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People v. Burns

June 29, 2000

IN RE: E.B. AND W.B., MINORS,
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
V.
CHRISTA BURNS, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 98JA82 Honorable Holly F. Clemons, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Myerscough

In October 1998, respondent mother stipulated to a neglect petition that alleged her children were in an injurious environment because she exposed the children to the risk of sexual abuse. The court continued the case under supervision (705 ILCS 405/2-20 (West 1998)) at the recommendation of the State and the agreement of all parties.

In May 1999, the trial court sua sponte entered an adjudicatory order finding respondent's children neglected. However, no petition to terminate continuance of the case under supervision had been filed, and the court held no hearing to terminate the continuance under supervision. In June 1999, the court held a dispositional hearing, found the children neglected, and removed custody and guardianship from respondent parents and placed them with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Respondent mother appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court entered the May 1999 adjudicatory order in a constitutionally defective manner and in violation of state law; (2) the court's decision to terminate continuance under supervision and remove custody and guardianship from respondent was against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (3) respondent received ineffective assistance of counsel. We agree that the trial court entered the adjudicatory order in a manner that was inconsistent with the statute and reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

Both parents appealed the trial court's order removing custody and guardianship, docketed Nos. 4-99-0596 (respondent father) and 4-99-0612 (respondent mother). This opinion addresses only the mother's appeal, No. 4-99-0612. Facts relating to the respondent father are discussed for the purpose of clarity.

Respondents Christa and Robert Burns are the biological parents of E.B., born September 25, 1992, and W.B., born December 11, 1994. DCFS received the following five indicated reports of abuse prior to filing the neglect petition in this case.

In March 1995, DCFS received a hot-line report alleging inadequate supervision due to respondent father being intoxicated while baby-sitting for the children. In March 1996, DCFS received a hot-line report alleging risk of harm to the children by respondent father.

In September 1997, DCFS received a hot-line report alleging that an uncle sexually molested E.B. DCFS opened a file on the family in October 1997 in response to this report.

In June 1998, DCFS received a hot-line report alleging inadequate and inappropriate supervision of the children based on respondent mother's inability to prevent five-year-old E.B. from sexually acting out with three-year-old W.B.

In July 1998, DCFS received an additional hot-line report alleging risk of sexual harm to E.B. and W.B. because a convicted sex offender resided with the children.

In August 1998, the State filed a two-count petition pursuant to section 2-3(1)(b) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 1998)), alleging that the children's environment was injurious to their welfare because the environment exposed the children to sexual abuse (count I) and alcohol abuse (count II).

In September 1998, the trial court held a shelter-care hearing. The court found probable cause for the allegations in the petition and set an adjudicatory hearing. However, custody of the children remained with respondent mother.

In October 1998, the trial court held an adjudicatory hearing. Respondent mother initially agreed to stipulate to the petition on the condition that the case would be continued under supervision pursuant to section 2-20 of the Act (705 ILCS 405/2-20 (West 1998)). The trial court would not accept a conditional stipulation, however, because it wanted to know the facts of the case before agreeing to continuance under supervision. The trial court also informed the parties that their decision to stipulate to the facts or waive a hearing was completely independent of, and would have no impact on, whether the court granted continuance under supervision.

After additional discussion with counsel, respondent mother once again agreed to stipulate to count I. The State struck respondent father's name from count I of the petition and withdrew count II. Respondent father then waived a hearing on count I and agreed to the court taking judicial notice of respondent mother's stipulation. The court continued the matter under supervision at the recommendation of the State and with the agreement of all parties. The trial court based its order continuing the case under supervision on the condition that respondents "cooperate fully and completely with [DCFS]." The court then set the matter for a status review in April 1999.

The docket entries show at least two continuances in April 1999. The docket entries reveal that respondent mother's counsel was unavailable for the first review date and that respondent father was unavailable at the second review ...


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