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In re P.J.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

April 4, 2018

In re P.J., a Minor
v.
Jacob R., Respondent-Appellant. The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit No. 14-JA-317, Peoria County, Illinois. The Honorable Katherine Gorman Hubler, Judge, presiding.

          JUSTICE McDADE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Carter and Justice Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          McDADE JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The State filed a petition for termination of parental rights against respondent alleging that he was a depraved person pursuant to section 1(D)(i) of the Adoption Act (Act) (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(i) (West 2014)). The trial court granted the State's petition, finding respondent unfit. It subsequently terminated his parental rights. We reverse and remand.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 In December 2014, the State filed a juvenile petition, alleging that P.J., born July 7, 2014, was a neglected minor, and the trial court adjudicated P.J. neglected. In November 2016, the State filed a petition to terminate parental rights. Count I alleged that April J., P.J.'s mother, was an unfit person because she failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of P.J. under section 1(D)(m) of the Act (id. § 1(D)(m)); count II alleged that respondent Jacob R., P.J.'s father, was an unfit person because he failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of P.J. under section 1(D)(m); and count III alleged that respondent was an unfit person because he was depraved under section 1(D)(i) of the Act (id. § 1(D)(i)). The State later dismissed count II.

         ¶ 4 At the adjudication hearing, the State submitted an exhibit of respondent's criminal history, including a 2001 possession of methamphetamine manufacturing chemical conviction (Class 2 felony), a 2002 possession of methamphetamine manufacturing chemical conviction (Class 2 felony), a 2005 possession of methamphetamine manufacturing material conviction (Class 1 felony), a 2010 possession of methamphetamine manufacturing chemical conviction (Class 3 felony), and a 2014 federal conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine conviction (felony).

         ¶ 5 Respondent submitted an exhibit of his inmate education data transcript wherein it showed a list of courses he attended and completed while incarcerated. He also testified that he was currently incarcerated at the Thomson facility within the Bureau of Prisons. He initially stated that he would be released in 2023 but later stated that his earliest release date was 2020 or 2021. He had been prescreened to participate in a drug treatment program but could not enroll until he had four years or less remaining on his sentence. He attended a "small business planning" class, a drawing class, a financial analysis class, an "entrepreneur opportunity" class, a "highly effective life" class, a "decoding recidivism" class, and a career preparation class. He received his GED while he was incarcerated in 2004. He also participated in inpatient drug treatment while incarcerated from 2003 to 2004. Respondent planned to sell his portrait drawings once he was released from prison.

         ¶ 6 The trial court determined that respondent was depraved, stating:

"And the State has presented evidence that your most recent felony was in 2014, and there are 4 others. Now, that allows for you to try and rebut the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. And I do commend you for what you have done, but I don't think you've rebutted the presumption, and I'm going to find that the State has proven the petition."

         ¶ 7 Thereafter, a best interest hearing was held. The court determined that it was in the best interest of P.J. to terminate respondent's parental rights. Respondent appealed.

         ¶ 8 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 Respondent claims that the trial court erred when it found him unfit pursuant to section 1(D)(i) because (1) it applied the wrong standard of proof to his burden of rebutting the presumption of depravity and (2) he presented evidence that rebutted the presumption of depravity.

         ¶ 10 Respondent did not object or file a posttrial motion on this issue. The State argues that respondent's claim is forfeited or, alternatively, suggests that this court may consider respondent's unpreserved error under the plain error rule. A party must object at trial and file a posttrial motion to preserve an alleged error for review. In re William H., 407 Ill.App.3d 858, 869-70 (2011); In re Christopher J., 338 Ill.App.3d 1057, 1058 (2003). If a party fails to raise an issue in the trial court, it is forfeited and may not be raised for the first time on appeal. In re Marriage of Baecker, 2012 IL App (3d) 110660, ΒΆ 20. The plain error doctrine allows this court to consider forfeited issues when a clear or obvious error ...


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