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U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin. (File)

Senate panel calls for trial before termination of alleged rapist’s parental rights

ANNAPOLIS – Concerned with the due-process rights of alleged, uncharged rapists, a Senate panel on Thursday tightened pending legislation designed to make it easier for courts to strip parental rights from a mother or father who conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, in amending a House-passed version of the bill, voted to enable a bench trial rather than a hearing at which a judge would terminate parental rights if it is determined by “clear and convincing evidence” that “non-consensual” intercourse occurred and that the child was “conceived as a result of the act.” The bill would also require clear and convincing evidence that it is in the child’s best interest to terminate the parental rights.

“It’s not just an allegation” of non-consensual intercourse that results in termination, said Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, who introduced the amendment. “It goes through a whole civil trial.”

The amended bill would also provide that only the other parent – not the child or the child’s guardian – can file a complaint to terminate parental rights based on the alleged non-consensual sex. The complaint would have to be filed within five years of the child’s conception, as opposed to the House-passed bill that has no limitations period.

Raskin, D-Montgomery, introduced the amendment after discussions with Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, the Senate panel’s chair, who had expressed concerns that the due process rights of the parent accused of rape were not being protected.

Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, has voiced qualms with the House-passed bill’s engrafting of criminal sexual-assault laws onto Maryland’s civil family-law statutes – particularly in these cases, when the person accused of rape has neither been convicted of nor even criminally charged with the offense.

“Anyone convicted of rape should lose their parental rights” in these cases,  Zirkin said.

Zirkin has also said he wants to ensure that the parent accused of rape has adequate notice and a realistic opportunity to challenge in court the accusation and the motion to terminate parental rights.

Raskin, in explaining his amendments, said the amended bill would address the notice concerns by generally requiring personal service on the individual whose parental rights are sought to be terminated. If personal service could not be achieved, the judge could order additional attempts at service but could not require publication of the name of the child or of the complaining party.

The Senate committee was still accepting further amendments and had not voted its final approval of the bill by press time Thursday afternoon.

The House passed its version of the proposed Rape Survivor Family Protection Act by a 136-0 vote last month.

The measure, House Bill 646, would bar judges from terminating the alleged rapist’s parental rights if the parents were married at the time of conception, unless he or she was convicted of non-consensual sexual contact in the act that conceived the child.

The measure would also provide that any testimony given by the alleged rapist in the termination-of-parental-rights proceeding be inadmissible in a criminal proceeding involving the same alleged act of rape, except to impeach his or her testimony at the criminal trial.