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In Re: C.J., A Minor v. Vicky Izaguirre

November 2, 2011

IN RE: C.J., A MINOR,
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
VICKY IZAGUIRRE, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 10JA145 Honorable Kevin P. Fitzgerald, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Appleton and Pope concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 In March 2011, the State filed a first supplemental petition for adjudication of wardship, alleging that C.J. (born July 4, 2010), the minor child of respondent, Vicky Izaguirre, was an abused minor pursuant to section 2-3(2)(i) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(i) (West 2010)). Following a March 2011 adjudicatory hearing, the trial court adjudicated C.J. an abused minor based, in part, on respondent's admission at that hearing. Following a May 2011 dispositional hearing, the court adjudicated C.J. a ward of the court and continued the appointment of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as his guardian.

¶ 2 Respondent appeals, arguing that (1) her admission that C.J. was an abused minor was not knowing, (2) the trial court erred by considering incompetent evidence to determine a factual basis supported her admission, and (3) the court committed plain error by implementing a procedure that fundamentally affected the fairness of the adjudicatory hearing in violation of her right to due process of law. We disagree and affirm.

¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 4 On October 6, 2010, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship, alleging, in pertinent part, that C.J. was an abused minor in that respondent and C.J.'s biological father, Cordarius Jolly, inflicted, caused to be inflicted, or allowed to be inflicted upon C.J. physical injury by nonaccidental means that resulted in C.J. sustaining injuries, which included five fractured ribs. (Jolly is not a party to this appeal.)

¶ 5 A. The Evidence Presented at the Shelter-Care Hearing and the Trial Court's Judgment

¶ 6 At a shelter-care hearing conducted the next day, the trial court considered a shelter-care report prepared by DCFS, which showed the following.

¶ 7 On September 30, 2010, respondent and Jolly brought three-month-old C.J. to the Saint Joseph's Medical Center, where an initial medical examination revealed that C.J. had (1) two fractured ribs; (2) a centimeter long, linear bruise in his right armpit; (3) a scab with abrasions on his lower back; and (4) several scratches on his abdomen. Saint Joseph's later called DCFS because respondent and Jolly could not explain how C.J. sustained the injuries and further testing confirmed that C.J. did not have a "brittle-bone" condition.

¶ 8 While at Saint Joseph's, respondent explained to the DCFS representative that on September 24, 2010, she and C.J. moved into Jolly's home. Later that day, respondent left C.J. with Jolly's mother for the weekend. At that time, respondent described C.J.'s condition as "fine." The next day, Jolly's sister called respondent and suggested taking C.J. to BroMenn Healthcare because C.J. was crying and his stomach felt hard. BroMenn treated C.J. for colic and abdominal gas.

¶ 9 On September 27, 2010, respondent returned to BroMenn because she noticed that C.J.'s "side was hurt and would pop when [she] touched it." BroMenn took X-rays of C.J.'s abdomen and organs but did not find any abnormalities. Three days later, respondent and Jolly brought C.J. to Saint Joseph's Medical Center because (1) C.J. continued to cry and (2) they were not confident that BroMenn could accurately diagnose and treat C.J.

¶ 10 Jolly's statements contradicted respondent's account in that Jolly initially informed the DCFS representative that C.J. (1) was crying when they dropped C.J. off at his mother's home and (2) stayed at his mother's home for two hours instead of staying overnight as respondent claimed. Jolly later changed his story to coincide with respondent's account. In addition, Jolly stated that on September 27, 2010, he first felt C.J.'s rib pop, but later changed the date to September 29, 2010.

¶ 11 Saint Joseph's admitted C.J. for overnight observation, but he was later transferred to the Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria. On October 2, 2010, the hospital conducted a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and skeletal survey, which revealed five rib fractures that were less than one week old. Three days later, the hospital released C.J. into DCFS's protective custody.

¶ 12 After considering the shelter-care report and respondent's stipulation at the shelter-care hearing that (1) probable cause existed to believe that C.J. had been abused and (2) an immediate and urgent necessity required C.J.'s placement in shelter care, the trial court entered an order granting DCFS temporary custody of C.J.

