly stated that mother did not intend to waive her right to a jury trial. Further, striking a jury trial as a sanction for failure to comply with court rulings is not proper when other sanctions are available. Therefore, the juvenile court erred when it found mother waived her right to a jury trial by failing to appear at a pretrial conference.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a jury trial before another judge.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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