November 21, 2023

AC 46330

Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights of her two children. They had been committed to DCF since shortly after their births.  During DCF’s involvement, she was arrested and charged with various crimes, and the police report indicated that she had been arrested with someone who was described as her ‘‘boyfriend.’’ The trial court had ordered specific steps that Mother should take to facilitate reunification, including that she notify DCF of any changes in the makeup of her household and refrain from involvement in the criminal justice system. Approximately 8 months later, she called the police regarding an incident with a different, then live-in boyfriend. Despite the need for open communication with DCF, Mother failed to disclose either incident to them. Although services had been recommended to her one year earlier, Mother began mental health services just one month prior to TPR hearing. The court subsequently found by clear and convincing evidence that she had failed to fully comply with various court-ordered steps, including that she not get involved with the criminal justice system, and that termination was in the children’s best interests. The Court here held:

  1. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court erred in concluding that she had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation within the meaning of the statute (§ 17a-112) governing TPR. The evidence, when viewed in the manner most favorable to sustaining the judgments, sufficiently supported the court’s conclusion that she had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of rehabilitation. The trial court properly relied on the undisputed evidence of her arrest in determining whether she had failed to rehabilitate, finding that the arrest violated her specific step that she not get involved with the criminal justice system and that it raised concerns about whom she was associating with and whether she would be able to provide a safe environment for her children. Furthermore, although the court relied in part on the allegations of criminal behavior, it did not base its finding that Mother had failed to rehabilitate solely on the basis of her arrest but, rather, cited multiple relevant factors that contributed to its findings, including the her mental health, involvement in intimate partner violence, failure to complete and benefit from counseling and services, and the circumstances surrounding the serious pending felony charges.
  2. Mother could not prevail on her unpreserved claim that the trial court erred in considering the specific step that she ‘‘not get involved with the criminal justice system’’ because § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) was void for vagueness and violated federal due process principles. Mother’s claim failed under the third prong of State v. Golding (213 Conn. 233), because the alleged constitutional violation did not exist, as the record reflected that Mother signed the court-ordered specific steps, including the provision ordering her to not get involved with the criminal justice system, and she failed to fully comply with many of her specific steps, specifically, by being arrested for serious felony charges. The steps provided adequate notice to her of what was needed to achieve such degree of rehabilitation as required by § 17a- 112 (j) (3) (B).  Because a person of reasonable intelligence would have known that being arrested on serious felony charges could be properly considered in terminating her parental rights under these circumstances, Mother failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to her.