Posts tagged with "arbitrarily"

Courts Afford DCF Great Deference on Appeal

A recent decision rendered in a case involving the Department of Children and Families demonstrates the extent to which courts defer to the agency’s conclusions when reviewing a matter on appeal. In this particular case, the plaintiffs were the maternal aunt and uncle of two children, ages fourteen and sixteen. After receiving reports that the children were being physically and emotionally neglected, the Department conducted an investigation, ultimately substantiating the allegations as to both children. When the plaintiffs learned they were going to be placed on the Central Registry, they requested an administrative hearing.

The hearing officer found that DCF had received several prior reports for this family, ranging from allegations of physical abuse to emotional neglect. The hearing officer also found that on one occasion, the plaintiffs forced their nephew to sleep on dirty laundry, and on other occasions, locked him out of their home. At one point, the aunt and uncle stated the nephew was a financial obligation and they did not want him to return to their care. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs agreed to transfer guardianship of the child to the paternal uncle.

The hearing officer upheld the allegations of physical neglect as to the nephew based on his finding that the child had been wrongfully denied access to his home. The hearing officer also upheld the substantiation of emotional abuse as to the nephew because of an incident in which the plaintiffs took the child’s backpack and school books from him, and because of several inappropriate statements the plaintiffs made about the child to third parties.

In explaining its limited role on appeal, the court stated that it may not retry the case or substitute its own judgment for that of the administrative agency with respect to the weight of the evidence or questions of fact. Rather, its duty is simply to determine, in view of all the evidence, whether the agency, in issuing its order, acted unreasonably, arbitrarily, illegally or in abuse of its discretion. The fact that a hearing officer discounted contrary evidence in the record does not affect the validity of the DCF decision. In reviewing the case on appeal, the Court must defer to the agency’s assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and to the agency’s right to believe or disbelieve the evidence presented by any witness, either in whole or in part.

In light of that standard, the court ultimately held that the testimony and documents produced at the hearing convinced the officer to uphold DCF’s determination. As the Court expounded, “The ‘book bag incident,’ the ‘sleeping on dirty clothes event,’ the plaintiffs’ insults of [the child] given at the hospital and probation office, and the barring from the house for both [children] were in the record.” Therefore, there was no basis to overturn the hearing officer’s decision.

Should you have any questions regarding DCF cases, or family matters generally, please do not hesitate to contact Michael D. DeMeola. He can be reached in the firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at mdemeola@mayalaw.com.
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Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.

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Despite Trial Court’s Abuse of Discretion, Defendant Failed to Prove Specific Harm Warranting Reversal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed judgment after a defendant, convicted of DUI, unsuccessfully claimed that his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court arbitrarily denied his motion for a minor continuance.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on November 22, 2003, in Stratford. The defendant crashed his vehicle into an unoccupied parked car, and responding officers noticed visible signs of intoxication. The defendant failed several field sobriety tests and was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). The defendant wanted a jury trial, and during jury selection, the defendant used up all his peremptory challenges. When Juror T was selected as the alternate, defense counsel challenged him for cause. The reason given was because Juror T’s vehicle had been rear-ended by an intoxicated driver, he had been the passenger of an intoxicated driver, and he managed an alcoholic employee. The court would not excuse Juror T for cause, and defense counsel did not seek any additional peremptory challenges.

Due to a miscommunication, a regular juror did not appear at court on the scheduled trial date. However, because the alternate was present, the court stated that the trial would proceed that afternoon. Defense counsel immediately objected and requested a continuance to the next morning, when the regular juror would be available. The court denied the request “without giving any reason… other than that the alternate juror was selected in the same manner as the regular jurors were selected.” The defendant was convicted of OMVUI and thereafter appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it denied the motion, therefore depriving him of the right to an impartial jury.

Trial courts have wide discretion in deciding whether or not to grant a motion for a continuance. These decisions will not be overturned on appeal unless the appellant shows that the denial of this motion was arbitrary. A reviewing court will consider a number of non-exclusive factors:

[T]he timeliness of the request for continuance; the likely length of the delay; the age and complexity of the case; the granting of other continuances in the past; the impact of delay on the litigants, witnesses, opposing counsel and the court; the perceived legitimacy of the reasons proffered in support of the request; [and] the defendant’s personal responsibility for the timing of the request.

State v. Coney, 266 Conn. 787, 801 (2003). Even if the Appellate Court finds that the trial court acted arbitrarily, it must also determine that the denial was harmful, a burden placed on the appellant. If the denial implicates the violation of a constitutional right, prejudice is presumed. In addition, with respect to alternate jurors, they must have “the same qualifications and be selected in the same manner as regular jurors.” General Statutes § 54-82h(a).

In this case, the Appellate Court considered the factors listed above and came to the conclusion that the trial court’s denial of the motion for a continuance was “unreasonable and arbitrary under the unique circumstances of the case.” However, though the defendant cited a deprivation of his Sixth Amendment protections, he did not cite any case law or provide any analysis in support of his claim. As such, prejudice was not presumed, and the defendant had to show he was harmed by Juror T sitting on the jury. The defendant failed to demonstrate specific harm, and the Appellate Court declined to presume that Juror T was not “an impartial juror under these circumstances.” Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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