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State v. Edison

Supreme Court of West Virginia

May 19, 2017

State of West Virginia, Petitioner Below, Respondent
v.
Aaron Anthony Edison, Respondent Below, Petitioner

         Wirt County 14-F-12

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Aaron Anthony Edison, by counsel Keith White, appeals the January 12, 2016, order of the Circuit Court of Wirt County that denied his motion to suppress records and documents, and to quash an indictment that charged him with one count of felony failure to pay support to a minor in violation of West Virginia Code §61-5-29(2). The State of West Virginia, by counsel David A. Stackpole, responds in support of the circuit court's order.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the order of the circuit court is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         A.J.D.[1] (or the "child") was born on July 16, 2003. On March 10, 2007, petitioner was served with a civil complaint filed in the Family Court of Wirt County for paternity, child support, and reimbursement regarding the child.[2] Thereafter, petitioner was thrice scheduled for paternity testing, but failed to appear each time despite proper notice. Petitioner also failed to appear at a properly noticed January 24, 2008, family court hearing on the complaint. In the February 7, 2008, order resulting from that hearing, the family court found that, since her birth, the child has been in her mother's physical custody and that petitioner is the child's biological father. With regard to child support, the family court found that, for the period from March 1, 2004, through January 31, 2008, petitioner owed $9, 005.20 in reimbursement child support; and that, as of February 1, 2008, petitioner's ongoing child support obligation for the child would be $191.60 per month, which petitioner had the ability to pay.

         Petitioner appealed the family court's order to the circuit court, which denied relief on April 14, 2008. Petitioner did not appeal the circuit court's denial of relief to this Court. Thus, the family court's order became final in 2008.

         This criminal case began when petitioner was indicted on March 31, 2014, on one count of felony failure to pay child support for the child in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-5-29(2). On May 1, 2014, petitioner filed a "Motion to Suppress and Quash the Indictment." The motion to suppress regarded unspecified "documents/records."

         At some point, petitioner filed a pro se petition for the voluntary termination of his parental rights to the child apparently in his civil child support proceeding.[3] At an August 14, 2014, hearing on that civil petition, petitioner argued the following: First, the family court erred in finding that he is the child's biological father absent a genetic test so proving. Second, even if he is the child's biological father, he surrendered and terminated his parental rights to the child under the Safe Haven Act, West Virginia Code §§ 49-6E-1 to -5 (2000).[4] In support of this claim, petitioner testified[5] as follows: He was not married to the child's mother. When the child was born, he received a call from a hospital social worker who asked if he wished to be named as the child's father on her birth certificate. He told the social worker he did not want his name on the birth certificate and that he was relinquishing his parental rights and any responsibilities to the child under the Safe Haven Act. He received notice of each of the three scheduled paternity tests, but refused to take a paternity test on the ground that it would have violated his right to anonymity under the Safe Haven Act. At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court denied petitioner's civil petition for voluntary termination of this parental rights.

         Thereafter, in the instant criminal case, the circuit court denied petitioner's motion to suppress "documents/records" and to quash his indictment by order entered January 12, 2016. One week later, at petitioner's plea hearing, the circuit court reviewed petitioner's rights and his understanding of the charges and the plea agreement. Thereafter, petitioner entered a conditional plea to misdemeanor failure to pay child support, but maintained his right to appeal the circuit court's ruling on his motion to suppress and to quash the indictment. The circuit court accepted petitioner's plea and found it to be knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.

         At petitioner's March 15, 2016, sentencing hearing, the circuit court denied petitioner's motion to withdraw his guilty plea to misdemeanor failure to pay child support and sentenced petitioner to one year of incarceration. The court also ordered petitioner to pay the child mother's $29, 539.58 in "restitution." This appeal followed.

         On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in failing to grant his motion to suppress and to quash the indictment, and erred in finding that the Safe Haven Act, West Virginia Code §§ 49-6E-1 to -6. (2000) (the "Act") could not be used as a defense to a criminal charge of failure to pay support to a minor.

This Court's standard of review concerning a motion to dismiss an indictment is, generally, de novo. However, in addition to the de novo standard, where the circuit court conducts an evidentiary hearing upon the motion, this Court's 'clearly erroneous' standard of review is invoked concerning the circuit court's findings of fact.

Syl. Pt. 1, State v. Grimes, 226 W.Va. 411, 701 S.E.2d 449 (2009).[6]

         The Safe Haven Act, West Virginia Code § 49-6E-1 (2000) (or the "Act"), provides as follows:

A hospital or health care facility operating in this state, shall, without a court order, take possession of a child if the child is voluntarily delivered to the hospital or health care facility by the child's parent within thirty days of the child's birth and the parent did not express an intent to return for the child. A hospital or health care facility that takes possession of a child under this section shall perform any act necessary to protect the physical health and safety of the child. In accepting possession of the child, the hospital or health ...

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