Category Archives: ct legal news

Connecticut still lacking in its treatment of children

My latest at the CT Law Tribune is up and it focuses on the disparate treatment of children when they come into contact with the criminal justice system and we suddenly treat them as the “other” criminal, and not the children that they are.

The column focuses on three areas of injustice:

1. The legislature’s failure to enact legislation in light of Miller v. Alabama that not only eliminates LWPOR as a mandatory punishment but also provides a second chance for all juvenile to demonstrate their rehabilitation.

2. The legislature’s completely blockheaded legislation of years past that vested only the prosecutor with the power to return cases to the juvenile docket and their seemingly oblivious decision to enact harsh mandatory-minimum sentences, which would then apply to these 14 year olds automatically transferred to adult court.

3. The legislature’s failure to correct an incongruence in the juvenile statutes that prohibits the use of statements taken from juveniles without parents or guardians present, but if the case gets transferred to adult court, then that very same statement is somehow now admissible as evidence of guilt.

And, as if on cue, here’s a great photo series in Time magazine focusing on the story of one family’s loss to juvenile incarceration.

The Unexamined Trial

A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.

So wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1774, foreshadowing his more famous quote about the “inherent and inalienable rights” of men, in the Declaration of Independence.

To me, what Jefferson meant by that is that we, as humans and citizens of a great free democracy have certain inherent rights that are ours by the very nature of our existence and these rights are not dependent upon the charity of ministers, politicians and judges.

Yet, for the most part, the realm of criminal law has continually drifted away from this Jeffersonian concept of “self-executing” rights and toward a more passive, dormant view of individual liberties and freedoms that need to be invoked to be awakened into performing their duties as our guardians. The right to remain silent now only applies if you break that silence and state out loud that you wish to remain quiet. The right to an attorney has to be unequivocally and explicitly invoked. The police cannot enter your home without a warrant except when they can and may do so even over your objection.

There is, then, a new generation of jurisprudence that has turned our jurists into something akin to DMV clerks whose primary function is to determine whether the forms have been filled out correctly.

But for those that don’t practice criminal law, let President Jefferson remind you why you should care:

What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals.

It is thus critical that each and every one of us is aware of the ministerial treatment given to our rights. And the primary way in which courts have done that is to make the defense attorney the steward of those rights and placed her in the driver’s seat.

Of course that makes sense, you will no doubt say. The attorney is in the best position to safeguard those rights and to make sure that they are exercised as needed. True, but when you change the very nature of the rights to make them not self-executing, but rather dormant, awaiting the utterance of an incantation by a defense attorney, is when you strip the judge of her traditional role of overseer of due process and justice and hand that responsibility to the defense attorney.  By shifting the responsibility of ensuring a fair trial to the defense attorney instead of the judge, you’re making jurists nothing more than glorified legal clerks.

Maybe now it’s clear that prisons aren’t the place for teenagers

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I suppose it takes a blatant misstep by a governmental agency to draw attention to any injustice and so it seems is the case with Jane Doe, the transgender self-identifying girl who has been transferred from DCF1 custody to the adult women’s prison by way of the men’s young-adult prison.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that this attention is being paid to the state of our juvenile detention facilities, our prisons and their inadequacy in meeting the needs of troubled teenagers, but just remember as you read about Jane Doe and her predicament that there is probably no substantial difference between her story and that of hundreds of other teenagers in state custody other than her gender identity.

Her story, unfortunately for us in the business, is depressingly familiar:

[She] first entered [state care] at age 5 because her family members were incarcerated, sexually abusive or addicted to drugs.

Jane reports that by age 15, she had been raped dozens of times (including at facilities she was sent to live at by DCF), sold for sex, beaten up and addicted to crack cocaine.

Her behavior eventually turned violent, as chronicled by DCF, who reports that the teenager “has an extensive history of violence,” including stabbing a female peer with a fork, four assaults or threats of assault while in a pre-trial detention facility in Bridgeport, and 10 assaults on staff while at the state’s psychiatric center for children.

Another CT town will put cameras on its school buses

Apparently this is a thing. School buses are now mounting cameras on their outside to capture the license plates of cars that do not stop for the school bus.

