Juvenile Law / DCF Issues

There are two main areas of juvenile law and I practice in both of them. Juvenile matters courts in Connecticut hear primarily delinquency and child protection matters. Delinquency cases concern juveniles charged with criminale offenses. Child protection matters are those in which the State, often through DCF, seeks to intervene in family relationships (such as removing children from their parents). For information on how to deal with DCF, check out my Juvenile Law FAQ page. 

In Connecticut, juveniles are persons under the age of 18. The same criminal statutes apply to juveniles as adults, but in most cases, juveniles are subject to different procedures and consequences than adults. Generally, juveniles found liable of violating the law are not considered convicted but are adjudicated delinquent. Juvenile delinquency matters emphasize Connecticut’s policy of rehabilitating juveniles, when possible, rather than punishing minors. 

If the State brings criminal charges against a person under the age of 18, in most cases the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters has exclusive original jurisdiction. However, in some cases, a juvenile matter can be transferred to the adult criminal court. Juveniles possess some but not all of the rights guaranteed to adult criminal defendants. Juveniles are guaranteed the assistance of counsel in all critical stages of their proceedings and also have the right to court (but not jury) trials. Due to the potentially serious nature of juvenile delinquency, juveniles, and their parents should consult an attorney as early as possible.

DCF, Child Protection and Parental Rights

Parents have the right to parent their minor children, but the State also recognizes the importance of protecting children from harm and neglect. The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) is required to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. When DCF determines reasonable cause supports a claim that a person caused abuse or neglect, the case is considered substantiated. DCF may also place the person on the child abuse and neglect registry. The person accused of abuse or neglect may request a substantiation hearing to challenge the agency’s decision. This is an administrative process. If the subject disagrees with the administrative hearing officer's finding, he or she may further appeal to the Superior Court and, if necessary, the Appellate and Supreme courts. Read more about the DCF administrative appeal process here.

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR)

Before parental rights can be restricted or taken away, Constitutional due process affords the parents or guardians rights throughout the proceeding. This is a court process. Parents, guardians, and the child have the right to counsel. DCF (or other petitioner) initiates the action by filing an abuse, neglect or uncared-for petition. To remove a child, DCF can take an administrative 96-hour hold. Any removal lasting longer than 96 hours requires a court order, called an order of temporary custody (OTC), signed by a judge. If an OTC is granted, the parents will be ordered to a preliminary hearing within 10 days. The parents (or guardians) have the right to a trial on the OTC, to make DCF prove that the child is in immediate physical danger, within 10 days from the preliminary hearing. If it cannot make its burden, the children must be returned. Most cases do not involve removal but it is always possible when a case is pending. The most common dispositions in a neglect case are protection supervision (child remains with parents) and commitment (child is placed in DCF care). In order to terminate parental rights and free a child for adoption, DCF or another authorized petitioner must file a TPR (termination of parental rights) petition and prove its case before a juvenile court judge.

In some cases, grandparents and other family members may join in the action through a motion to intervene and can also file their own motions, such as those seeking transfers of guardianship. Parents have the right to deny and contest the allegations, which must be proven in court through a trial. 

GUARDIANSHIP AND PARENTAL RIGHTS IN PROBATE COURT

The information I wrote above concerns state action against parental and guardianship rights. Individuals (non state actors) are allowed to file their own motions to assume custody, transfer guardianship or terminate parental rights but must do so in probate court. They could be transferred or appealed to juvenile court. Only a few limited people may initiate one of these actions. There are times when parents and guardians might want to temporarily transfer their own guardianship rights.  

Has your child been charged with a crime?

Contact Me

I regularly appear in the juvenile courts of Connecticut representing both children and parents in child protection and delinquency cases. Let me help you protect your rights and explore your options.  I will help you make sure the law is followed as well as evaluate whether the case against you has merit. If it does not, we may be able to work out a nolle or dismissal. You have the right to a trial before a judge, and like nearly all court decisions, juvenile court decisions can be appealed. Remember that you are not powerless in this situation if you are willing to ask for help.

Delinquency cases are typically handled in two ways. If a case is marked as non-judicial after being screened by juvenile probation officers, a juvenile will have the option to take responsibility and follow a plan determined by probation which will lead to the charge being resolved without any kind of conviction. Cases that are sent judicial proceed to arraignment before a judge and then a pre-trial process. I am often able to work these cases out with prosecutors but am willing to try those that do not. The punishments for delinquency cases include probation, community service and, in serious cases, commitment to DCF. While most juveniles are able to remain at home during their cases, they could be remanded to secure detention facilities and have their detention status reviewed within a week's time. 

Experience in Delinquency Cases

I regularly represent juveniles in delinquency matters in Connecticut juvenile courts including Waterbury, New Haven, Middletown, Bridgeport, Waterford, and Hartford. To date, I have represented more than twenty delinquency clients. I have received extensive training in juvenile practice, including courses in Child Welfare Trial Techniques from the National Institute of Trial Advocacy.

If you are a juvenile charged with a crime, or if your child is a juvenile charged with a crime, I will help you obtain the protections of the juvenile process. For example, information from juvenile delinquency cases and juvenile court proceedings do not need to be published, and your juvenile record can be sealed after adjudication. In addition, even if you are adjudicated delinquent, you often may petition the court for the erasure of the records. Even with the protections of the juvenile court system, juvenile delinquency matters pose the potential loss of liberty both before and after adjudication, including house arrest and detention. I will listen to facts, interview witnesses, and gather evidence to help you achieve your goals.

Juveniles charged with certain serious crimes will have their cases transferred to the criminal court docket. They will face criminal convictions and jail time but there are programs and other opportunities available to minors, including Youthful Offender status. Juveniles charged with motor vehicle and alcohol infractions have their cases heard on the regular infractions docket of criminal court. Juveniles charged with marijuana possession infractions go to juvenile court. 

Juvenile Law Attorney in Connecticut

Attorney Chris DeMatteo provides knowledgeable and sensitive juvenile law experience to families. He has practiced juvenile law for years throughout Connecticut. He is dedicated to helping young people facing criminal charges get their lives back on track and, when DCF is involved, in keeping families together. He has tried numerous cases in juvenile court and has been successful in keeping families from being broken up by DCF. You can contact Chris today for an initial free consultation.