Twice this year I have come across a case in which a juvenile offender has used evidence of his developing brain to challenge his transfer from the juvenile docket to adult court. In the case today, the defendant seems to have gained traction with that argument.
The defendant today argued that his transfer to adult court violated his liberty interest in being treated as a youthful offender. The Court agreed, finding a significant liberty interest in treating juveniles differently in the system. Relying upon the developing brain evidence in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Roper and Graham, the Court found that although a hearing wasn’t required before the initial transfer, the Defendant was entitled to a hearing in adult court before the transfer was finalized.
Developing Brain, Juveniles, Transfer to Adult Court
State v. B.B., No. 18481., 300 Conn. 748, 17 A.3d 30 (Conn. May 10, 2011)
Defendant, who was 16 years old at time of arrest, appealed from decision of the Superior Court granting state’s motion to transfer defendant’s case from youthful offender docket to regular criminal docket. At the age of 16, the Defendant was arrested and charged with one count of possession of a weapon in a motor vehicle. The Defendant was arraigned on the youthful offender docket and the trial court determined that there was probable cause for his arrest. Subsequently, the state moved to transfer the matter to the regular criminal docket pursuant to § 54–76c (b)(1). The defendant objected to the transfer and argued that due process entitled him to a hearing before his case could be transferred. The trial court granted the state’s motion to transfer the defendant’s case to the regular criminal docket, concluding that it did not have discretion pursuant to § 54–76c (b)(1), to deny the state’s motion to transfer. This appeal followed. The Defendant claimed that the trial court improperly granted the state’s motion to transfer because he has a liberty interest in his status as a defendant on the youthful offender docket, and due process therefore entitles him to a hearing prior to transfer of his case to the regular criminal docket. The Court agreed that the defendant has a liberty interest in his status as a defendant on the youthful offender docket, but found that the defendant’s due process right is satisfied by the requirement in § 54–76c (b) of a hearing before the court on the regular criminal docket prior to the finalization of the transfer. In so doing, the Court made special note of the fact that both the juvenile and youthful offender statutory schemes involve the administration of justice for young people, meaning people under the age of eighteen, and take an approach different from that taken for adults. Citing to both Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), and Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010), it made reference to the “[D]evelopments in psychology and brain science [which] continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds. For example, parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence.” Using these cases and the brain science for support, the Court found that “it would be extraordinary if § 54–76c (b) did not require the exercise of due process implied in the phrase ‘finalization of such transfer….’” It therefore concluded that § 54–76c (b) implicitly requires a hearing by the court on the regular criminal docket prior to finalization of a transfer of a case from the youthful offender docket. Since that hearing and the finalization had not yet occurred, the Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court.