CT Supreme Court
284 Conn. 305
November 13, 2007
In this juvenile justice case, the Connecticut Supreme Court addressed the question of whether a trial court may extend a delinquency commitment when the “child” at issue has reached the age of 16, given that the definition of “child” in Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-120 is defined as a ‘person under sixteen’ or a person over 16 who has a violated a court order issued subsequent to a delinquency finding. In this case neither definition applied to William D. The Supreme Court held that for purposes of extending a person’s commitment pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-141, it only matters what age the person was at the time of the original commitment.
In this case, William was born on May 14, 1988. On November 13, 2003, after he had been adjudicated delinquent, the court ordered that he be committed to DCF for a period not to exceed 18 months, a time period which would expire on May 13, 2005. William was sent to CJTS, and after a period of time, was released back into the community where he continued to struggle with school conduct and substance abuse. On April 7, 2005, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-141, DCF moved to extend William’s commitment for twelve months. William opposed the motion, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to extend his commitment because he was not a ‘child’ within the definition of C.G.S. 46b-120, as he was over 16 and had not violated a court order. The trial court rejected William’s argument and extended the boy’s commitment to May 14, 2006, at which time he would turn 18 years old.
The Supreme Court agreed that the trial court retained jurisdiction to extend William’s commitment. The Court determined that the term ‘child’, while perhaps subject to a strict interpretation, must be construed within the context of the broader statutory scheme and legislative intent underlying the various provisions.
The Court reasoned that § 46b-141 incorporates by reference the person’s status as a child at the original commitment proceeding. Additionally, the statute authorizes the court to grant a motion to extend commitment when it is in the best interests of the community. Furthermore, the statute requires the trial court hold a permanency hearing not later than ‘twelve months after a child is committed,’ and that subsequent hearings must be held ‘not less frequently than every 12 months.’ Under William’s proposed interpretation of the statute, the court would lack jurisdiction to conduct a permanency hearing upon the child attaining age 16. Therefore, if a 15 year old was adjudicated delinquent and committed to DCF for 18 months, the court would either have to conduct a permanency hearing in a short time or lose jurisdiction to conduct the hearing on the child’s 16th birthday. (Indeed such hearing could even modify or revoke DCF’s commitment.) The Court determined that neither outcome is consistent with the purpose underlying the statutory scheme, namely to protect both the child and the community. In fact, such an application could operate to the child’s detriment, as the court would be deprived of jurisdiction to adjudicate the permanency plan throughout the remainder of the individual’s commitment, thus placing the person into a ‘legal limbo.’
The Court further dismissed William’s argument that the rule of lenity mandates that the statute be construed strictly, and against the state. The Court held that the rule of lenity applies only when a statute remains ambiguous after all tools of statutory construction have been applied.
Finally, the Court determined that William’s due process rights were not violated because he was expressly informed during his initial commitment proceeding that his term of commitment could be extended.
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