March 8, 2006
JUVENILE FELONY RECORD AND GUN PURCHASES
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You want to know under what circumstances a juvenile's felony record may be erased and whether an adult with an erased juvenile felony record may legally purchase and possess firearms in Connecticut.
Juveniles (children under age 16) accused of committing felonies are prosecuted either in adult criminal court or juvenile court. A felony conviction in adult court can be erased only if the Board of Pardons and Paroles pardons the offender or the offense for which he was convicted is later decriminalized. A delinquent adjudication in juvenile court can be erased by a court under certain circumstances.
Whether a child's case is prosecuted in adult or juvenile court depends on the child's age when he allegedly committed the crime and the severity of the crime. Children age 13 and younger are always sent to juvenile court. Children age 14 or 15 automatically go to criminal court if accused of a capital felony, a class A or B felony, or arson murder, unless the state's attorney decides, and the court agrees, that the juvenile court is a more appropriate setting for the case. Children age 14 or 15 accused of less serious felonies may be transferred to adult court on a juvenile prosecutor's motion.
The law bars felons from possessing firearms and from getting gun permits and gun eligibility certificates. But, under the law, a person whose felony record is erased is no longer considered a felon. Thus, he is not disqualified from owning, carrying, possessing, buying, selling, or transferring firearms, in the absence of some other disqualifying condition. Nonetheless, the official authorized to issue gun permits must determine that an applicant wants firearms for a lawful use and is a suitable person to receive a permit. If the official knows of the conviction, he can deny the permit on suitability grounds.
An applicant may appeal the denial to the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, and he may appeal the board's decision to Superior Court.
ERASED RECORDS GENERALLY
The law (CGS § 54-142a) requires police, courts, and prosecutors to erase all related records when (1) a criminal case is dismissed or nolled, (2) the offense for which the defendant was convicted is later decriminalized, or (3) a defendant is acquitted or granted an absolute pardon. (The duty to erase does not apply if the defendant was found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect or guilty but not criminally responsible by reason of mental disease or defect.) “Court records” do not include the record or transcript an official court reporter, assistant court reporter, or monitor.
Erased records are generally not disclosable. But a court may order disclosure to (1) a defendant in an action for false arrest, (2) a state prosecutor and a defense attorney when the defendant faces perjury charges based on his trial testimony, or (3) crime victims within two years after final disposition of the criminal case (CGS § 54-142c).
BOARD OF PARDONS
The Board of Pardons and Paroles has the power to grant absolute or conditional pardons for any crime, either before or after the defendant serves his sentence. It may also grant commutations of the death penalty (CGS §18-26 et seq.). The board has broad discretion to make these decisions. There are no statutory criteria for granting or denying a pardon. A person seeking a pardon must submit a petition to the board.
TREATMENT OF JUVENILES WHO COMMIT CRIMES
Decisions to Transfer to Adult Court
Transfers of offenders age 14 or 15 to the adult criminal court are mandatory in some cases and discretionary in others.
A child charged with a capitol felony, a class A or B felony, or arson murder who was age 14 or 15 when he committed the offense must be automatically transferred to adult court and tried and sentenced as an adult, unless a state's attorney decides, and the court agrees, that the case would be more appropriately handled in juvenile court (CGS § 46b-127(a)).
A child charged with a class C or D felony or an unclassified felony may be transferred to adult court on the motion of a juvenile prosecutor and order of the juvenile court. Such transfers are limited to cases where the child was at least age 14 when he committed the offense and the court finds ex parte (without the accused's presence) that there is probable cause to believe the child committed the offense (CGS § 46b-127(b)).
Children transferred to adult criminal court under these provisions are tried and sentenced as if they were 16 years old. A transferred child can plead guilty to a lesser offense if the court finds the plea to be knowing and voluntary. A child who is found or who pleads guilty to a lesser offense does not resume his status as a juvenile. But if a child is found not guilty or the charges against him are dismissed or nolled, he resumes his status as a juvenile until he turns age 16 (CGS § 46b-127(c)).
Erasure of Juvenile Court Records
A delinquent child or his parents or guardian may file a petition to erase the records of a child is discharged from the supervision of the court, the Department of Children and Families, or any other institution or agency to which the court committed him (CGS § 46b-146). The court must grant the petition if it finds (1) two years have elapsed since the discharge (four years if the offense is a serious juvenile offense), (2) no subsequent juvenile proceedings have been instituted against the child, (3) the child has not been found guilty of a crime, and (4) the child has reached age 16. The erasure order applies to all police and court records and covers all references, including arrest, complaint, referrals, petitions, reports, and orders. After the records are erased, the finding of delinquency is deemed to have never occurred.
The law bars officials in charge of the records from disclosing information about them, except the fact of erasure can be substantiated when the court decides it is in the child's best interest. A child whose records are erased is deemed not to have been arrested within the meaning of the statutes, and copies of the erasure order must be sent to all officials known to have information concerning the delinquency.
When a child is dismissed as not delinquent, the erasure must be ordered immediately. A petition need not be filed.
ERASED RECORDS AND GUN POSSESSION
It is a crime for felons to possess firearms (CGS § 53a-217). Also, a person convicted of a felony is ineligible to get the required permit to carry handguns (pistols or revolvers) or eligibility certificate to acquire them (CGS §§ 29-28 and 29-36f). The public safety commissioner must revoke the permit or certificate of anyone convicted of a felony (CGS §§ 29-32 and 29-36i). In addition, the person must transfer any handguns he has to the commissioner or someone eligible to possess them (CGS § 29-36k).
For purposes of the law, a person with an erased criminal record does not have a criminal record. He is “deemed to have never been arrested within the meaning of the general statutes with respect to the proceedings so erased and may so swear under oath” (CGS § 54-142a). Because of this, he is not subject to the gun laws that apply to felons. He can legally own, possess, carry, buy, sell, or transfer firearms (in the absence of some other disqualifier). But like anyone else, he must get a permit if he wants to carry handguns, and if he wants to acquire, but not carry them, he must get an eligibility certificate.
Applicants for both the permit or eligibility certificate must undergo state and national criminal history record checks (CGS §§ 29-29 and 29-36g). The criminal history record check is a check of a person's arrest and disposition record. Law enforcement officials conducting the criminal history record check do not have access to erased criminal records. Thus, this check will not reveal an applicant's erased record.
Gun permit applicants must undergo a background check (in addition to the criminal history record check), and the permit-issuing official must find that they are suitable to carry firearms and want to do so for lawful purposes (CGS §§ 29-28 and 29-29). The background check is highly subjective. Among other things, the official may (1) interview the applicant, neighbors, friends, and teachers, among others; (2) review domestic or other incidents involving the applicant in which no charges were filed; and (3) review newspaper reports of arrest records. The background check may reveal an applicant's criminal record, including one that is erased. Based on the findings, the official may deny the gun permit on suitability grounds.
An applicant denied a permit or eligibility certificate may appeal to the State Board of Firearms Permit Examiners. If aggrieved by the board's decision, he may apply to the Superior Court (CGS § 29-32).