In re Steven M.

CT Appellate Division

68 Conn. App. 427 (2002)

Feb 26, 2002


See In re Steven M.: 264 Conn. 747 (2003) for a summary of the appeal of this case in the Connecticut Supreme Court.

In an important decision limiting the Department of Children and Families’ (“Department”) inherent power to unilaterally transfer a mentally disabled juvenile delinquent from a Department facility to a correctional institution, the appellate court held that the trial court, at the very least, was obligated to make a finding that the transfer was in the trial court’s best interest in order to protect the juvenile’s right of due process. The youth is a mentally disabled man with the intellect of a four or five year old who reached the age of majority (18) after he filed the appeal. The Department moved to transfer him from Long Lane School (a Department facility) to the Manson Youth Institution (a correctional facility) claiming he was dangerous to himself and others. The court ordered the transfer, despite not determining the child’s competency. The court tackled two main issues.

First, the Department’s mootness claim (because the child reached his eighteenth birthday after he filed the appeal) failed because the case met all three criteria to the “capable of repetition yet evading review” mootness doctrine. Second, the court agreed with the young man’s claim that he had been denied due process of law because the court failed to determine his competency prior to ordering his transfer to a correctional institution. Because the child had been diagnosed with dysthymia, conduct disorder, mild mental retardation and a borderline personality disorder, there was significant concern regarding his competency with respect to pending adult criminal proceedings. The court noted that the appointment of a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s interests was not in itself enough of a safeguard his constitutionally protected liberty interest. Since the state’s inherent duty is to protect the “best interest of the child,” the court had a duty to evaluate competency prior to such a transfer.

In a strongly worded concurrence, Chief Judge Lavery noted that the Department had “breached its duty” owed to the juvenile because it failed to offer him “adequate treatment programs corresponding to [his] individual [need]. He wrote the concurrence “so that no mentally handicapped child will ever have to suffer the debilitating treatment suffered by the respondent.”

The case may be viewed at in PDF format.

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