IN RE KALEB H., SC 18902

Juvenile Matters at Rockville 

      Juveniles; Neglect; Whether Mother Presented Sufficient Factual Allegations to Raise a Reasonable Doubt as to her Competence; Whether there is a Due Process Right to a Competency Evaluation in a Commitment Proceeding.  After the respondent mother pleaded nolo contendere to allegations that she neglected her minor child, the commissioner of children and families (the petitioner) successfully moved for temporary custody of the child.  The court also ordered a psychological examination of the respondent, which revealed that she had mild mental retardation.  Thereafter, the respondent moved to revoke the child's commitment to the petitioner and for a new psychological evaluation.  At the hearing on those motions, the respondent's counsel requested a competency evaluation, stating that she was not sure that the respondent could assist in her defense because the respondent claimed that she did not understand that she had agreed to the neglect adjudication in entering a nolo contendere plea.  The court denied counsel's request, stating that the psychological reports did not support a claim of incompetency, and committed the child to the custody of the petitioner.  The respondent appealed, arguing that the court violated her due process rights when it denied her request for a competency examination.  In support of her claim, she relied on In re Alexander V., 223 Conn. 557 (1992).  In that case, the court held that due process requires a competency hearing in termination of parental rights cases when (1) the parent's attorney requests such a hearing, or (2) absent such request, the parent's conduct reasonably suggests to the court the desirability of ordering such a hearing sua sponte.  It also determined that the standard to employ is whether the record contains specific factual allegations that, if true, would constitute substantial evidence of mental impairment, which is evidence that raises a reasonable doubt as to the parent's competency.  The respondent sought to extend the holding in In re Alexander V. to commitment proceedings, claiming that the right to a competency examination also exists in such proceedings due to the impact those proceedings may have on fundamental parental rights.  The Appellate Court (131 Conn. App. 829) affirmed the trial court's judgment, stating that counsel's bald assertion that the respondent did not know what she was doing when she agreed to the neglect adjudication was insufficient to raise a reasonable doubt as to her competency to stand trial.  It also stated that the respondent's diminished mental capacity did not necessarily implicate her competence to stand trial.  It found that the trial court was entitled to rely on its own observations of the respondent's responses during canvassing on the nolo contendere plea to assess whether she behaved rationally.  The Appellate Court thus left for another day the question of whether the right to a competency evaluation that exists in termination proceedings also applies to commitment proceedings.  The Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the respondent mother failed to present sufficient factual allegations to raise a reasonable doubt as to her competence and whether the same right to a competency evaluation that exists in termination of parental rights proceedings also applies to commitment proceedings.