November 27, 2014

Colorado Supreme Court: Juvenile Justice System is Separate Statutory Framework from Adult Criminal Justice System and Provisions Are Not Interchangeable

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re People in the Interest of W.P. on Monday, February 11, 2013.

Competency to Proceed in the Juvenile Justice System—Availability of Second Competency Evaluation as of Right—Indigent Alleged Juvenile Offender—Rule Discharged.

In this original proceeding, the Supreme Court considered whether an indigent alleged juvenile offender was entitled as of right to a second competency evaluation at state expense. Two days after W.P.’s arrest on allegations of sexual assault on a child, and one day after the juvenile division of the Adams County District Court appointed a public defender to represent him, the court ordered W.P. to undergo a competency evaluation at state expense. After receiving the evaluation report, the court made a preliminary finding that W.P. was competent to proceed in the case. Citing ongoing concerns about her client’s mental health, the public defender objected, requesting a competency hearing pursuant to CRS § 19-2-1302(2) of the Colorado Children’s Code and filing a motion for a second competency evaluation at state expense pursuant to CRS §§ 16-8.5-106 and -107 of the Colorado Code of Criminal Procedure. At the motion hearing, the public defender stated that “[b]ecause the juvenile code is silent, they are referring to the adult code,” which entitles a criminal defendant to a second competency evaluation at state expense. Concluding that the Children’s Code was “specifically silent on that issue,” the district court determined that the adult competency provisions did not apply to this case.

The Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the public defender’s request for a second competency evaluation pursuant to CRS §§ 16-8.5-106 and -107, because these adult competency provisions do not apply in juvenile justice proceedings either explicitly or by implication. The Court concluded the General Assembly created two distinct competency frameworks: (1) promoting the criminal justice system’s goal of just punishment; and (2) advancing the juvenile justice system’s goal of appropriately sanctioning juvenile offenders, taking into consideration their own and society’s best interests. The juvenile competency provisions require a court to order an evaluation at any stage of the proceedings if it develops doubts about the alleged juvenile offender’s competency that are not satisfied by available information. The Court discharged the rule and returned the case to the district court for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here.

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