In re Darien S.

Connecticut Appellate Court

82 Conn. App. 169 (2004)

March 23, 2004


In an issue of first impression, the Connecticut Appellate Court, in In re Darien S., thoughtfully affirmed the trial court’s decision to approve the state Department of Children and Families’ (“DCF”) “permanency plan” for a committed juvenile delinquent’s future placement. Specifically, the appellate court ruled that although Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-141(d) affords the delinquent juvenile a right to a hearing on the permanency plan, Connecticut law does not require the commissioner to present specific evidence of a “compelling need” for continued commitment of the delinquent during that hearing. The permanency hearing should be about the future plans of the juvenile. The hearing is not — as the petitioner argued — an opportunity for review of the juvenile’s previous commitment, or immediate revocation of the commitment to the DCF commissioner.

The court initially reviewed the history of the rationale behind the amendments § 46b-121, as Connecticut is one of only six states that have adopted permanency planning for delinquentchildren. As a result, a thorough review of the federal permanency planning statute for neglected children, 42. U.S.C. § 657(5)(C), is undertaken with the understanding that its analogous provisions would shed some light on the permanency planning procedure for delinquent children.

The court noted that the juvenile respondent did not raise issue of fact on appeal (i.e. violation of court order, interference with and assault of police officer, assault on commission personnel) that led to his commitment to DCF custody. There was also no argument between the parties about the juvenile’s right to have a hearing on the permanency plan. Instead, the appeal focused on the subject matter of that hearing. Specifically, the respondent’s main argument was that the DCF commissioner is obligated to provide specific evidence during this hearing of a compelling need for the juvenile’s continued commitment.

In its legal analysis, the court first endeavored to delve into the murky waters of “established principles of statutory interpretation.” Under the infamous State v. Courchesne, 262 Conn. 537 (2003) analysis, the overwhelming evidence indicated that the statute on its face, as well as the legislative intent, pointed to an interpretation of “future status” for permanency planning, as opposed to an interpretation that mandates an additional review of previously imposed delinquency commitment.

The appellate court further held that the statute does not require a full evidentiary hearing on the existing commitment at this permanency hearing. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision to approve the permanency plan’s “goal of revocation of commitment and placement of the [juvenile’ with the mother . . . . .” Although respondent also argued that the trial court’s approval of this permanency plan violated his federal and state constitutional rights to a fair hearing, the appellate court considered and dismissed these constitutional arguments. Specifically, the court ruled that §46(b)-141(d) allows the juvenile the due process right to a hearing with respect to the permanency plan (here, of reunification with his mother) but this hearing should not be used as a chance to review the juvenile’s existing commitment to DCF.

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