In re D.C. & D.C.

Annotate this Case



                                 ENTRY ORDER

                       SUPREME COURT DOCKET NO. 90-407

                               JUNE TERM, 1991


 In re D.C. & D.C.                 }          APPEALED FROM:
                                   }
                                   }
                                   }          District Court of Vermont,
                                   }          Unit No. 3, Orleans Circuit
                                   }
                                   }
                                   }          DOCKET NO. 89/90-11-87 OsJ


              In the above entitled cause the Clerk will enter:

      Appellant seeks our reversal of an order terminating parental rights in
 his two children.  At the time of the termination hearing, criminal charges
 were pending against appellant for sexual abuse of his cousin.  Appellant
 claims that in proceeding with the juvenile case without granting him im-
 munity with respect to the pending criminal charge, the district court pre-
 sented him with an unconstitutional "Hobson's Choice".  He had either to
 decline to testify freely in his own behalf against termination of his
 parental rights, appellant argues, or risk self-incrimination with respect
 to the criminal case.

      We find, first, that the issue now raised by appellant was not ade-
 quately preserved for appeal.  Issues, including those with constitutional
 dimensions, are waived by parties unless raised at the earliest opportunity.
 Hall v. Department of Social Welfare, 153 Vt. 479, 487, 572 A.2d 1342, 1347
 (1990).  In order to effectively raise objection to action by a court, a
 party must present the issue with specificity and clarity in a manner which
 gives the court a fair opportunity to rule on it.  See State v. Ringler, 153
 Vt. 375, 378, 571 A.2d 668, 670 (1989).  In the present case, appellant
 failed to present the district court with specific grounds for his objection
 to proceeding without immunity.  He indicated to the court the criminal
 charges lodged against him, and the fact that allegations of sexual abuse of
 his own children were an element of the State's case for termination of his
 parental rights.  However, he did not show how the charge of abuse of his
 cousin was related to the termination proceeding.  As a result, he failed to
 show how he might incriminate himself in the criminal matter by testifying
 at the parental rights hearing.

      Appellant argues that if the issue is unpreserved, this Court should
 nevertheless address it because the district court's actions constituted
 plain error.  We recognize that we can reverse on even an unpreserved issue
 in exceptional cases.  See Varnum v. Varnum, 155 Vt. ___, ___, 586 A.2d 1107, 1110-11 (1990).  This case, however, is not one in which the error, if
 any, is so obvious, grave, and serious as to warrant reversal.  See In re
 G.S., 153 Vt. 651, 651-52, 572 A.2d 1350, 1351 (1990).  The applicable
 standard for termination of parental rights is grounded in the "best
 interests" of the children as defined according to four statutory factors.
 See 33 V.S.A. { 5532.  We will uphold the findings of a trial court in
 support of a termination of parental rights unless they are clearly
 erroneous.  In re J.R., 153 Vt. 85, 94, 570 A.2d 154, 158 (1989).  The
 record reveals that while the juvenile court considered the allegations of
 appellant's sexual abuse of his children, the findings reflect numerous
 grounds for termination of his parental rights.  Appellant has not shown any
 real likelihood that the outcome would have been different had he been able
 to testify with immunity or after the criminal charges pending against him
 were resolved.

      Affirmed.




                                    BY THE COURT:


                                    Frederic W. Allen, Chief Justice


                                    Ernest W. Gibson III, Associate Justice


 [X]  Publish                       John A. Dooley, Associate Justice

 [ ]  Do Not Publish
                                    Denise R. Johnson, Associate Justice