State v. Juan L.

Connecticut Supreme Court

May 19, 2009

291 Conn. 556


The sole issue decided by the Connecticut Supreme court in Juan L. was the interpretation of whether Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-56d, which governs the commitment or release of criminal defendants who are not competent to stand trial, applies in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters (juvenile court). The court answered that question with a resounding yes – and agreed with the state’s argument on appeal and remanded the case back to the trial court for a disposition hearing pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-56d(m).

The brief facts of the case are the respondent, Juan L., was charged with sexual assault in the third degree, risk of injury to a child, and unlawful restraint in the first degree in connection with an incident that occurred on April 15, 2007 while he was 14 years old. In its examination of Juan’s competency, the trial court ordered an evaluation by a psychiatrist, and after a competency hearing held pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-56d(e), the court found that Juan was not competent to stand trial, and there was “no substantial probability that [he] will regain competence [within the] maximum period allowed by the law.” The court then raised the question of whether it had authority to transfer Juan to the custody of either the Department of Mental Retardation (“DMR”) (now Developmental Services) or the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”). The trial court concluded that § 54-56d (m) (the transfer statute) did not apply to the delinquency proceedings because it does not contain the word “juvenile” and references to DCF (in the statute) pertained to persons whose cases are handled by the adult criminal courts, but remain under DCF’s statutory jurisdiction. Because of the finding of “incompetence” which was “not restorable” (even with the likelihood of services), the court determined it was not in the child’s best interest to continue the delinquency proceedings and it dismissed the case.

On appeal, the court agreed with the state’s contention that the trial court improperly concluded that the transfer statute does not apply to juvenile delinquency proceedings. Justice Norcott, in a unanimous opinion, opined that § 54-56d(m) was not self-inclusive, clear and unambiguous when viewed in the complete context of the “unambiguous” statutory framework” providing that criminal and juvenile proceedings are governed by separate procedures. Using “extratextual sources” (i.e. legislative history), the court concluded that the juvenile justice system promoted prevention and therapeutic efforts which were best exemplified by the services offered by DMR and DCF. As a result, the legislature’s vision for a “juvenile justice system that encompasses the continued monitoring and treatment of juveniles who appear to pose a risk to themselves or their communities, but are incompetent to stand trial” were best addressed through the transfer mechanism contained in § 54-56d.

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