STATE v. B.B., SC 18481

Judicial District of New Haven at G.A. 23

 

Youthful Offenders; Whether a Youthful Offender has a Due Process Right to a Hearing on a State's Motion to Transfer his or her Case to the Regular Criminal Docket. The defendant was sixteen years old when he was arrested and charged with possession of a weapon in a motor vehicle. Because of his age and the nature of the offense, the defendant was "presumed to be eligible to be adjudged a youthful offender" pursuant to General Statutes 54-76c (a). Accordingly, the defendant was arraigned as a youthful offender. Subsequently, the state moved to transfer the matter to the regular criminal docket pursuant to General Statutes 54-76c (b) (1), which provides that "[u]pon motion of the prosecuting official and order of the court, the case of any defendant who is a youth and is charged with the commission of a felony, other than a felony set forth in subsection (a) of this section, shall be transferred from the youthful offender docket to the regular criminal docket of the Superior Court . . . ." The defendant objected to the transfer and claimed that the plain language of 54-76c (b) (1), to wit, "and order of the court," required the court to exercise its discretion prior to ordering the transfer of his case from the youthful offender docket to the regular criminal docket. The defendant also asserted that 54-76c created a vested liberty interest in youthful offender status that can only be taken away if a defendant is provided with due process, notice and a hearing. The court observed that the language of the mandatory transfer provision of 54-76c (a), which applies to, inter alia, class A felonies and crimes involving sexual assault, defines as ineligible for youthful offender status a significant number of individuals who would otherwise be eligible as the result of their age. The number of exclusions found in 54-76c (a), the court opined, supported the conclusion that there is no vested liberty interest in youthful offender status. Next, finding that the language of 54-76c (b) (1) was ambiguous as to whether it gave the court discretion to approve or deny a motion to transfer, the court reviewed the legislative history of the statute and concluded that the intent of the statute was to give the prosecutor absolute discretion in determining whether to transfer a case to the regular criminal docket. Accordingly, the court granted the state's motion to transfer the defendant's case to the regular criminal docket. In this appeal, which was certified by the Chief Justice pursuant to General Statutes 52-265a, the defendant claims that because he has a vested liberty interest in his youthful offender status, that interest cannot be taken away without due process of law and, therefore, he is entitled to a hearing on the state's motion to transfer.