The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
JUVENILES AND THE COURTS
In Connecticut, as in most states, youths who commit crimes are treated different than adults by the courts and the criminal justice system. Generally, youths under age 16 are not criminally responsible for their conduct unless they commit specified violent crimes. Cases involving nonviolent youths under age 16 are disposed of in juvenile, instead of criminal, court. Juveniles over age 16 maybe tried as adults, and juveniles under age 16 who commit violent criminal acts may either be tried as adults or treated as serious juvenile offenders and are subjected to more severe sentencing than other juveniles.
Connecticut has three main categories of juveniles: (1) juvenile delinquents, youths under age 16 who violate a federal or state law or a local ordinance; (2) serious juvenile offenders, youths who may be tried as adults or sentenced more harshly by the Juvenile Court for committing serious juvenile offenses; and (3) youthful offenders, a special status that may be granted to youths between the ages of 14 and 18.
The penalty for being adjudged a juvenile delinquent is not incarceration but may include placement in a state institution for juveniles or an order that the youth (1) participate in the state's wilderness school, (2) make restitution, or (3) participate in a drug or alcohol treatment program. Serious juvenile offenders may be committed to the Department of Children and Families for up to four years. Youths tried as adults are sentenced as such but are not placed in a correctional facility until they reach age 16. A youthful offender's sentenced may range from probation to commitment to a state institution for the maximum term authorized by law.
A child in Juvenile Court is never convicted of a crime but can be adjudged a delinquent for the commission of a delinquent act. A court may find a person under age 16 delinquent if he has violated a federal, state, or local law or ordinance or has violated a court order (CGS § 46b-120).
Any person, agency, or government official may file a written complaint with the court alleging a child's delinquency. The court may take no action on the complaint, refer the matter to another agency, handle it non-judicially, or request that a delinquency petition be filed and then dispose of the matter judicially. A nonjudicial disposition may include any practical treatment of the child, including a dismissal with warning, restitution, or supervision for up to three months (CGS § 46b-128).
If the court handles the matter judicially and finds the child delinquent, the available sentencing options include treatment for drug or alcohol dependency where appropriate or services for mental or physical deficiencies.
The dispositional goal of the Juvenile Court is treatment more than punishment, and an attempt is made to balance the best interests of the child with the need to protect society. The distinction between felonies and misdemeanors is not the crucial one in disposition, but the juvenile law does distinguish between a regular offense and a serious juvenile offense (SJO). Under CGS § 46b-12o, a serious juvenile offender is any child who is adjudged a delinquent for committing an SJO. An SJO is one of a list of specific criminal acts, most of which involve violence or drugs, including murder, the most violent assaults and sexual assaults, kidnapping, arson, larceny, and various weapons charges.
Children who are adjudged delinquent in juvenile court are not sentenced to incarceration in an adult correctional institution. The statutes give the court several alternatives, such as placement in an appropriate institution or agency for juveniles, ordering the child to remain in his own home or in the custody of a relative or to participate in the wilderness school, requiring the child to work or make restitution, or granting probation with conditions such as drug testing (CGS § 46b-140(a)).
When the court finds probation or other available services to be inadequate for the child, it must commit the child to the custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) after consulting with the department about the most appropriate placement or order the Superior Court Family Division to assess whether he should be placed in an alternative incarceration program that it conducts (CGS § 46b-140 as amended by PA 94-136). A commitment to DCF is for an indeterminate time of up to 18 months except that a child adjudged delinquent for a SJO can be committed for up to four years, at the court's discretion . The commissioner of DCF can petition the court to extend any commitment period for up to an additional 18 months (CGS § 46b-141). After notice and a hearing the court can grant the extension if it finds it to be in the best interest of the child.
JUVENILES TRIED AS ADULTS
Under the law, a juvenile's age at the time he commits an offense, the specific nature of the offense, and his prior record determine if he can be tried as an adult. Juveniles under age 14 are not treated as adult offenders regardless of the crime or the circumstances surrounding it. Juveniles aged 14 and 15 must be treated and tried as adult offenders when they are accused of other specified serious crimes and they have a prior record. A juvenile who is at least age 14 may be treated as an adult if he is charged with certain serious offenses, would not benefit from treatment or care at an available facility, and is a danger to society.
Youths aged 16 and 17 are normally treated as adults regardless of the severity of the crime although they can apply for and be granted a special status called "Youthful Offender," which can result in more lenient treatment. This status is discretionary with the court, can only be used once, and is for those youths who do not have prior felony records and who have never used accelerated rehabilitation (CGS § 54-76b).
The law allows a juvenile court to hold a transfer hearing to place a juvenile matter on the regular criminal docket if the child is at least age 14 and charged with (1) a class A felony other than murder or (2) a serious juvenile offense designated as a class B or C felony, if the child has been previously adjudicated delinquent as a result of a serious juvenile offense. The actual transfer cannot occur unless the court makes a written determination that probable cause exists to believe that (1) the child committed the offense; (2) he is not amenable to treatment at any available state agency, institution, or facility designed and suitable for his care and treatment; and (3) his prior adjudications, mental and emotional history, and the seriousness and dangerous nature of the acts make him a danger to society, requiring more secure and longer term handling than the juvenile justice system is able to provide.
