Juvenile Court in Connecticut
Frequently Asked Questions
A Guide for Children and Families in the Juvenile Justice System
This was prepared to assist children and families who are involved in the juvenile justice system in Connecticut. It is not intended to substitute for the advice of a lawyer and should not be relied on as legal advice. Children who are accused of a crime and their families should seek legal counsel as soon as possible and they should not make any decisions without talking to an attorney. The Connecticut Division of Public Defender Services, Office of the Director for Juvenile Delinquency Defense is responsible for the contents of this guide.
Who goes to juvenile court? How old do I have to be to get arrested?
In Connecticut, Juvenile Courts handle cases for children under the age of seventeen who have been charged with a crime. There is no minimum age to be sent to juvenile court if you are charged with a crime. Children as young as 6 years old have been sent to juvenile court and accused of being a delinquent. Delinquent is what the courts call a child who has been accused or convicted of a crime in juvenile court.
As of January 1, 2010, the Raise the Age law changed who goes to juvenile court to include anyone under the age of 17. In July, 2012, juvenile court in Connecticut will include 17 year olds who are charged with a crime. If you are 16 (or 17 after July 1, 2012) and charged with a motor vehicle offense, your case will be heard in adult court. Most of the time this is ok, because the punishment is usually just a fine and a conviction does not create a permanent criminal record. If there is a chance that a motor vehicle case could result in jail time, you or your lawyer can ask the judge to move the motor vehicle case to juvenile court. This will allow children who make mistakes to get treatment and services in juvenile court, instead of punishment and a permanent criminal record in adult court.
What is a status offense? Can I go to jail for that?
Sometimes, children are sent to juvenile court for behavior that is not criminal. Status offenses or Family with Service Needs cases involve behavior like truancy (“skipping school,”) running away and being beyond the control of your parents. Your school, your parents, DCF or the Police can file a Family with Service Needs (FWSN) petition to the court and ask that the court work to make you change your behavior. If a Family with Service Needs (FWSN) petition is filed, you and your family will be asked to come to the juvenile court and meet with a probation officer. The officer could refer you for counseling or other services in your community. He or she could also send you to a Family Support Center where you could get help with your issues all in one place. If you do not cooperate with the services, you could be brought to the juvenile court to see a judge. The judge could place you under court orders to cooperate. If you do not follow the orders, you could eventually be committed to the Department of Children and Families and sent to a residential treatment program. Most children do well in the community-based services and very few cases ever get to court.
What should I do if the police stop me or think I have committed a crime?
Running from the police is a crime called Interfering with the Police. If you run you will get charged with this crime even if you did nothing else wrong.
Calling the police names or acting rude or disruptive will only get you charged with more crimes. You need to give the police your correct name and age or they can also charge you with Interfering with the Police.
Other than your name, address and age, you do not have to answer any other questions. You have the right to have your parent or guardian and your attorney with you if you are being questioned by the police. If the police have probable cause to arrest you they will, no matter what you say. Most of the time talking will not help you. Stay silent and let your lawyer decide when you should talk.
I’ve been arrested now what?
When the police determine there is cause to file charges against a juvenile, they have several choices. The flow chart at the end of this Guidebook outlines their options.
The Police Officer could decide not to send your case to court. Depending on the circumstances, you could be referred to a youth services bureau or a juvenile review board if your town has one. You and your parent or guardian will have to show up to a meeting and be willing to admit that you did something wrong. The board would recommend that you get a consequence or some kind of treatment. If you cooperate, your charges never go to court. If you do not cooperate, your case will be sent to court.
Connecticut law allows the police to photograph and fingerprint children accused of crimes, but that will not always happen. Most of the time the police will issue a summons, which looks like a ticket with a court date on it. This still counts as being arrested, even if you were not fingerprinted, taken into custody or advised of your rights. The police need to advise you of your rights before they ask you questions, [but] not if they are just releasing you without taking a statement.
The police can release you to your parent or guardian or can let you go on your own if they think you will stay out of trouble and show up for court. You need to appear in court for the date on the ticket. If you do not show up in court on that date you can be charged with another crime called Failure to Appear.
What is non judicial handling?
Before your court date, the police will send your case to juvenile court where a probation officer will review it. If you have been charged with a minor offense that did not involve injury or property damage and you have not been sent to court before, the probation officer can recommend that your case be handled non judicially. This means that you will not have a formal hearing in front of a judge. You will have a meeting with a probation officer to see if your case can be handled informally. The probation officer will talk to you and your family and will want you to sign a form admitting that you did something wrong. You may get a consequence like community service or counseling. Admitting a charge non judicially does not count as a conviction but there will be a record that you were in court, so they will know about it if you get in trouble again.
Juvenile delinquency cases are typically sent to the juvenile court assigned to the town where the arrested child lives, not where the alleged crime happened. If the town where you live does not go to the Hartford, New Haven or Bridgeport juvenile courts and you are being held in detention, you may have your first hearing in front of a judge in the town where you are being held. If you are not released, you will be taken to your regular court on the next court date.
If you are charged with a serious juvenile offense (SJO), the police can bring you to one of the three Juvenile Detention Centers. They are located in Hartford, New Haven or Bridgeport. If you are charged with a less serious offense but the police still feel there is a reason to keep you detained, they can find a judge and ask for an Order to Detain. If they can convince the judge that your situation falls under certain categories, you can be held in detention.
I have been put in the detention center. What happens next?
You will be searched, take a shower and be given a uniform to wear. The uniform is mandatory! Detention staff will ask you questions about how you are feeling and about any drug and alcohol use. They want to figure out if you could hurt yourself or someone else. Be truthful but do not exaggerate anything, since the detention center will give a report to the judge that could recommend counseling or mental health evaluations.
The detention staff may ask if you are involved in a gang or have done things that could be crimes. You should not answer any questions about criminal activity and you should never talk about the incident or behavior that brought you to the detention center. Do not sign anything until you have a chance to talk to your lawyer. If you want to know more about your rights while you are in juvenile detention, the Center For Children’s Advocacy has a booklet called What Are My Rights? Know your Legal Rights in Detention. You can look at that on their website at http://www.kidscounsel.org
Once you get admitted to a detention center, you cannot be released until your case is heard in front of a judge. That usually happens the next day. If you get arrested over the weekend, you will go to court and see a judge on the next court day -- usually Monday. You cannot be bonded out on a juvenile charge until after you see a judge. Bail is rare in juvenile court since most of the time children can be released under some type of court order.
What if I am charged with something really serious? Can I be sent to adult court?
If a child is fourteen years or older and are charged with an offense that is a felony, you could be transferred to the adult court.
Transfer can happen two ways.
If a child is fourteen or older and charged with an A or B felony, the case will be automatically transferred to the adult court. A and B felonies include Murder, many Sexual Assaults and offenses like Robbery and Assault in the First Degree. Before a case is transferred, the child will see a juvenile court judge and be advised of their Constitutional rights. There will not be any arguments allowed on whether the case should be transferred. That might happen in adult court. If the adult court accepts the transfer, the child will be held in an adult correctional facility. The Connecticut Department of Corrections houses most inmates under the age of 20 at the Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire.
|For all other felonies, C.G.S. §46b-127(b) gives the juvenile prosecutor discretion to transfer cases after an ex parte finding of probable cause to maintain the charges. This means the juvenile prosecutor can decide if he or she wants to try to transfer a case to the adult court once a judge has found that there was a reason to arrest you. Once the case gets to adult court, a child will have a hearing to determine where the case should be heard. At the hearing a lawyer will argue why the case should stay in juvenile court. The accused child will be held in a juvenile detention facility until a judge decides where the case will be heard. If the judge decides that the case should be handled by the adult criminal court, the child will be moved to the Manson Youth Institution.|
The police told me the case was no big deal. Do I need a lawyer?
You should always have a lawyer with you if you are going to court, even if the police told you the case was no big deal. If you are hiring a lawyer, you should bring them to court with you. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer you can apply for a Public Defender when you get to court. If you qualify, the judge will give you a lawyer at no cost to your family. The lawyer is there to argue for you and what you want to see happen with your case. You can talk to the lawyer with your parents or guardian present or alone. It is up to you. The lawyer will keep anything you say private unless you give them permission to tell.
Rules for your Court Date!
|You have to be there.
If you miss a court date, you could get arrested for failing to appear. That is a new crime! If you have to miss because of an emergency, call your lawyer If you forget court and realize it later, hurry! Call your lawyer and your lawyer will advise you what to do.
|Be on time.
You have to be there at 9 a.m. Check in with your lawyer or go to the public defender’s office to apply for a lawyer. Make sure you check in with probation or the Judicial Marshall who is in charge of calling cases. This makes sure that people know you are there. Be patient, and don’t ever leave the courthouse without telling your lawyer.
|Wear nice clothes.
Leave your hats, big jewelry, and chewing gum at home. Have your hair neat and clothes clean.
My case is staying in juvenile court. What will happen when I get there?
The legal term for your first court appearance is arraignment. It is where you are formally charged with a crime and read your rights. If you have applied for the Public Defender and you qualify, they will be appointed at your arraignment. Your lawyer will enter a not guilty plea for you. This is called a pro forma denial. This is a formality and lets the case move on for a discussion of what might happen next in your case. The arraignment is where your lawyer can argue to have you released from detention if you are locked up, or where the prosecutor might ask for the judge to give you some rules to follow.
Sometimes the prosecutor will ask the Judge to place you in detention, even if the police did not bring you to detention when they arrested you. The judge will listen to arguments from the prosecutor and your lawyer. The judge can refuse to do anything, order that you go home but follow rules set by the court or the judge could put you in detention. If you go to detention, your case will be heard again within 15 days. At that time, the judge will decide if he or she should let you go home or send you back to detention until your next court date. The judge can detain you if he or she thinks that you might commit another crime, not show up for your next court date or if your behavior makes the judge think you or others could be in danger if you do not go to detention.
