May 22, 2015

CA Supreme Court Finds Youth Incompetent to Stand Trial

On May 18, 2015, the California Supreme Court announced its decision in In re R.V., reversing a lower court decision which had found a 16 year-old Orange County boy competent to stand trial.  R.V. had been arrested after having an emotional, threat laden outburst when his step father asked him to get ready for school.  A court-appointed expert had found R.V. incompetent to stand trial based on extensive special education and mental health records, observations from others who had come into contact with him, and interviews with R.V. and family members.  R.V. had been terminated from probation shortly before the arrest because it was believed that his mental health issues would prevent him from successfully carrying out the court’s orders.  The case raised two issues of first impression, including the question of who has the burden of proof in showing incompetence, and also, what the standard of appellate review is in juvenile competence cases.  The Youth Law Center filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing the appellate standard issue, but also arguing that no matter what standard was applied, there was not substantial evidence for the trial court to reject the expert opinion in the case.  The California Supreme Court ruled on that ground, finding that there was no reasonable basis on which the court could have rejected the well-supported expert opinion of incompetence.  The Youth Law Center has been actively involved in helping to develop the law of incompetence in California through legislation, legal writing and training of juvenile court professionals. Here is a copy of the opinion.

Supreme Court Opinion