Ex Parte A.M.M., Alabama Supreme Court, June 5, 2020
The Alabama Supreme Court recently heard a pair of cases where a mother and father were attempting to appeal a decision handed down by the Blount County Juvenile Court. In the original case, the mother’s cousins took physical custody over the child at some time in 2018 or 2019 because the parents were struggling financially. The situation escalated in 2020 when the cousins petitioned the juvenile court to terminate the mother’s and the father’s parental rights. The juvenile court set a date for the trial and appointed counsel for the parents just six days before trial. The parents’ counsel was reportedly not even given notice of the appointment until sometime later. This short timespan led the parents to move for a continuance so their attorney could better prepare for trial. The juvenile court denied their request. Ultimately the juvenile court terminated parents’ rights to the child.
In response to the juvenile court’s decision to deny the motion for continuance, the parents appealed to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. The case was affirmed without opinion. The parents sought review before the Alabama Supreme Court. After hearing arguments, the Supreme Court sided 5-4 with the juvenile court, upholding the ruling to deny continuance.
Chief Justice Parker was one of the dissenting voices. He quoted both Ex parte E.R.G., 73 So. 3d 634, 643 (Ala. 2011) and Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 66, (2000) in stating “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.” Chief Justice Parker further stated that the parents’ argument was “consistent with Alabama courts’ understanding of due process” and “[i]f the revocation of a license to sell insurance requires “a reasonable opportunity to prepare a defense,” [Parducci v. Payne, 360 So. 2d 1023, 1024 (Ala. Civ. App. 1978)] then the revocation of a parent’s fundamental right to parent his or her child certainly requires the same opportunity.”
This case teaches the need for diligence in retaining counsel. And, although the trial court’s decision to deny a continues was upheld, the narrow vote teaches hope for future cases where the appointment of counsel happens late in the case.
John Forrest is our legal assistant and was born and raised in Montgomery, AL and is attending Auburn University at Montgomery. He is an exercise science major with a minor in Strength & Conditioning. John is a recent convert to Christianity and is excited to grow more in godliness and holiness.
He hopes to attend law school after he graduates so that he may become an attorney and become an ambassador for Christ in the courtroom.