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State v. J.J.

December 19, 1996

STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
J.J., APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of Snohomish County. Docket No: 93-8-01769-3. Date filed: 03/03/95. Judge signing: Hon. Gerald L. Knight.

PER CURIAM. J.J. appeals from a juvenile court order of Disposition upon a finding of guilty on a charge of first degree child molestation. We reject his contention that the court abused its discretion in ruling he was competent to stand trial. Accordingly, we accelerate review under RAP 18.12 and affirm.

FACTS

J.J., who was 12 years old at the time of trial, was accused of having sexual contact with his young cousins. After ordering evaluation of his competency to stand trial, the trial court held a competency hearing in April 1994. Dr. Jerry Lee's evaluation took into account police reports, other reports, and interviews with J.J., his mother, school psychologists, and a teacher. J.J. had been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and took Ritalin during the school year.

J.J.'s teacher described him as having below average intellectual capacity and school performance, although he had tested at grade level in math skills. She reported that he was "very clear" about rules and regulations and right and wrong in school. She stated that, with clear instructions, he would behave appropriately in the courtroom.

When Dr. Lee questioned J.J. about the charged incidents, the boy was unwilling or unable to talk about the subject. J.J. denied knowing what a Judge is, said he thought he had a lawyer but didn't know who it was, but acknowledged his cousins had accused him of a sexual offense. Otherwise, he denied knowing anything about the alleged offenses.

Dr. Lee concluded, however, that J.J. met the "minimal requirements" for competency: with support from his mother, he would be able to help his attorney prepare a defense, and he had a "rough understanding of what he's being accused of and what the potential consequences were."

At the end of the first competency hearing, the court granted a defense motion for a second evaluation. Several months later, Delton Young testified at a second competency hearing. He had read numerous reports, conducted interviews and tested J.J. Dr. Young reported that J.J. had difficulty listening and answering and had an "impoverished" ability to report his own experience. He concluded it was unlikely J.J. could competently assist his lawyer in preparing his defense.

Stating it did not share Dr. Young's concerns, the trial court concluded that J.J. was competent at that time to stand trial. In its written findings the court stated that Dr. Lee testified J.J. was competent to cooperate with his attorney, "especially with support from his family/mother. He could participate in preparing his defense with the help of his mother and attorney. Further, he had a rough understanding of what it means to be accused of a crime." The court further found that "it is very common in the juvenile court for parents to assist counsel in preparing the defense."

After finding J.J. guilty on stipulated facts, the court concluded a standard range sentence of 8-12 weeks would be a manifest inJustice and imposed a lower sentence of 5 days in detention plus sex offender treatment. J.J. challenges the court's finding that he was competent to stand trial.

DECISION

A person is competent to stand trial if he has the capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings against him and can assist in his defense. RCW 10.77.010(6); State v. Ortiz, 119 Wash. 2d 294, 300, 831 P.2d 1060 (1992). The trial court's determination of competence to stand trial is a matter within its discretion, reversible only upon a showing of abuse of that discretion. State v. Benn, 120 Wash. 2d 631, 662, 845 P.2d 289, cert. denied, 510 U.S. 944, 126 L. Ed. 2d 331, 114 S. Ct. 382 (1993). Deference is given to the trial court's determination because of the court's opportunity to observe the defendant's behavior and demeanor. State v. Hicks, 41 Wash. App. 303, 306, 704 P.2d 1206 (1985).

J.J. argues the trial court erred in finding he was competent merely because his mother could assist the attorney. He argues that the critical factors are the defendant's own abilities, including the ability to recall events, which J.J.'s mother could not provide.

We do not agree with his characterization of the court's decision.

Although the court considered the mother's presence as a factor, a fair reading of the decision is that the court found J.J. competent to assist counsel, with the help of his mother, not that the mother's participation was a ...


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