2014 Bills

HB318: Jury Trial for Parents Facing Termination of Parental Rights

This bill passed the House 46-27 but was not considered in the Senate. Visit our Legislative Index to see the final vote rankings for the 2014 general session.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Last fall we published an interview with a mother whose relationship with her four children was legally severed by the state. This ruling was made by a judge who previously headed up the very agency that was seeking to terminate her parental rights. She and other parents in her situation have, in the past, desired the opportunity to face a jury of their peers and make their case.

Utah law does not afford them that opportunity. But House Bill 318, sponsored by Representative Lavar Christensen, would change that.

Importantly, the bill would make clear that “a parent who has been served with a petition for termination of parental rights continues to possess protected, fundamental rights and liberty interests”; an allegation by the state does not and should not violate this right. Further, the bill allows (but does not require) a parent to seek a “jury trial regarding the parent’s fitness and whether the parent-child relationship should be terminated.”

Asked in the interview why she thought this bill was important, the mother whose parental rights were terminated responded:

If I had had a jury trial, I would never have lost the rights to my kids. Never. Good citizens, good people, are not going to sit by and watch all this corruption go on. They don’t have the financial incentives like the judges, Guardian ad Litem, and DCFS do. And having several people deliberate on a decision rather than one person is clearly better. They would be impartial, whereas those in the current system are absolutely not.

Of course, jury trials may still conclude that a parent’s relationship should be legally severed; peer review in this fashion does not guarantee a favorable ruling. But we affirm that this option should exist for those who desire to take advantage of it. Justice and due process demand it.