At the transfer hearing, the child has the right to counsel, to confront witnesses, to obtain discovery of vindicating information, and to suppress any admission made by him. The procedures applicable at a probable cause hearing apply at the transfer hearing.
If the child's case is transferred to the criminal docket and he is tried and convicted, he must be sentenced as if he were 16 years of age. But no child may be placed in a correctional facility until he reaches age 16; he must be placed instead in a facility for children and youths. Credit is given against any sentence for time served in a juvenile facility. Once a child is transferred to criminal court, he may not resume his status as a juvenile, unless the charges against him are dismissed or nolled or he is found not guilty (CGS § 46b-126).
The court must transfer any case to the criminal docket if the child is at least 14 years of age and charged with (1) murder, capital felony murder, arson murder, or felony murder; (2) second degree manslaughter or assault with a firearm; (3) second degree assault with a firearm of a victim who is aged, blind, or disabled; (4) third degree sexual assault with a firearm; (5) second or third degree burglary with a firearm; (6) second degree robbery while displaying or threatening to use a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument; (7) a class A felony, other than murder and first degree kidnapping with a firearm, if he has a prior delinquency adjudication for a class A felony; (8) a class B felony, other than first degree manslaughter with a firearm or second degree kidnapping with a firearm, if he has two previous delinquency adjudications for either A or B felonies; or (9) any class C, D, or unclassified felony considered a serious juvenile offense, if he committed it while carrying a pistol or revolver without a permit (CGS § 46b-127, as amended by PA 94-2, July Special Session).
A transfer hearing must be held prior to the transfer and the child has the same rights at the hearing as a child does at a discretionary hearing. In addition to the transfer hearing, the law allows a juvenile to request a hearing to test his mental capacity if he is subject to transfer either because he committed an offense that involved the use of a firearm or one that was serious enough to warrant a transfer even though he had no prior corrections or delinquency adjudications (CGS § 46b-127, as amended by PA 94-4, July Special Session).
The law regarding credit for time served and juvenile status are the same as that applicable to a child who is transferred based on the court's discretion. The penalty for youths convicted in Superior Court is the same as that for similarly situated adults, except youths may not be placed in an adult correctional institution until they reach age 16.
YOUTHFUL OFFENDER STATUS
Connecticut's youthful offender law gives first-time offenders who successfully complete court imposed sentences a second chance by erasing their criminal records. A "youthful offender" is either any 16- or 17-year old or a 14- or 15-year old who has been transferred from juvenile to adult court for committing (1) second degree manslaughter with a firearm; (2) second degree assault with a firearm; (3) second degree assault with a firearm of a victim aged 60 or older, blind, or physically disabled; (4) third degree sexual assault with a firearm; (5) second or third degree burglary with a firearm; (6) second degree robbery while displaying or threatening to use a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument; and (7) any class C, D, or unclassified felony considered a serious juvenile offense, if committed while carrying a pistol or revolver without a permit. Additionally, to be a youthful offender, a youth must have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor, other than a class A felony or the class B felony of first degree aggravated sexual assault, and must never have been previously convicted of a felony, adjudged a youthful offender, or given accelerated rehabilitation (CGS § 54-76b, as amended by PA 94-2, July Special Session).
The crimes for which a 16- or 17-year old can be adjudged a youthful offender are all offenses for which a period of incarceration can be imposed, which means all felonies (punishable by imprisonment for periods of over one year), all misdemeanors (punishable by imprisonment for periods of up to one year), and all other offenses in the statutes for which imprisonment can be imposed except motor vehicle offenses and infractions. Specifically exempt from these crimes, and thus offenses for which someone may not be found a youthful offender, are the class B felony of aggravated sexual assault in the first degree and all class A felonies. There are currently seven statutory class A felonies: all forms of murder, including capital, arson, and felony; first degree kidnapping; first degree kidnapping with a firearm; first degree arson; and employing a minor in an obscene performance.
In order to be considered a youthful offender, the minor must be adjudged to be one by the Superior Court pursuant to CGS § 54-76b through 76o. Once the court has done so, it can impose a range of sentences including commitment for up to the maximum term authorized by law for the crime committed, a fine, conditional discharge, probation, community service, or a suspended sentence. Committed youths may serve their sentences at any religious, charitable, or other correctional institution authorized by law to receive people over age 16. The court may also order the youthful offender placed in an alcohol or drug-dependency treatment program if such treatment is warranted (CGS § 54-76j, as amended by PA 94-136).
Upon successful completion of the sentence and discharge of the youthful offender from the supervision of the court, all police and court records are automatically erased when the person reaches age 21. Erased records are not actually obliterated but are available to establish, for example, that a particular person had already been adjudicated a youthful offender and therefore could not be granted that status again. Someone who has been adjudged a youthful offender is not considered to have committed a crime or to have been arrested, so he can in later life respond in the negative if asked either question, at least regarding the offense for which he was adjudged a youthful offender.
The court may require regular school and class attendance and satisfactory compliance with school policies on conduct and discipline as conditions of probation and may make failure to comply with these conditions a violation of probation (CGS § 54-76j, as amended by PA 94-221).