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American Bar Association

ABA Section of Litigation
Children's Rights Litigation
 

Case Notes


In re William M and Marques B

124 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 95 (Nov. 26, 2008)


In a seminal case affecting children’s rights against self-incrimination, the Nevada Supreme Court, en banc, struck down Nevada’s presumptive certification statute, finding that the law was a violation of the child’s right against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.


In In re William M, 124 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 95 (Nev 2008) (en banc), the appellants, William M. and Marques B. were each 17 years old when arrested and charged with a felony that included the use of a firearm. Under Nevada’s presumptive certification statute, NRS 62B.390(2)-(3), respondent State of Nevada sought to certify appellants for criminal proceedings as adults. These laws create a rebuttable presumption where a juvenile over the age of 13, who is charged with certain offenses, falls outside the jurisdiction of juvenile court and instead, faces adult criminal proceedings in district court. For a child to rebut the presumption of certification as an adult, the juvenile court must find clear and convincing evidence that the accused’s criminal actions were “substantially influenced by substance abuse or emotion or behavioral problems that may be appropriately treated within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. In re William M., 124 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 95, at 2.


The State petitioned the juvenile court (in separate proceedings) to certify William and Marques for criminal proceedings as adults under the presumptive certification statute. Each appellant opposed the State’s certification petition. William attached to his opposition the reports of the juvenile court’s psychologist’s evaluation and his probation officer. The psychologist’s report detailed William’s alcohol abuse, which was severe and fell within the maximum risk range, warranting substance abuse counseling. The report also stated that Williams had other substance abuse problems, including cannabis and amphetamines. In addition, the psychologist diagnosed Williams with adolescent-onset type conduct disorder, as well as other behavioral issues, stemming from legal, academic and peer group issues. William’s probation officer’s certification report also detailed Williams’ alcohol abuse, including that William had been cited for alcohol-related offenses, was on probation for possession or consumption of alcohol as a minor and had been referred to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.


Based on these reports, William argued that there was clear and convincing evidence of substance abuse, but that because William denied any involvement in the alleged incident, he was unable to prove that his substance abuse substantially influenced his actions in the alleged incident, as required by Nevada’s presumptive certification statute. Instead, William argued that the court should assume that if William had been present during the alleged incident, his criminal actions would have been substantially influenced by substance abuse. The juvenile court concluded that although William had an alcohol abuse problem, he failed to establish “a direct nexus between his alcohol abuse and the alleged conduct,” as required by the Nevada Supreme Court’s previous interpretation of the law. Thus, William was certified to face adult criminal proceedings in district court.


In district court, William pleaded not guilty and appealed from the order certifying him as an adult. William was held in adult detention and faces up to 51 years in prison, if convicted in district court as an adult.


Similarly, Marques also filed an opposition to the State’s petition to certify him as an adult. To his opposition, Marques attached several reports, including court-ordered psychological and competency evaluations, a Family and Youth Services Department psychological services report, a school district team evaluation and a diagnostic report showing that Marques had marijuana in his system when tested. The reports detailed a history of learning disorders and drug abuse. The juvenile court psychologist diagnosed Marques with drug abuse, behavioral, learning and communication disorders, adolescent antisocial behavior and borderline intellectual functioning. The school district had designated Marques a child with learning disabilities, including problems in math, listening comprehension, reading and writing and reported that Marques had been in special education classes since kindergarten. The school also determined that Marques had a oral language disorder and was developmentally delayed. The Family and Youth Services Department report provided that Marques read at a second grade level.


The juvenile court’s competency evaluation revealed that he was “borderline competent,” “just barely able to understand what is going on” and concluded that “Marques had deficits in his abilities associated with competence to stand trial, but the deficits were not sufficient to have him deemed incompetent by the court.” In re William M., 124 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 95, at 4. All reports suggested that Marques was not a risk for violence.


Based on these reports, Marques argued that there was clear and convincing evidence of substance abuse and emotional and behavioral issues, but that because Marques denied any involvement in the alleged incident, he was unable to prove that his substance abuse or other issues substantially influenced his actions in the alleged incident, as required by Nevada’s presumptive certification statute. Instead, Marques argued that the court should assume that if Marques had been present during the alleged incident, his criminal actions would have been substantially influenced by his substance abuse and his emotional and behavioral problems. The juvenile court certified Marques as an adult, concluding that “he is not developmentally or mentally incompetent to understand his situation” and that “there was not clear and convincing evidence that Marques’ actions were substantially the result of his emotional or behavioral problems.” Thus, similar to William, Marques was certified to face adult criminal proceedings in district court.


In district court, Marques pleaded not guilty and appealed from the order certifying him as an adult. Marques had been held in adult detention for several weeks until the district court granted his house arrest. He faces up to 60 years in prison, if convicted in district court as an adult.


On appeal, Appellants challenged that the Nevada statute was unconstitutional because it required William and Marques to admit to committing the crimes, though unproven, in violation of their the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. First, the Nevada Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, which has been applied broadly by the United States Supreme Court applies in juvenile certification proceedings. Id. at 5 citing In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 50 (1967) (indicating that statements of juveniles held in detention may trigger Fifth Amendment protection).


In holding that incriminating statements made by juveniles during these proceedings may be used against them, the Court overruled in part prior case law that had held that the type of proceeding is determinative, rather than the nature of the statements. See id. at 6 overruling Marvin v. State, 603 P. 2d 10156 (Nev. 1979). The Court evaluated “the nature of the statements at issue and their potential for exposure to commitment or imprisonment.” The Court concluded that if the statements made by Appellant were inculpatory in nature, then the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is triggered. The Court then determined that the statements made by appellants in the juvenile proceedings were “inculpatory statements,” thus requiring Fifth Amendment protection.


In light of the fact that the Court held that the Fifth Amendment protection is afforded to juveniles in certification proceedings, the Court found that the statute which, on its face, require[s] the juvenile to admit to the charged criminal actions to overcome presumptive certification, appear[s] to be unconstitutional.” In re William M., 124 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 95, at 7. Thus, the Court reversed the lower court’s orders certifying William and Marques as adults for criminal proceedings in district court and remanded the case back to juvenile court for further proceedings.


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