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State v. E.C.

September 9, 1996

STATE OF WASHINGTON, APPELLANT,
v.
E. C. D.O.B. 12/11/76 RESPONDENT.



Superior Court County: King. Superior Court Cause No: 94-8-04146-2. Date filed in Superior Court: August 26, 1994. Superior Court Judge Signing: Kathleen Learned.

Written by: Kennedy, A.c.j. Concurred by: Grosse, J., Agid, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kennedy

KENNEDY, A.C.J. -- The State appeals the juvenile court's order dismissing with prejudice the charge of child molestation in the first degree brought against E.C. The State contends that the court erred by failing to follow the competency procedures set forth in RCW 10.77. Although we conclude that RCW 10.77 should be followed in cases in which the needs of the juvenile offender do not conflict with that statute, we also conclude that RCW 10.77 does not operate to limit the juvenile court's authority to adequately respond to the needs of a particular juvenile offender when a conflict arises and when departure from the procedures contained in RCW 10.77 will present no substantial danger to others. Because we conclude that the juvenile court acted within its authority and did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the charges against E.C. with prejudice, we affirm.

FACTS

On June 28, 1994, E. C., a developmentally disabled juvenile, was charged with one count of child molestation in the first degree. In an order waiving arraignment, a competency hearing was set for August 26, 1994. At the competency hearing, all parties agreed that E.C. was incompetent to stand trial. After taking testimony and reviewing two psychological reports prepared by mental health professionals who had evaluated E.C. during the two-month period between charging and the competency hearing, the court found E.C. incompetent to stand trial. Based on substantial evidence contained in the psychological reports, the court concluded that E.C., who suffers from educational, cultural, language, and cognitive deficiencies as well as being developmentally disabled, was unlikely to become competent to stand trial in the reasonably near future.

Following the court's decision with respect to incompetency, the State requested that the court stay the proceedings for ninety days as required by RCW 10.77.090. *fn1 E.C.

argued through counsel that RCW 10.77 applies only to adult defendants, and requested that the court dismiss the case with prejudice. Consistent with the psychological reports that E.C. had suffered from severe anxiety during the weeks preceding the competency hearing, defense counsel reported that E.C. had become so obsessed with the August 26 court date that he was unable to focus on any other subject when communicating with defense counsel. Defense counsel expressed concern that E.C., who was due to return to special education classes in the near future, would be unable to function in school if he were faced with another court date. The court granted E.C.'s motion to dismiss with prejudice, stating:

Although Title 10 doesn't specifically provide a procedure, or the procedure that is being requested today of the Court, I would find that the basic purpose of the Statute would not be offended by my dismissing the case today. And that there would be nothing to be gained, but in fact potentially very significant actual damage would occur by continuing this matter.

So I am going to grant the Motion to Dismiss with prejudice.

Report of Proceedings at 14. *fn2

The State appeals the juvenile court's order dismissing the charge against E.C. with prejudice.

Discussion

The State contends that RCW 10.77 is applicable to juvenile competency proceedings, and that by refusing to stay proceedings for ninety days and by dismissing the charge against E.C. with prejudice, the juvenile court violated the clear requirements of the statute. E.C. responds that RCW 10.77 is inapplicable to juvenile competency proceedings, and that the juvenile court acted within its inherent authority in dismissing the charge with prejudice and without further delay.

The Constitution mandates that no incompetent person may be tried, convicted, or sentenced for an offense so long as the incompetency continues. State v. Wicklund, 96 Wash. 2d 798, 800, 638 P.2d 1241 (1982); RCW 10.77.050. Prior to 1973, Washington courts relied on their inherent judicial authority in making decisions regarding competency. Wicklund, 96 Wash. 2d at 801 (citing State v. Johnston, 84 Wash. 2d 572, 576, 527 P.2d 1310 (1974)). In 1973, the Legislature enacted RCW 10.77, governing the procedures, treatment, and care of those found incompetent to stand trial. "The effect of that legislation was to standardize the procedures to be used in making determinations of competency." Wicklund, 96 Wash. 2d at 801 (holding that because the power to determine competency is a necessary power of all criminal courts, ...


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