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In the Interest of v. the State of Wyoming

April 25, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF: SWM PETITIONER,
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, RESPONDENT.



Original Proceeding Petition for Writ of Review District Court of Campbell County The Honorable Michael N. Deegan, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, VOIGT, BURKE, and DAVIS, JJ.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] In this interlocutory appeal, Petitioner, SWM, challenges the juvenile court's determination that he was competent to proceed to adjudication in a delinquency proceeding. He contends that the juvenile court violated his constitutionally protected due process rights when it disregarded relevant evidence and failed to apply the proper standard in determining competency. We agree and, accordingly, reverse and remand for further proceedings.

ISSUE

[¶2] SWM presents one issue: Do the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Wyoming require that the due process considerations that underlie Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-11-303 also apply in determining the competency of a minor under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-219?

FACTS

[¶3] On December 23, 2011, the State filed a petition in juvenile court alleging that SWM had committed two delinquent acts.*fn1 SWM was twelve years old at the time of the alleged delinquent acts. During his initial appearance, SWM was informed of "the consequences . . . of being a Delinquency Child," and was advised of his "rights guaranteed by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Wyoming." SWM was also advised that juvenile court was different than criminal court, but the juvenile court made it clear that SWM faced the possibility of significant sanctions if adjudicated delinquent. Those sanctions included required participation in "a highly intensive and regimented residential program" for not less than three months, continued probation for six to twelve months with "highly structured restrictions on your activities and requirements for your behavior," or commitment "to the juvenile detention unit of the Campbell County detention facility, county jail, for no more than six months." In spite of the best efforts of the court, the transcript reflects little understanding by SWM regarding his rights or the significance of the charges he was facing. Ultimately, the court advised SWM that an attorney would be appointed to represent him, and entered a "denial" of the allegations on behalf of SWM.

[¶4] Counsel was appointed and shortly thereafter a "Motion to Suspend Proceedings for Evaluation under 7-11-303 and 14-6-219" was filed. As grounds for the motion, counsel asserted that he had developed concerns about SWM's "understanding of the proceedings and nature of the allegations against him based upon [his] age, development and nature of the charges against him." The State did not object and the juvenile court granted the motion. The Order granting the motion reflects that the court determined that "Wyoming Statute § 7-11-303(b), (c), (d) et seq. and § 14-6-219 require an examination of the Minor for competency to proceed." The Order specifically required that a written report of the examination be filed with the Clerk of Court pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-11-303(c) and Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-219 and that the report include the following:

I. Detailed findings.

II. An opinion as to whether the Minor has a mental illness or deficiency, and its probable durations.

III. An opinion as to whether the Minor, as a result of mental illness or deficiency, lacks the capacity to comprehend his position, to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to conduct his defense in a rational manner, and to cooperate with his counsel to the end that any available defense may be interposed.

IV. A recommendation as to whether the Minor should be held in a designated facility for treatment pending determination by the Court of the issue of mental fitness to proceed.

V. A recommendation as to whether the Minor, if found by the Court to be mentally fit to proceed, should be detained in a designated facility pending further proceedings.

[¶5] Subsequently, SWM was evaluated as an outpatient by a forensic psychologist associated with the Wyoming State Hospital. Her Forensic Evaluation was filed with the court in June, 2012. The report noted that SWM had been in special education classes since he began school, and that a test given by the school had assessed his intelligence quotient at 71, indicating borderline intellectual functioning. She diagnosed SWM as displaying "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" as well as deficits in expressive language and language comprehension.

[¶6] With regard to his competency to proceed, and in compliance with the court Order, the psychologist provided conclusions regarding competency. In her report, the psychologist stated:

Conclusions Regarding Competency under W.S. § 14-6-219: Although, [SWM] would not be expected to perform academically or cognitively at the level of an average 12-year-old, there is no information to support the involuntary commitment of this Minor. He is aware that he is in serious trouble and could be taken from his home. Thus, based on all available information, it is this examiner's opinion that [SWM], a child alleged to be delinquent, is not "suffering from mental illness or intellectual disability to a degree rendering [him] subject to involuntary commitment" and would, therefore, be deemed competent to proceed in juvenile court.

Conclusions Regarding Capacity to Proceed under W.S. § 7-11-303: [SWM] is a 12-year-old male diagnosed with ADHD and an IQ of 71. He showed moderate to severe deficits in all four capacities required for fitness to proceed under W.S. § 7-11-303. Although it is possible with several months of remediation that he might attain the required factual capacities, it is unlikely that he could attain the required rational capacities in the foreseeable future. His deficits regarding rational capacities are likely directly related to his age (e.g., developmental immaturity, social immaturity) as well as his intellectual functioning, cognitive immaturity, and ADHD. Thus, it can be stated with a reasonable degree of psychological certainty that [SWM] does not have sufficient present capacity to comprehend his position, to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to conduct his defense in a rational manner, and to cooperate with counsel to the end that any available defense may be interposed in adult criminal court. With time and formal education, [SWM] might be expected to attain these capacities in his late teens or early twenties.

[¶7] After the report was filed, the State filed a "Motion to Strike Portions of Evaluation Beyond the Scope of the Juvenile Justice Act." In its motion the State asked the court to "strike all portions of the juvenile's forensic evaluation that were conducted pursuant to W.S. 7-11-303 as they are irrelevant to these proceedings." SWM filed a resistance to the motion contending that failure to perform a proper competency evaluation impacted SWM's constitutional due process rights. SWM contended that Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-219 and the remainder of the Juvenile Justice Act were "silent on what constitutes competency in juvenile court," and that competency should be determined in accordance with the standards set forth in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-11-303.

[¶8] After a hearing, the juvenile court granted the motion. The juvenile court determined that it would not consider that portion of the psychologist's evaluation dealing with SWM's competency to stand trial as an adult criminal defendant. It explained in its "Order Determining the Court will Disregard the Portion of the Evaluation Concerning a Conclusion as to the Minor's Competency Pursuant to W.S. 7-11-303" that the statute is "clear and unambiguous" and applies "at any stage of a criminal proceeding." (Emphasis in original.) It continued that, "given the nature of juvenile proceedings (i.e. the fact they are special civil proceedings and not criminal proceedings) and the stated goals of juvenile proceedings (namely to provide treatment, training and rehabilitation for juvenile offenders), W.S. § 7-11-303 has no application in the case at bar and this determination does not amount to a denial of the Minor's due process rights." In the Order, the court concluded that it would disregard that portion of the report entitled "Conclusions Regarding Capacity to Proceed under W.S. § 7-11-303."

[ΒΆ9] In response, SWM sought a second competency evaluation and a hearing to determine competency. After a hearing, the district court denied the motion for a second competency evaluation and found that SWM was competent to proceed. The court explained in its order: "The Court having received and reviewed the Forensic Evaluation of the juvenile by the Wyoming State Hospital, finds that the juvenile does not suffer from a mental illness or intellectual disability to a degree [rendering] him subject to involuntary commitment at the Wyoming State Hospital or Wyoming Life Resource Center and is competent to proceed." SWM filed a petition for ...


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