¶ 13 B. The Evidence Presented at the Adjudicatory Hearing and the Trial Court's Judgment

¶ 14 Following several continuances prompted by discovery issues and twice changing counsel, in March 2011, the State filed a first supplemental petition for adjudication of wardship. In that petition, the State alleged, in pertinent part, that C.J. was an abused minor in that respondent, Jolly, or an immediate family member inflicted, caused to be inflicted, or allowed to be inflicted upon C.J. physical injury by nonaccidental means that resulted in C.J. sustaining several injuries, which included five fractured ribs. (The State's first supplemental petition (1) eliminated an allegation of neglect against Jolly and (2) consolidated the separate abuse allegations against respondent and Jolly in its initial petition for adjudication of wardship.)

¶ 15 At the March 9, 2011, adjudicatory hearing, the trial court addressed the parties, as follows:

"The State has filed *** a First Supplemental Petition for Adjudication of Wardship. The court was advised prior to going on the record that [respondent and Jolly] were going to make an admission to that First Supplemental Petition and that, further, [respondent and Jolly] are going to[,] if the Court found a factual basis, free and voluntary admission, then the Court was going to receive documentation from [the State] for the Court to try to determine what acts or omissions of the parents or other legal custodians form the basis of the Court's findings. And then the matter was going to be recessed for the Court to review that material which included *** police reports, interviews of the parents, medical records, and then resume tomorrow morning for argument and the Court's determination, to the extent possible, whether or not the Court can determine what acts or omissions of the parents form the basis of the finding of abuse."

¶ 16 After the trial court confirmed that respondent (1) agreed with its procedural summation, (2) understood the allegation of abuse contained in the State's first supplemental petition for adjudication of wardship, and (3) was not promised anything to obtain her admission to the State's abuse allegation, the court asked the State to provide a factual basis. The State informed the court that it had previously discussed the following records--that it was introducing as its factual basis--with respondent's attorney and the guardian ad litem: (1) the curriculum vitae of Dr. Channing Smith Petrak, who performed C.J.'s medical examination at the Children's Hospital of Illinois; (2) Dr. Petrak's written report of C.J.'s examination; (3) the pertinent medical records from BroMenn and Saint Joseph's; (4) an October 1, 2010, police incident report; and (5) a digital recording of respondent's police interview. Respondent then stipulated to the State's factual basis.

¶ 17 Because the trial court had yet to review the exhibits proffered by the State, the court relied on the shelter-care report--which the court had reviewed in preparation for the adjudicatory hearing--to find that a factual basis existed. Based on that finding and respondent's knowing and voluntary admission, the court adjudicated C.J. an abused minor. Thereafter, the court continued the matter to consider the State's exhibits to determine--to the extent that the court could--respondent's acts or omissions that formed the basis of its abuse finding.

¶ 18 At the continuation of the adjudicatory hearing conducted the following day, the trial court noted that the MRI and skeletal survey conducted on October 2, 2010, revealed the existence of five rib fractures. Relying on Dr. Petrak's medical report, in which she opined that C.J.'s fractures were less than one week old, the court surmised that C.J.'s injuries were likely inflicted after September 25, 2010, when C.J. was in the exclusive care of respondent, Jolly, or both. In this regard, the court stated as follows:

"[W]hether or not the Court can narrow it down further and try to determine which parent inflicted and, as [the court] indicated, [the court thinks C.J.'s injuries] probably occurred [when] he was having a crying spell because of his colickiness. *** [Respondent and Jolly] are relatively young ***, *** inexperienced parents, and we had several people note, including [Jolly's] mom, that they both became frustrated often. And [Jolly's] friend *** indicated that *** Jolly became frustrated ***. You've got relatively young parents--[the court thinks] they are both 19 [years old] at the time this occurred--not experienced parents. And if you have a colicky baby, [the court thinks] it is certainly within the realm of possibility that an inexperienced parent would be experiencing frustration and pick up the child and squeeze [him] too hard, which is what [the court thinks] likely happened in the absence of any other plausible explanation ***."

Thereafter, the court found that C.J.'s injuries were inflicted after September 25, 2010, when C.J. was under the care of either respondent or Jolly. The court then entered a written order, adjudicating C.J. an abused minor. Following a May 2011 dispositional hearing, the court adjudicated ...


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