Attorney General: Honorable Joseph Pellegrino, Supreme Court Building, 2001-018 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

August 27, 2001

Honorable Joseph Pellegrino
Chief Court Administrator
Supreme Court Building
231 Capitol Avenu
Hartford, CT 60106

Dear Judge Pellegrino:

You have asked whether the Division of Criminal Justice or the Office of Attorney General should represent the State's interests in matters concerning Youth in Crisis ("YIC"), brought under Public Act 00-177. For the reasons stated below, we conclude that the Division of Criminal Justice should represent the State's interests in these cases.

Public Act 00-177 extended the jurisdiction of the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters (hereinafter - the Court) to "youth in crisis," defined as "any person sixteen to seventeen years of age who, within the last two years, (A) has without just cause run away from the parental home or other properly authorized and lawful place of abode; (B) is beyond the control of parents, guardian or other custodian; or (C) has four unexcused absences from school in any one month or ten unexcused absences in any school year." Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-120(3), as amended by P.A. 00-177.

When the General Assembly enacted P.A. 00-177, it did not specifically address how these cases would be prosecuted, i.e., whether they would be presented in court by the Division of Criminal Justice or the Office of the Attorney General. However, Conn. Stat. 46b-121b, enacted in 1995, well before YIC legislation, states in subsection (a) that the Division of Criminal Justice "shall have charge of all proceedings concerning juvenile matters in the criminal session of the Superior Court and all proceedings concerning families with service needs in the civil session of the Superior Court." Subsection (b) of Sec. 46b-121b states that the "Attorney General shall have charge of all proceedings concerning juvenile matters in the civil session of the Superior Court." The question arises then whether youth in crisis cases fall within the general category of proceedings concerning families with service needs, and therefore under the general responsibility of the Division of Criminal Justice, or are the type of other civil proceeding that falls within the responsibility of the Attorney General.

After careful consideration of the overall legislative scheme and the specific legislative history of P.A. 00-177, we conclude that the General Assembly intended that the Division of Criminal Justice have the responsibility for these cases.

"The process of statutory interpretation involves a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature. . . . In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language . . . . In seeking to determine that meaning, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter. . . ." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.)

Town of Winchester v. Northwest Associates, 255 Conn. 379, 386 (2001).

"We . . . discern the legislature's intent by examining the relevant legislative history, including the statute's relationship to existing legislation on the fair assumption that the legislature is unlikely to intend any radical departure from well established practice." State v. Velesco, 253 Conn. 210, 220-21 (2000).

A review of the language of P.A. 00-177 and related statutes reveals that a "youth in crisis" shares striking similarities to a child from a "family with service needs" (hereinafter FWSN). A FWSN child is defined as one who "(A) has without just cause run away from the parental home or other properly authorized and lawful place of abode; (B) is beyond the control of parents, guardian or other custodian; (C) has engaged in indecent or immoral conduct; (D) is a truant or habitually truant or who, while in school, has been continuously and overtly defiant of school rules and regulation." Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-120(8).1 The court's jurisdiction, however, over a FWSN child is limited to "any person under sixteen years of age." Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-120(1). A youth in crisis is defined as "any person sixteen to seventeen years of age who, within the last two years, (A) has without just cause run away from the parental home or other properly authorized and lawful place of abode; (B) is beyond the control of parents, guardian or other custodian; or (C) has four unexcused absences from school in any one month or ten unexcused absences in any school year." Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-120(3), as amended by P.A. 00-177.

