Submitted: January 16, 2019
from the Circuit Court of Berkeley County The Honorable Laura
Faircloth, Judge Case No. 17-JD-30
Matthew Brummond, Esq. Public Defender Services Charleston,
West Virginia Counsel for the Petitioner
Patrick Morrisey, Esq. Attorney General Lindsay S. See, Esq.
Solicitor General Gordon L. Mowen, II., Esq. Assistant
Attorney General Charleston, West Virginia Counsel for the
State of West Virginia
questions or abstract propositions, the decision of which
would avail nothing in the determination of controverted
rights of persons or of property, are not properly cognizable
by a court." Syl. Pt. 1, State ex rel. Lilly v.
Carter, 63 W.Va. 684, 60 S.E. 873 (1908).
instant case, the circuit court found a juvenile accused of
delinquency not competent to proceed. "It is a
fundamental guaranty of due process that a defendant cannot
be tried or convicted for a crime while he or she is mentally
incompetent." Syl. Pt. 5, in part, State v.
Hatfield, 186 W.Va. 507, 413 S.E.2d 162 (1991). The
Legislature has adopted various statutes to allow adult
criminal defendants to be evaluated and treated for
competency. The Legislature has rightly and vigorously
protected this fundamental right for adult criminal
defendants. The same cannot be said for a juvenile who faces
an accusation of delinquency. The Legislature has not created
any statutory procedure to protect a juvenile's due
process right to competency. As we discuss below, we call
upon the Legislature to create a process to address the
unique competency and mental health needs of juveniles facing
delinquency proceedings, to protect those children who do not
understand the adversarial process being brought against them
by the State.
vacuum created by the absence of legislation, the circuit
court applied a competency statute designed to address adult
defendants and not juveniles. Under that statute, the court
placed the juvenile in a mental health facility for a period
of thirty-five years, as though the juvenile was an adult.
The juvenile appeals that ruling. However, evidence suggests
that the juvenile has since been restored to competency. As
we discuss below, this new evidence renders the
juvenile's appellate arguments moot.
Factual and Procedural Background
February 2017, petitioner J.C. was seventeen years old. The
State alleged in a juvenile petition that on February 6,
2017, J.C. "did unlawfully, feloniously and forcibly
engage in sexual contact" with a ten-year-old child.
That same day, law enforcement officers detained J.C. and, at
least twice, advised him of his right to remain silent. J.C.
nevertheless admitted to some form of sexual activity with
the ten-year old, so the officers formally took him into
lawyer was appointed to represent J.C. at his February
6th emergency detention hearing. Before the
hearing, J.C.'s lawyer spoke with the arresting law
enforcement officer, and the officer expressed concerns about
J.C.'s mental capacity. The lawyer also spoke with
J.C.'s parents who told the lawyer that J.C. "was
extremely slow and may not understand the nature of the
charges" against him. The lawyer then met with J.C. and
likewise became concerned about J.C.'s mental acuity.
circuit court ordered J.C. detained at a juvenile center.
Shortly thereafter, both a case manager and an education
specialist at the juvenile center expressed concerns that
J.C. did not understand the legal proceeding brought against
him. They noted that J.C.'s most recent evaluations
showed a low verbal comprehension score and low perceptual
reasoning score, as well as a full scale IQ of 70.
Seventeen-year-old J.C.'s achievement scores were at a
upon these concerns, J.C.'s lawyer filed a motion for an
evaluation of J.C.'s competency. The State joined in the
motion for a competency evaluation, noting, "[t]he State
has been made aware of the same concerns involving the
Juvenile." The circuit court ordered an examination to
determine if J.C. was competent to stand trial.
licensed psychologist evaluated J.C. and opined that J.C.
"is not Competent to Stand Trial." The
psychologist concluded in her report, "[t]he conditions
underlying his lack of competency will not change in the
foreseeable future, and thus, he will not regain
order dated July 13, 2017, the circuit court accepted the
competency evaluation and found that J.C. "is
incompetent to stand trial and not likely to regain
competence." Moreover, the circuit court accepted two
stipulations by J.C.'s lawyer: that J.C. could have been
convicted of first degree sexual assault (see W.Va.
Code § 61-8B-3 (2006)), and that the charge against J.C.
"involved an act of violence against a person[.]"
though J.C. was a juvenile subject to the court's
juvenile jurisdiction, the parties agreed that the circuit
court's disposition of J.C. was controlled by a statute
addressing the pretrial competency of an adult criminal
defendant, West Virginia Code § 27-6A-3
(2007). To simplify our discussion, we refer to
this statute as "Section 3." Section 3 repeatedly
uses the word defendant, and often in the context of
a defendant who has been indicted or
charged for a crime involving an act of violence
against a person. Paragraph (h) of Section 3 provides that if
a court finds a defendant is not competent to stand trial and
not likely to attain competency, then the circuit court shall
calculate the "maximum sentence" the defendant
could have received if he or she had been convicted.
See W.Va. Code § 27-6A-3(h). The circuit court
must then order the defendant committed to a mental health
facility. Paragraph (h) of Section 3 dictates that the
defendant remains in the ...