In Re: Jusstice W.; In Re: Hakeem A.; In Re: William M.; In Re: Jahquise K.; In Re: Jonathan S.
Connecticut General Statutes §46b-141(a)(1)(A) does not permit a Superior Court judge to order the commitment of a juvenile adjudged delinquent to the Department of Children and Families for a period of time less than 18 months but, requires the judge to commit the delinquent child to an indeterminate commitment of 18 months, subject to any subsequent modification as provided by statute. In five cases, the Department of Children and Families appealed from the trial courts' judgments ordering the respondents, Jusstice W., Hakeem A., William M., Jahquise K. and Jonathan S., to be committed to the department's custody for a period of time less than 18 months. The department asserted that the judgments were not authorized by C.G.S. §46b-141(a)(1)(A) and were improper. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the judgments and remanded the matters for further proceedings. C.G.S. §46b-141(a)(1) provides that the "commitment of children convicted as delinquent…shall be for (A) an indeterminate time up to a maximum of eighteen months…" The use of the mandatory term "shall," suggested that the terms of the commitment are provided by operation of law and the court lacked discretion to alter those terms. The phrase "an indeterminate time up to a maximum of eighteen months," is a complete phrase without commas. This indicated, inter alia, that the sentence be for "up to eighteen months" is as much a requirement of the statute as that the sentence be for an "indeterminate time." C.G.S. §46b-141(b) allows the department to seek an extension of a commitment beyond "the"18 month period in C.G.S. §46b-141(a)(1)(A). It does not allow for an extension of a commitment less than 18 months long. If the legislature intended to allow a court to set a maximum length of commitment for less than 18 months, then C.G.S. §46b-141(b) likely would reflect this in its terms. It does not. The Court's interpretation was found in accord with the legislative intent and statutory scheme involving juveniles. C.G.S. §17a-10(d) provides the department with the authority to determine the actual length of the otherwise indeterminate commitment capped at 18 months. A trial court retains jurisdiction and can require reports, hear motions to extend commitment, approve plans and terminate commitment. Thus, depending upon each juvenile's progress, the department and court both have discretion to terminate commitment short of 18 months.