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People in the Interest of C.C.

2022 COA 81. No. 21CA1411. Dependency and Neglect—Adjudicatory Jury Trial—Conversion of Jury Trial to Bench Trial—Waiver of Right to Jury Trial.

July 21, 2022

The Denver Human Services Department filed a petition in dependency and neglect regarding the children, and the juvenile court appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) for mother. Mother denied the allegations and requested a jury trial at the adjudicatory phase of the proceedings. The adjudicatory jury trial was set to begin at 1 p.m. Mother’s counsel and her GAL were present at 1 p.m., but when mother did not appear by 1:10 p.m., the court dismissed the jurors and converted the jury trial to a bench trial. Mother arrived by 1:30 p.m. The GAL asked the court to continue the trial until the next day, and the court granted the request. After a bench trial, the court adjudicated the children dependent and neglected.

On appeal, mother argued that the juvenile court erred by converting the jury trial to a bench trial because she did not waive her statutory right to a jury trial. Parents have a statutory right to demand a jury trial at the adjudicatory hearing phase of dependency and neglect cases, and a waiver of that right must be voluntary. Before a court determines whether a waiver has occurred, it should inquire about the parent’s whereabouts and the circumstances of their absence before converting a jury trial to a bench trial, especially when the parent’s counsel and GAL arrive on time and are ready to proceed. Here, though the juvenile court had told mother to arrive at 12:45 p.m. and warned her that she would waive her jury trial right if she was not there by 1 p.m., mother’s counsel and GAL were present when the trial was scheduled to start, and before dismissing the jurors, the court did not ask mother’s counsel or GAL why mother was running late or whether they wanted to proceed in her absence. Instead, the court waited 10 minutes after the scheduled start time and then released the jurors. Under these circumstances, mother’s failure to appear for trial on time did not constitute a waiver of her statutory right to a jury trial. Therefore, the court erred, and the ruling was not harmless.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new adjudicatory trial by jury.

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

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