Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System
Connecticut provides counsel to indigent youth through a statewide Division of Public Defender Services overseen by a bi-partisan commission, which appoints the Public Defender, sets compensation, and engages in policy making. The Division employs a staff of permanent juvenile defenders throughout the state and has a federally-funded Juvenile Post-Conviction & Re-Entry unit that represents adjudicated juvenile clients who have been committed to the Department of Children and Families. The Division contracts with private attorneys who serve as “Special Public Defenders” when the Division has a conflict of interest. The indigent defense system is entirely state-funded.
The Division, which is required to “establish training, practice and caseload standards for the representation of children, youths, indigent respondents and indigent legal parties,” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-296(c)(3), released Performance Guidelines for Counsel in Juvenile Matters, intended to serve as a guide for the representation of juvenile clients in delinquency proceedings. These advisory guidelines were designed for counsel to evaluate and improve their own performance and cover a variety of issues, including role of counsel, plea negotiations, trial preparation, disposition, and appeal.
Juvenile Court Rules
In addition to statutes and case law, juvenile court proceedings are governed by court rules. These are often promulgated at the state level, but may also be passed at the local court level instead of or in addition to statewide rules. Connecticut’s juvenile court rules are called the Rules of the Superior Court – Procedure in Juvenile Matters.
Right to Counsel
Beyond the right to counsel in juvenile court guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution and In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), states often have state constitution or statutory provisions further expanding upon on or delineating that right.
In Connecticut, youth in juvenile court have the right to counsel:
- Upon a determination of indigence and before a juvenile’s first appearance in court on a delinquency matter, a public defender must be authorized to represent a juvenile, until the court appoints counsel. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-296(d).
- At the commencement at any proceeding concerning the alleged delinquency of a child…the child shall have the right to counsel and be so informed by the judge, and if the child and parents are unable to afford counsel, that counsel will be provided for them. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-135(A).
- “Whenever a request for a competency examination is under consideration by the court, the child or youth shall be represented by counsel in accordance with the provisions of sections 46b-135 and 46b-136.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-128a(b).
Determination of Indigence
Connecticut has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-296(a) says that “the court before which the [delinquency] matter is pending shall, if it determines after investigation by the public defender or his office that a defendant is indigent as defined under this chapter, designate a public defender, assistant public defender or deputy assistant public defender to represent such indigent defendant.” After a public defender has been appointed or after a person has requested representation based on indigency, the public defender is to investigate claims of indigence. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-297(a). An indigent child is one “who does not have the financial ability at the time of his request for representation to secure competent legal representation and to provide other necessary expenses of legal representation.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-297(f). For any juvenile, the determination of ability to pay includes the financial resources of his or her parents or other guardian. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-299.
Waiver of Counsel
Connecticut does not have a specific juvenile statute or rule addressing a juvenile’s waiver of counsel. Juvenile case law interprets and utilizes the adult waiver of counsel statute (though courts apply greater scrutiny to this analysis compared to the knowing and voluntary analysis of an adult’s waiver of counsel – see, e.g., In re Manuel R., 543 A.2d 719 (Conn. 1988)).
A waiver will be accepted only after the judicial authority makes a thorough inquiry and is satisfied that the defendant:
- Has been clearly advised of the right to the assistance of counsel, including the right to the assignment of counsel when so entitled;
- Possesses the intelligence and capacity to appreciate the consequences of the decision to represent oneself;
- Comprehends the nature of the charges and the proceedings, the range of permissible punishments, and any additional facts essential to a broad understanding of the case, and;
- Has been made aware of the dangers of self-representation.
When and how the court may decide to detain a child or otherwise place restrictions on the child’s freedom is defined by statute and court rules. In Connecticut, a detention hearing must occur on the next business day following a juvenile’s arrest. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-133(e). Provisions for the detention of juveniles are found in Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46b-133.
The U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court case law are also sources of due process rights beyond local and state statutes and provisions. NJDC’s Detention Page provides more information about detaining youth.
The legal needs of children in the delinquency system rarely end at disposition, and states vary in the way they provide a right to representation on these post-disposition issues. Connecticut statutes list no specific post-disposition proceedings at which youth have a right to counsel.
NJDC’s Post-Disposition Page has more information on this topic from a national perspective.
Ages of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
The age of a child who comes within the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile courts is defined by state law. In Connecticut:
- For purposes of delinquency proceedings, a child must be at least seven years of age at the time of the alleged delinquent act, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-120(1)(A)(i);
- Juvenile court has jurisdiction over most offenses alleged to have been committed prior to a child’s 18th birthday, as well as any probation violation or court order violation pertaining to delinquency even if it occurs after turning 18 in an open case; all offenses alleged to have been committed after age 18, and certain offenses alleged at an earlier age, are charged in adult court, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-120;
- The juvenile court can retain jurisdiction of a juvenile until the age of 20. Conn. Gen. Stat. §46b-121(b)(2).
Youth in Adult Court
Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Connecticut has one way that juveniles can be prosecuted as adults:
- Mandatory Transfer any child 14 and older charged with a capital felony, class A or B felonies or a violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. §53a-54d. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-127.
NJDC conducts statewide assessments of access to counsel and the quality of juvenile defense representation in delinquency proceedings around the country. These assessments provide a state with baseline information about the nature and efficacy of its juvenile indigent defense structures, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the indigent juvenile defense system, and provide tailored recommendations that address each state’s distinctive characteristics to help decision-makers focus on key trouble spots and highlight best practices. The NJDC State Assessment Page provides more information about state assessments.
NJDC has not yet conducted an assessment of the juvenile indigent defense system in Connecticut. If you would like to collaborate with NJDC to fundraise for, plan, or engage in an assessment in this state, please contact us.