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ABA A PPELLATE T RAINING F OR P ARENTS ’ A TTORNEYS IN C HILD W ELFARE C ASES “Spotting and Evaluating Issues on Appeal” Andrew CohenProfessor Vivek Sankaran.

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Presentation on theme: "ABA A PPELLATE T RAINING F OR P ARENTS ’ A TTORNEYS IN C HILD W ELFARE C ASES “Spotting and Evaluating Issues on Appeal” Andrew CohenProfessor Vivek Sankaran."— Presentation transcript:

1 ABA A PPELLATE T RAINING F OR P ARENTS ’ A TTORNEYS IN C HILD W ELFARE C ASES “Spotting and Evaluating Issues on Appeal” Andrew CohenProfessor Vivek Sankaran Director of AppealsChild Advocacy Law Clinic Committee for Public CounselMichigan Law School Boston, MAAnn Arbor, MI

2 Opening Comments A.Importance of appeals, importance of issue spotting, importance of developing appellate skills B.Caveat about state law/rules for appeals C.This training will provide a basic overview

3 I.Techniques for Determining Issues on Appeal A.Talk to trial counsel B.Talk to client C.Review transcripts and complete record with fine- toothed comb D.Review key cases in your jurisdiction, Supreme Court case law E.Look at cases elsewhere for ideas F.Comprehensive understanding of state and federal child welfare laws

4 II. Spotting Issues A.Basic Issues 1.Evidentiary Errors a.Types a.Connecting errors to findings

5 II. Spotting Issues 2. Trial court’s findings a.Standard for challenging findings of fact b.Types of errors i.Judge made simple mistake ii.Judge ignored overwhelming contrary evidence iii.No properly-admitted evidence supports finding

6 II. Spotting Issues 3. Conclusion of unfitness a.Findings as a whole do not add up to clear and convincing evidence of unfitness. b.No nexus between parent’s “problem” and harm to child c.Improper legal standard applied i.Not “clear and convincing evidence” ii.Burden-shifting to parent to prove fitness iii.Other

7 II. Spotting Issues B. Constitutional Issues (State or Federal) 1.Substantive and Procedural Due Process 1.Right to Counsel 2.Equal Protection 3.Others

8 II. Spotting Issues C.Violations of Federal and State Statutes 1.ASFA/ICWA/CAPTA/Fostering Connections/ADA a. Reasonable efforts 2.ICPC 3.Funding Statutes v. Enforceable Rights

9 III. Preserving Issues A.Is the issue preserved? – Most issues must be “preserved” at trial level – Preservation = issue must be raised first before trial judge – Gives trial judge chance to “fix” problem (if it needs fixing)

10 III. Preserving Issues B.How does trial counsel preserve issues? 1.Objections 2.Offers of proof

11 III. Preserving Issues 1.Objections – Did trial counsel object? a.Specificity b.Timing c.Running/ongoing objections permitted?

12 III. Preserving Issues 2.Offer of proof – Did trial counsel make one? a.Oral b.Written (affidavit of counsel or witness)

13 III. Preserving Issues Offer of proof C.Content of offer of proof i.Identify error of law Why was the document admissible? Why did trial counsel have the right to call the witness? ii.Identifying information that would have been admitted or excluded if the judge had ruled correctly. What would witness have said if judge had properly allowed further examination? What would witness have said if judge had properly allowed counsel to call her? What would document have shown had judge properly admitted it?

14 III. Preserving Issues C.If issue not preserved 1.Arguing unpreserved issues - What is legal standard in your jurisdiction? – “Extraordinary circumstances” – “Risk of substantial harm” – “Substantial risk of miscarriage of justice”

15 III. Preserving Issues 2. Can appellate counsel preserve or “create” the issue? a.Post-trial motions i.Motions for new trial (Ineffective assistance, other reasons) ii.Other post-trial motions iii.Danger that issue preserved only for appeal of denial of post- trial motion but not preserved for purposes of original appeal of termination.

16 III. Preserving Issues 3.Does the particular issue need to be preserved? a.Jurisdiction b.In some states, ineffective assistance c.Certain ICWA issues d.Other

17 IV. Evaluating Issues A.Harmless errors 1.What is “harmless error?” -Appellate courts only care about the mistakes that matter -Which errors matter? Ones that call the final result into question.

18 IV. Evaluating Issues 2.Harmless Error Analysis – Can you track the mistake to the final result and show that the mistake affected the result? – If it didn’t affect the result, error was harmless. – If error was harmless, it is almost never worth arguing on appeal.

19 IV. Evaluating Issues 3.Types of harmless errors – Harmless Error 1. Trial court erred in admitting evidence but made no finding based on that evidence. Ex:Trial court erred in admitting child sexual abuse hearsay but made no findings about sexual abuse.

20 IV. Evaluating Issues 3.Types of harmless errors: – Harmless Error 2. Trial court made finding based on improperly-admitted evidence but other evidence (properly admitted) supports the finding. Ex: Trial court erred in admitting child sexual abuse hearsay but properly admitted certified copy of Father’s conviction for sexually abusing child.

21 IV. Evaluating Issues 3.Types of harmless errors – Harmless Error 3. Even if the finding is not supported by properly-admitted evidence, that finding is not important to the conclusion of unfitness. Ex:Trial court made finding about sexual abuse based purely on improperly-admitted evidence. But even without that finding, the court had ample evidence of physical abuse, made findings about physical abuse, and relied primarily on physical abuse to terminate Father’s rights.

22 IV. Evaluating Issues B.Is the issue one that doesn’t implicate a harmless error analysis (a/k/a “structural error”)? 1.Do you need to show harm? Is the error so basic to fundamental rights or so basic to a fair trial that the error can’t be harmless? State law question whether structural error analysis applies in civil cases.

23 IV. Evaluating Issues B.Is the issue one that doesn’t implicate a harmless error analysis (a/k/a “structural error”)? 2.Types of structural errors: a.Counsel issues b.Judicial bias

24 IV. Evaluating Issues a.Counsel Issues i.Denial of counsel (where there is right) a.Counsel not appointed b.Counsel improperly struck c.Counsel improperly waived

25 IV. Evaluating Issues Counsel Issues ii.Constructive denial of counsel a.Attorney appointed so close to trial that he/she could not possibly provide any meaningful assistance. b.Attorney not member of bar, fraudulently obtained license, not certified to take case (in states where certification necessary). c.Attorney slept through trial or missed significant portions of trial. d.Attorney did absolutely nothing on case (but must distinguish from run-of-the-mill ineffective assistance). e.Attorney had conflict of interest.

26 IV. Evaluating Issues b.Judicial bias i.Close personal/professional relationship with party or attorney ii.Information from extra-judicial sources iii.Prejudice against class iv.Extreme behaviors calling into question judge’s role as impartial arbiter

27 Questions/Comments Feel free to contact us with questions Use the ABA parents’ attorneys list serv Come to the second parents’ attorneys national conference – July 13-14, 2010, Washington, D.C. More information at esentation_home.aspx esentation_home.aspx


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