The extensive legislative history of P.A. 00-177 supports the conclusion that the General Assembly intended with the YIC program to extend the court's jurisdiction over out-of-control children under sixteen, as defined in Section 46b-120(8), to youths aged sixteen and seventeen; in other words, the legislature intended by this legislation to extend the protections afforded to children of families with service needs to those children who have reached the age of sixteen. In Public Act No. 98-183, "An Act Concerning Truancy and other Family with Service Needs Cases," the General Assembly required the Chief Court Administrator and the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management to develop and submit to the Governor and General Assembly "a family with service needs plan" that would include recommendations from the judicial branch regarding, inter alia, "how the jurisdiction of the juvenile court should be expanded to extend the status offense of running away or being beyond the control of a parent to youths and what services, programs and resources would be required by the juvenile court to effectively extend such jurisdiction." P.A. 98-183, Section 3(b)(3).

In response, the Judicial Branch prepared an extensive and thoughtful study, recommending to the General Assembly proposed legislation that provides a statutory definition of Youth In Need of Services "who are engaged in negative behaviors similar in nature to these of FWSNs." (Conn. Joint Standing Com. Hearings, Select Committee on Children, Part 1, 2000 Sess. pp. 199-214). Both the study and the discussions among legislators indicate that the two types of cases are linked and that YIC cases are intended to be treated as an extension of cases involving children from families with service needs. As Senator Cook explained, the Act "would extend the judicial system's Families with Service Needs program to l6 and l7-year old children who are identified as youths in crisis." Id. at p. 197.

The legislative intent to expand the juvenile court's jurisdiction to youths aged sixteen and seventeen, who, but for their age, would be treated as FWSN children supports the inference that the General Assembly intended that the Division of Criminal Justice be responsible for YIC cases, as they presently are responsible for FWSN cases under Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-121b(a).

This conclusion is further buttressed by general rules of statutory construction.

"The doctrine of pari materia provides that 'statutes relating to the same subject matter may be looked to for guidance in reaching an understanding of the meaning of a statutory term.' Doe v. Institute of Living, Inc., 175 Conn. 49, 58, 392 A.2d 491 (1978)."

Skakel v. Benedict, 54 Conn.App. 663, 676 (1999)

The legislature "is presumed to be aware of the existence of other legislation on the same or related issues . . . statutes are to be interpreted with regard to other relevant statutes because the legislature is presumed to have created a consistent body of law." (citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted). In re Valerie D., 223 Conn. 492, 524 (l992).

"'When two constructions are possible, courts will adopt the one which makes the [statute] effective and workable, and not one which leads to difficult and possibly bizarre results. . . . We consider the statute as a whole with a view toward reconciling its parts in order to obtain a sensible and rationale overall interpretation. . . . We have long followed the guideline that [t]he intent of the law makers is the soul of the statute, and the . . . intent [is] the guiding star to the court. It must prevail over the literal sense and the precise letter of the language of the statute.'"

Butler v. Hartford Technical Institute, Inc., 243 Conn. 454, 462 (l997); quoting State v. Anonymous, 237 Conn. 501, 514-15 (l996).

Here the legislative history is clear that YIC cases are to be treated as extensions of family with service needs cases which are within the jurisdiction of the Division of Criminal Justice. Section 46b-121(b)(a). Moreover, the two types of cases share very similar definitions and provide similar protections and services. Finally, as a practical matter, since it is a fair assumption that a number of children who are found to be from families with service needs will remain the concern of the court after they reach the age of sixteen, it would clearly be more efficient for the same attorneys involved with those children to continue their efforts through proceedings available for youth in crisis after those children reach the age of sixteen. Thus, the most sensible and rational interpretation of 46b-121 leads to the conclusion that the two types of cases should be treated similarly and assigned to the same attorneys.

Inasmuch as the Division of Criminal Justice is responsible for handling the family with service needs cases, the Division, and not the Attorney General, should prosecute YIC cases in the Superior Court.

We trust this opinion answers your inquiry.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Susan T. Pearlman
Assistant Attorney General

Bejnamin Zivyon
Assistant Attorney General

RB/BZ/gmr


1The definition of child from family with service needs also includes a child who "(E) is thirteen years of age or older and has engaged in sexual intercourse with another person and such other person is thirteen years of age or older and not more than two years older or younger than such child."


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