Texas Supreme Court Finds Sufficient Evidence to Terminate Mother’s Parental Rights

In a recent case, the Texas Supreme Court heard a case involving the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The trial court found sufficient evidence to terminate her rights, but the appeals court reversed. Ultimately, the high court reversed the appeal court’s ruling, finding sufficient circumstantial evidence and crediting a nurse’s testimony, which the court of appeals had excluded. The case demonstrates the deferential standard applied to reviewing a trial judge or jury’s decision.

Facts of the Case

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, this case arose after an infant arrived at the hospital with a fractured skull, brain bleed, and retinal hemorrhaging. The nurse treating the infant concluded that the injury would have required significant and intentional force, so the hospital notified local law enforcement and the Department of Family and Protective Services. Both parents blamed each other for their child’s injuries. While investigators initially focused on the Father, they concluded it was likely the Mother who caused the injuries. After the nurse testified at trial, the court terminated the Mother’s parental rights. The appeals court reversed, finding insufficient evidence to terminate her rights. The court was principally concerned that someone else could have caused the injury and cast doubt on the nurse’s testimony as to the timing of the injury. The Father and the Department filed petitions for review to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Decision

Ultimately, the high court reversed the appeals court. First, it found that the appeals court erred in excluding the nurse’s opinion testimony about causation because the Mother failed to object to the testimony at trial or on appeal. Then, it concluded that sufficient evidence existed to terminate the Mother’s parental rights. It disagreed with the appeals court, which reversed the trial court’s finding because it found insufficient evidence that the Mother directly caused the child’s injuries or endangered him due to her mental health. Applying Texas family law, the court explained that a showing of child endangerment does not require evidence that the Mother directly harmed the child.

Examining the record, the court thus concluded that the Mother engaged in conduct that endangered the child’s well-being, which supported the jury’s finding that termination was appropriate. For example, it cited the fact that only the Mother and Father were alone with their child when he suffered his injuries, and the Mother was the child’s primary caregiver. The court also cited the nurse’s testimony that the timing of the infant’s symptoms coincided with the evening when the child was in the mother’s care. Moreover, the Mother made inconsistent statements throughout the Department’s investigation and blamed the Father without supporting information. This and other circumstantial evidence the jury credited was legally sufficient to support the inference that the Mother was the person whose behavior endangered the child. Therefore, the court reversed the appeals court’s ruling and sent the case back for further proceedings.

Do You Have Questions About Texas Child Welfare Proceedings?

This recently decided case demonstrates the deference courts give to fact finders at trial. The testimony given at trial will likely influence the trial judge or jury’s determination, which can be hard to reverse without clear error. As a result, it is crucial to speak with a Texas family law attorney before a proceeding to terminate your parental rights. The qualified Texas family law attorneys at Guest and Gray have a thorough understand of the laws and procedures that can affect your case. If you are seeking guidance during an investigation or trial to terminate your parental rights, call us today for a free consultation at 972-564-4644 or use our online form.


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