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The findings of fact did not support the adjudication of a child as a dependent juvenile
where the findings, aside from respondent's paternity, concerned only respondent's age at the
time of the conception (25) and the fact that the mother (who was 15 and who has since run
away) lived with respondent prior to the birth. The facts did not correspond to first-degree rape,
which would result in the loss any rights related to the child; even if respondent is eventually
convicted of statutory rape, such a conviction would not result in respondent losing his parental
rights under N.C.G.S. § 14-27.2(a)(1).
Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC, by Murray C. Greason,
III, and Julie B. Bradburn, for Guardian ad Litem
Geannine M. Boyette for respondent father.
(respondent) appeals adjudication and
disposition orders with respect to his minor child, J.L.
(See footnote 1)
J.L. was born in 2005. J.L. was conceived when his mother, C.L., was fifteen and respondent father was twenty-five years old. C.L. had been living with respondent and respondent's mother since February 2005 because C.L.'s parents had left the state, and their whereabouts were unknown. Respondent and his mother were presentat the hospital when J.L. was born, and respondent signed the birth certificate acknowledging that he was J.L.'s father.
Shortly after J.L.'s birth, the New Hanover Department of Social Services, (DSS) received a report regarding J.L. and initiated an investigation as to whether C.L., being a minor herself, was neglected and dependent. During this initial investigation, respondent told a DSS social worker that he wanted J.L. to be placed with him. In addition, both respondent's mother and respondent's sister expressed their desire to have J.L. placed with them.
Upon C.L.'s discharge from the hospital, she was placed in foster care. J.L. remained hospitalized because he required surgery to correct a birth defect in which his intestines were externalized. On 20 September 2005, J.L. was discharged from the hospital and went to live with C.L. in foster care. After a dispute with her foster mother and two attempts to run away, C.L. was placed in a new foster home separate from J.L. On 9 November 2005, C.L. ran away and did not return. Shortly thereafter, J.L. was removed from his foster home due to a report of inappropriate discipline.
On 21 November 2005, DSS filed a petition alleging that J.L. was dependent and moved for non-secure custody of J.L. The trial court held a hearing on the petition on 23 November 2005 at which respondent father and his counsel appeared. Following the hearing, the trial court entered an order in which it found that C.L. had run away and could not be found. The trial court found that respondent had requested that J.L. be placed with respondent, J.L.'s paternal aunt or J.L.'s grandmother. In addition, the trial court grantedDSS's request for non-secure custody and gave DSS authority to place J.L. with the paternal aunt or grandmother upon completion of favorable home studies.
On 1 and 8 December 2005, the trial court conducted hearings on the issue of DSS's continued non-secure custody of J.L. In its order from the 8 December hearing, the trial court found that C.L.'s whereabouts were still unknown. The trial court also found that the home study had not been completed on the paternal aunt, but ordered DSS to facilitate visits between J.L. and the paternal aunt and grandmother. The trial court further ordered that respondent was to have no visitation for [respondent] at this time pending further hearing.
Following an adjudication hearing on 2 March 2006, the trial court again found that C.L.'s whereabouts remained unknown . However, with respect to respondent father, the trial court made the following findings:
5. That [respondent] is an adult of twenty seven years of age. That at conception of [J.L.], [C.L.] was fifteen years of age. That for some time prior to [J.L.]'s birth and at his birth, [C.L.] resided with [respondent] in the home of [respondent's] mother . . . . That [respondent] signed [J.L.]'s birth certificate as father. That DNA paternity testing is to be conducted next week to determine the paternity of [J.L.].
The trial court adjudicated J.L. as dependent and concluded that J.L. had been abandoned by C.L. In addition, the trial court continued non-secure custody with DSS and again ordered that respondent have no visitation with J.L.
On 1 through 3 May 2006, the trial court held disposition hearings. During these hearings, DSS foster care worker, NicoleBurroughs, testified that respondent had been paying child support for J.L., was current in that support obligation and had been providing J.L. with health insurance. Following the hearings, the trial court again found that C.L.'s whereabouts were unknown and that J.L. was doing well in his foster placement. The trial court made the following findings with respect to respondent:
6. That prior Orders of this Court have prohibited visitation or contact by [respondent] with [C.L.] or with [J.L.] as [respondent] committed statutory rape of [C.L.] which resulted in conception. From [J.L.]'s birth, [respondent] and his family have acknowledged obligation to support [J.L.] and have expressed the desire to have custody of [J.L.]. The family has provided bags of clothing and a car seat for [J.L.]. Visitation with [J.L.] by [paternal aunt and grandmother], has been authorized and has taken place in [paternal aunt's] home. That [paternal aunt and grandmother's] care of [J.L.] during visitation has been appropriate and [J.L.] has been well cared for during visitation.
. . .
9. That it is appropriate at this time to
allow the Department of Social Services to
cease efforts at reunification with
[respondent]. . . .
Based on its findings, the trial court maintained custody with DSS but ordered DSS to make its best efforts to locate [C.L.] so that she could be placed in foster care with J.L. and have an opportunity to parent J.L. The trial court further ordered the guardian ad litem to continue to investigate the possible placement of J.L. with his paternal aunt. While the trial court also increased the aunt's visitation with J.L., the trial court also continued its prior order that respondent was to have no visitation.
A defendant is guilty of a Class B1 felony if
the defendant engages in vaginal intercourse
or a sexual act with another person who is 13,
14, or 15 years old and the defendant is at
least six years older than the person, except
when the defendant is lawfully married to theperson.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-27. 7A(a)(2005) .
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