In re Lukas K.

Conn. Supreme Court

April 5, 2011

DUE PROCESS/RIGHTS OF INCARCERATED PARENTS

In this recent termination of parental rights appeal, the respondent father, incarcerated out of state, claimed that the trial court violated his due process rights by denying his request for a continuance and release of trial transcripts. The father, who was able to participate in the trial for only 30 minutes by phone, claimed that the continuance and transcripts were necessary so that he could carefully review trial evidence with counsel and determine whether he should testify and/or rebut certain evidentiary claims. The appellate court determined that the father’s due process rights were not violated and the Supreme Court affirmed this decision. The Supreme Court, applying the Matthews v. Eldridge analysis, agreed that the liberty interest at stake is fundamental and compelling, and therefore the first prong of the Matthews’ analysis weighed in favor of the respondent. However, the father’s claim failed on the second prong of Matthews, namely whether the provision of additional procedures such as granting respondent’s request for transcripts and continuance would have reduced the risk of an erroneous deprivation of the father’s interests. The Court, relying on the trial record, noted that there was ample evidence that the father had abandoned the child in question and that he had no ongoing relationship with the child. The trial court’s findings were made, in no small part, on the father’s admissions as contained in the social study. Most importantly, the father was not able to demonstrate at trial or on appeal what additional evidence he would have attempted to submit to refute any material finding made by the trial court. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that, in this case, the father’s due process rights were not violated. That being said, the Court took the additional step of commenting that, given the compelling interests at stake in a termination proceeding, “when an incarcerated respondent’s request for a transcript and for a continuance is accompanied by a credible claim that the respondent could rebut the petitioner’s evidence if given the opportunity, and when granting the request would be consistent with the orderly administration of justice, the trial court ordinarily should provide these important procedural safeguards.”

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