In re Azareon Y

In re Azareon Y., et al, 309 Conn. 626, 72 A.3d 1074 (2013)

Supreme Court of Connecticut

July 30, 2013

TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS, DUE PROCESS

The Supreme Court of Connecticut granted certification to appeal the holding of the Appellate Court, which affirmed a termination of Respondent Mother’s parental rights.  Mother’s appeal  contended that the trial court’s application of the termination statute was unconstitutional because substantive due process required the trial court find by clear and convincing evidence that termination of her parental rights was the least restrictive means necessary to protect the children’s safety and best interests and no such finding was made. Mother had not preserved this issue at trial. The Appellate court refused to decide that issue as it deemed the trial court record insufficient to do so.  Mother then sought cert to appeal to the Supreme Court on the issue of whether the Appellate Court properly determined that her unpreserved constitutional claim was unreviewable because the record was inadequate and, if that determination was improper, whether the trial court’s application of the termination statute violated her substantive due process rights.

Respondent relied on State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 239-40 (1989), to advance her claim that her unpreserved constitutional rights were violated.  Under Golding, a defendant can prevail on a claim of constitutional error not preserved at trial only if all of the following conditions are met: (1) the record is adequate to review the alleged claim of error; (2) the claim is of constitutional magnitude alleging the violation of a fundamental right; (3) the alleged constitutional violation clearly exists and clearly deprived the defendant of a fair trial; and (4) if subject to harmless error analysis, the state has failed to demonstrate harmlessness of the alleged constitutional violation beyond a reasonable doubt.

Golding is purposely narrow, in that it allows for an appellant to raise a constitution claim that was not raised at trial, but only if the trial record is adequate for appellate review.  This does not allow for cases to be remanded simply to supplement the record. Here, the Appellate Court held that the trial record was inadequate to determine if termination of mother’s parental rights was the least restrictive means necessary to serve the children’s best interests because mother presented no alternative permanency options at trial.  Therefore, the Appellate Court was unwilling to speculate on whether such alternatives existed.  The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Court’s application of Golding and affirmed.

Zoe Stout (1/2014)

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