Fine, but if you get a ticket, remember to read up on the law. For instance, revisit my post from 2008 in which I informed you that you don’t have to stop for a school bus that’s on the other side of a divided road.

Knockout bill KOs logic, advances in legislature

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Listen, if you’re going to propose a bill that criminalizes a “trend” in assaultive behavior and you want to single out juveniles for especially harsh treatment, you better have a more concrete response than this:

Verrengia said it was difficult to determine how many of the attacks have occurred when he was asked Monday if there was any evidence suggesting that a large number have been committed by 16- or 17-year-old offenders.

“I tried to wrap my arms around it, I tried to get statistics, but it’s very difficult to do so by virtue of the present reporting requirements by various law enforcement agencies,” he said. “. . . I think if you were to ask [victims] how many assaults have there been throughout the state of Connecticut, they would say, ‘One too many.’”

You know why he couldn’t “get statistics”? Why he tried to wrap his arms of justice around this issue and failed? I mean, if the ‘knockout game’ is such a big problem that you need to specifically legislate against it in ass-backwards ways, shouldn’t the statistics be abundant? Shouldn’t there be data flowing out your rear hole?

Transgender 16-yo, transferred without charges to adult female prison, or maybe male

Since former Supreme Court justice Joette Katz has taken over the beleaguered Department of Children and Families (DCF), some weird ass shit has been going on over there. The latest is this really outrageous transfer of a transgender 16-year old male who identifies as female to an adult correctional facility.

It’s not like she’s actually arrested for anything, though. The Courant reports:

In this case, the youth was arrested at a juvenile facility in Needham, Mass., in late January for an assault on a staff member — but the criminal charge was not pursued by prosecutors in Massachusetts. No criminal charges are pending against the youth.

The police report in Massachusetts said that the assault resulted in ”apparent minor injuries” to the staff member, said [Assistant Public Defender] Connolly, who reviewed the report.

However, the incident report prepared by staff at Meadowridge Academy in Needham, does describe a violent outburst by the youth, who was upset, insubordinate and attempting to walk off campus when confronted by two staff members.

So? 16 year olds act out. There are no charges. The most galling part is that this is the very child that Commissioner Katz used as an example in her pitch for a locked detention facility:

On Feb. 14, Katz, while lobbying to open a secure treatment facility for girls in Middletown, brought up this youth’s story in testimony before the legislature’s appropriations committee. Katz didn’t name the youth, but said that a staff member was blinded and had her jaw broken in the assault. Katz said this youth would be appropriate for the locked program, which was the subject of opposition from advocates and some lawmakers. The allocation of $2.5 million was approved and the unit is now open on the campus of the former Riverview Hospital in Middletown.

A state source said that the blindness to which Katz referred was temporary, and that the worker’s sight has returned.

Advocates for children are questioning Katz’s decision to use the youth’s story to make her case for DCF’s locked treatment program, while pushing for the youth to be transferred out of DCF care and into an adult prison. DCF’s request for the transfer was filed in court on Feb. 4.

So now this child goes to the adult female prison – the only female prison, pending an evaluation. At which point, they might decide to send her to a men’s prison. Because, you know, that’s even better for this troubled kid.

This should come as no surprise, though, to people who follow the state juvenile and adult prison system. They’re quick to shove the problem off to someone else and the last thing you get in our locked facilities – be it for juveniles or adults – is the mental health treatment that so many desperately need.

A hierarchy of offenders

Clearly, in Connecticut, it is worse to be a prostitute than it is to be a robber and assaulter. Because there really is no other way to explain this story:

A local woman faces prostitution charges after police said she reported being robbed by a man who responded to her ad offering sex for money.

Get that? A woman, who was freely choosing to engage in a contract for sexual services, is such a danger to society that she must be arrested and prosecuted, while the guy who got angry with her and assaulted her and stole his cell phone, well, who cares about that, right?

What’s more offensive is that she wasn’t arrested on the scene. Some officer took the time to go back to his or her desk, write up a warrant, go to a judge, get it signed and then go track her down again and then arrest her.

I’m sure this will fix her. Meanwhile, Mr. John is free to rob and assault as many other ‘prostitutes’ as he likes, because…well, you know the drill.

H/T: Maggie McNeil.