COA Opinion: The criminal-competency standard applies to a parent’s relinquishment of parental rights
In In the Matter of Hernandez/Vera, the Court of Appeals considered whether to affirm the trial court’s termination of a mother’s parental rights. At the termination hearing, the mother consented to the termination of her rights. She was represented by counsel, and the court asked numerous questions to ensure that her consent was knowing and voluntary. On appeal, the mother first argued that her consent was not knowing and voluntary. The Court of Appeals disagreed. Nothing in the record supported her contention that she did not understand and voluntarily release her rights. Second, the mother argued that she was not competent to release her rights. As a question of first impression, the Court of Appeals held that the same standard for competency used in criminal proceedings also applied to the relinquishment of parental rights. Thus, the mother is presumed competent, and the trial court had no obligation to order a competency hearing unless the facts raised a bona fide doubt regarding her competency. Here, there was no such doubt. The mother’s psychologist specifically testified that although she was depressed and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, she did not suffer from psychosis. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed.