Juvenile Court in Connecticut
Frequently Asked Questions
A Guide for Children and Families in the Youth Justice System
This was prepared to assist children and families who are involved in the youth 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 should not make any decisions without talking to an attorney.
Who goes to juvenile court? How old do I have to be to get arrested?
In Connecticut, Juvenile Courts now handle cases for children from age 10 through 17 who have been charged with a crime. However, some motor vehicle offenses for children ages 16 and 17 are handled in the adult court unless they are sent back to the juvenile 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 not help you and may get you charged with more crimes. You must always 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. This is called having “the right to remain silent.” You have the right to have your parent or guardian and your attorney with you if you are being questioned by the police. Ask for an attorney right away. You have the right to a free lawyer if you and your family cannot afford one. If the police have probable cause to arrest you, they likely will no matter what you say. Do not resist arrest if they want to arrest you. Go with the police officer and remain silent. Most of the time talking will not help you. Stay silent and wait until someone has contacted an attorney for you or you are able to call one yourself. Once you have your lawyer present, they will help you decide when you should talk and what you should say.
I’ve been arrested now what?
When the police determine that there is cause to file charges against a youth, they have several choices.
The Police Officer could decide not to send your case to court. Depending on the circumstances, you could be referred to a youth service bureau or juvenile review board (JRB) if your town has one or to other services in the community. You and your parent or guardian will have to show up to a meeting and be willing to admit that you did something wrong as part of the JRB process. The board would usually recommend that you get services of some kind. If you cooperate, your charges will likely never go to court. If you do not cooperate then your case may be sent to court.
Connecticut law allows the police to photograph and fingerprint children accused of crimes, but that does 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 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 just release you without taking a statement.
The police can release you to your parent(s) or guardian or some other suitable person, or they can let you go on your own. If you are released and are given a written summons and complaint by the officer, then you have been arrested. You need to appear in court on the date that is listed on the summons. If you were released on your own without a parent or guardian, the officer has to try to notify your parent or guardian and give them copies of the summons and complaint. You should tell your parent or guardian as soon as you can and make sure that someone will come to court with you. If you do not show up in court on the summons date, you can be charged with another crime called Failure to Appear. Sometimes when this happens the judge will issue a “take into custody” order or a warrant for your arrest. This means that police can come find you, pick you up wherever you are, and bring you into detention and in front of a judge.
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. Instead, 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 have to come back to court in the future.
Where will my case be heard?
Juvenile delinquency cases are typically sent to the juvenile court assigned to the town where the child lives not where the alleged crime happened. If the town where you live does not go to the Hartford 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 likely be taken to your regular court on the next court date.
Will I be put in detention?
No child may be placed in detention unless a judge of the Superior Court determines, based on the available facts, that certain circumstances apply. The judge can then issue a court order. If you are charged with a serious offense, it is much more likely that a judge will order that you be sent to detention. Police will then bring you to either the Hartford or Bridgeport juvenile detention center. By law, you have to be kept in the least restrictive environment possible and in a way that is consistent with public safety.
The judge can keep you in detention ONLY if: (A) there is probable cause to believe that you committed the delinquent act alleged; (B) there is no appropriate less restrictive alternative available; and (C) there is (1) probable cause that you will pose a risk to public safety if you are released to the community before your court hearing or disposition, (2) there’s a need to hold you based on failure to come for other court proceedings or failure to follow the court process, or (3) there’s a need to hold you for another jurisdiction.
If the police don’t ask a judge to put you in detention when you’re arrested, the prosecutor can still ask for that to happen at your first court date or even later. It is important to remember that, while in detention, you still have rights. You have a right to a lawyer, to know what crimes you have bene accused of, to remain silent about the reason you are there and the crime you are being accused of, and to have your parents and lawyer with you when police question you. The police officer that brings you to detention has to make reasonable efforts to tell your parent or guardian that you are being brought there.
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. This information is helpful and necessary for the people in detention to know and does not fit under the right to remain silent. Detention staff will also have you do a risk assessment evaluation.
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. Your lawyer will answer your questions, talk to you about what you want, and will represent you in court. The things you say to your lawyer and talk to them about are confidential and they cannot tell anyone about it unless you say it is okay. 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 “Detention: Know your Legal Rights and Speak Up for Yourself!” You can look at that on their website at https://cca-ct.org
How can I get released from detention?
If you get admitted to a detention center when you are arrested, 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. You cannot be bonded out on a juvenile charge until after you see a judge. You should always get to meet and talk to your lawyer before you go into court and before you talk to the judge. If you haven’t talked to your lawyer before, make sure you tell the judge this. After you have a hearing with a judge, they will decide if they want to keep you in detention before your trial, or let you go home. You will have a hearing every 7 days while you are in detention for the judge to decide if you can be released. When you are released from detention, the court can order you to attend school, stay out of trouble, participate in different treatment programs or testing and other services. These orders are often called “Suspended Detention Orders” and will require you to work with a probation officer.
What if I am charged with something really serious? Can I be sent to adult court?
If you are fifteen years or older and charged with a felony, your case could be transferred to the adult court. Transfer can happen two ways:
A. Automatic Transfer:
Any case that involves a child charged with the commission of a capital felony, a class A felony, or a class B felony that is between age fifteen and age eighteen will be automatically transferred from the docket for juvenile matter to the regular criminal docket of the Superior Court. The child’s attorney may appear with the child, but cannot make any argument or file any motion against the transfer of the child. The child is arraigned in the regular criminal docket of the Superior Court at the next court date after the transfer, and at that time, the state’s attorney may file a motion to transfer the case of any child charged with the commission of a class B felony or some other specific violations stated within Connecticut General Statutes Rule § 46b-127(a)(2).
Must have a hearing first:
There are some violations under the statute that force the court to have a hearing before asking to transfer a case to the regular criminal docket. For these cases, the court cannot order transfer unless they find that the offense was committed after the child turned fifteen, there is a probable cause to show that the child likely committed the crime that they are charged with, and the best interest of the child and the public will not be served if the case stays in the superior court for juvenile matters. To make these decisions the court looks at other offenses that the child has had, how serious their other offenses were, any evidence that the child has intellectual disabilities or mental illness, and the availability for services what would meet the needs of the child. Hearings can be held about transfer for cases that involve class C, D or E felonies that are unclassified.
What if my case is transferred?
If the case is transferred to the regular criminal docket, the court may still return the case to the juvenile matters docket at any time before a jury decides a verdict or the child enters a guilty plea for good cause shown. If the case is not transferred back, the child will stand trial and be sentenced as if they were eighteen years old.
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 will 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, but your lawyer may also want to talk with you 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 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.
|Dress for Court.
It helps if you wear clothes that tell the court you are taking the court process seriously.
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 were placed there) 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 for the first time at that hearing, 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 7 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. This is called being “remanded” to detention. The judge can detain you if there is “probable cause” that you committed the crime; there is no appropriate less restrictive setting available; and if you are found to pose a risk to public safety.
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 or see if you are willing to admit to a lesser charge.
If the prosecutor agrees to drop the charges your case can either be 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. It is a good idea to call and make sure that your record has been erased. If your case is not nolled or dismissed, you can still ask the court to erase your records under certain circumstances. Your lawyer should discuss that with you. The Center for Children’s Advocacy website has more information about record erasure at: https://cca-ct.org/.
If you speak to your attorney and decide to plead guilty to a charge, you and your family will meet with a probation officer who conducts a predispositional study (PDS). During this PDS, 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. You should talk to your lawyer before agreeing to do any evaluations. Your juvenile court records may be available down the road to adult probation and parole so you need to make sure that the information in your PDS 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, you cannot be prosecuted again on those charges.
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 or “adjudicated” on the charges, the judge will decide what your sentence or “disposition” should be. It should not matter if you plead guilty or had a trial but sometimes a judge’s sentence is harsher 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 up to 30 months (2 ½ years). Probation can be in the community while you remain at home or in a secure or “staff secure” REGIONS program. 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 afterschool activities so that you stay busy and do not get into any more trouble. Many judges also order what’s called “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. The original length or type of probation can also be extended or modified if you commit other crimes or violate any of the court’s orders.
In Connecticut, the lawyer who represented you at court is required to keep helping you until your case and any period of probation is over. If you were placed in a REGIONS program as part of your sentence, your case may be sent to the Public Defenders Post Conviction and Reentry Unit, where a new lawyer will be assigned who specializes in helping kids who have been placed in these programs.
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 but those decisions should be discussed with your lawyer
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