After you are arraigned, the case will be scheduled for a pretrial conference. This is where your lawyer talks to the prosecutor about your case. Your lawyer should talk to you and to your family before talking to the prosecutor. If you have witnesses or information that will help your lawyer argue the case you need to share it with him or her before the pretrial, so they can investigate and prepare to talk to the prosecutor. The prosecutor might make an offer to dispose of your case.
If the prosecutor agrees to drop the charges your case can be either nolled or dismissed. A nolle means that the state is not prosecuting but could reopen the case within 13 months if something changes, like you get in trouble again. After 13 months, the case is dismissed and can’t be reopened. If a case is dismissed, it is over and no one is supposed to get access to any record that you were ever in court.
If you agree to plead guilty to a charge, you and your family will meet with a probation officer who conducts a predispositional study. During this predispositional study, the probation officer will ask about your family history, school performance, community programs and criminal history. You, your family and your lawyer should make sure that the probation officer has any information that might be helpful. The probation officer might ask you to have a mental health assessment or a court ordered psychological evaluation to see if counseling would help you stay out of trouble. You should talk to your lawyer before agreeing to do any type of evaluations. A law change in 2008 makes your juvenile court records available to the Departments of Adult Probation and Parole. You need to make sure that the information in your predisposition study is correct and as helpful to you as possible, so it does not get used against you later if you get in trouble as an adult.
I do not want to plead guilty to any charges. What are my options?
You have the right to have a trial in juvenile court. Your trial will be held in front of a judge only. Juvenile Courts in Connecticut do not have jury trials. At the trial, the prosecutor will have to bring in witnesses and evidence to try and show that you broke the law and are guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Your lawyer will be able to ask the witnesses questions to try and show that the prosecutor’s witnesses are wrong. Your lawyer can also object to any of the prosecutor’s evidence. You and your lawyer can also bring in witnesses and evidence that will help you tell the judge your side and show that you are not guilty or that the state does not have enough evidence to find you guilty. You can talk or testify at your trial like any other witness but only if you want to! You cannot be forced to talk at your trial, since you still have the right to remain silent. You will need to talk to your lawyer before deciding what to do. If the judge finds that you are not guilty, the case is over and you cannot be prosecuted on those charges again.
What happens if I am found guilty? Does it matter if I plead guilty or am found guilty after a trial?
If you are found guilty, the judge will decide what your sentence should be. It should not matter if you plead guilty or had a trial but sometimes a judges’ sentence is more harsh if you are found guilty after a trial. The victim of your crime will have a chance to tell the judge what they want to see happen with your case. They can tell the probation officer, send a letter or come to court and talk. The judge will listen to the victim, the prosecutor, the probation officer and your lawyer and then decide what the right sentence is.
The judge has a lot of options when deciding your sentence.
The court can warn you not to get in trouble again and let you go. They could ask you to perform a certain number of hours of community service. They could place you on probation. This is very common. Terms of probation generally range from 3 months to two years. If the court puts you on probation, you can be ordered to pay restitution complete community service, participate in counseling, attend school every day on time and obey house rules. You can also be ordered to cooperate with a mental health examination. The court can also order you to be involved in fun afterschool activities so that you stay busy and do not get into any more trouble. Many judges order graduated sanctions. This allows a probation officer to change the conditions of probation if you start to have problems and violate your probation without having to go back in front of a judge.
My lawyer says that the judge wants to commit me as a delinquent. What does that mean?
If the judge decides that it is not safe for you to live at home because probation services have not worked and you keep on getting in trouble, you could be committed as a delinquent. This means that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will take custody of you and you will live and go to school away from home. If you are committed as a delinquent child, a judge can commit you for up to four years if the charge is a serious juvenile offense, SJO, or 18 months for non-SJO offenses. Some kids who are committed delinquent are sent to residential school or treatment facilities. Residential Programs are not locked and you can earn visits home if you reach certain goals. Sometimes the residential program recommended for you will be in another state. Boys can be sent the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) which is a secure, locked facility in Middletown. There are no home passes from CJTS. Girls cannot be sent to CJTS.
C.G.S.§46b-141(b) gives DCF the right to ask the court to extend the commitment of a delinquent child beyond the initial sentence if they can prove it is in the best interest of the child or the community and the child needs more treatment. This means that they can ask to keep you longer than your sentence, even if you have not been charged with any new crimes. The judge who sentences you should talk to you about this at the time you plead guilty.
Children who are serving a delinquency commitment might need a lawyer to help them with issues that come up during their sentence. In Connecticut, the lawyer who represented you at your sentencing in required to keep helping you until your sentence is over. If you had a Public Defender, your case will be sent to the Post Conviction and Reentry Unit. Lawyers there specialize in helping kids who have been committed delinquent.
What is an appeal?
If you are found guilty at your trial and you think the judge made a mistake, you and your lawyer can ask another set of judges to review your case. This is called an appeal. In Connecticut, we have two appeals courts, the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. Your lawyer can argue that the judge made a legal mistake or that there was not enough evidence to prove you were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Appeals take a long time and sometimes your sentence will be over by the time your case is heard!
If I have any more questions who can I call?
You can call your local juvenile public defender’s office.
Click on the below Link to go to our Juvenile Office Directory