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In re People

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

October 3, 2016

In Re The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff
v.
Brooke Ann Higgins, Defendant

         Original Proceeding Pursuant to C.A.R. 21 Douglas County District Court Case No. 16CR28 Honorable Paul A. King, Judge

          Attorneys for Plaintiff: George H. Brauchler, District Attorney, Eighteenth Judicial District Richard Orman, Senior Deputy District Attorney Centennial, Colorado

          Attorneys for Defendant: Zonies Law LLC Sean Connelly Denver, Colorado Eytan Nielsen LLC Iris Eytan Denver, Colorado The McGuire Law Office, LLC Kathleen McGuire Denver, Colorado

          OPINION

          RICE, CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1 This companion case to People v. Johnson, 2016 CO 69, __P.3d__, raises two questions. First, does a trial court have statutory authority to order a juvenile charged as an adult to undergo a state-administered mental health assessment for a reverse-transfer proceeding? We answered that question in the negative in Johnson, but we do not answer that question here because it is hypothetical-the question is not based on the facts of this case. Second, is a trial court required, before a mental health assessment, to provide a juvenile with warnings based on the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination? We do not answer that question as well, because (1) Higgins consented to the evaluation while represented by counsel, and (2) any claims that ineffective assistance of counsel vitiated Higgins's consent are premature. Therefore, we vacate the order to show cause and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶2 This controversy began when the petitioner-defendant, Brooke Higgins, was a juvenile respondent in front of a magistrate judge on December 17, 2015. The district attorney requested, and Higgins's then-defense-counsel agreed to, a state-administered mental health assessment[1] of Higgins. Because the parties agreed, the magistrate judge ordered the mental health assessment.

         ¶3 On January 14, 2016, now in front of trial court Judge King, the district attorney dismissed the juvenile charges against Higgins and charged her as an adult with two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. Higgins sought, and the trial court granted, a reverse-transfer hearing to determine whether she should remain in adult court or return to juvenile court. On January 21, 2016, before the reverse-transfer hearing occurred, Higgins, represented by different counsel, filed a motion to suppress the mental health assessment and disqualify Judge King. Judge King denied both requests, reasoning that, notwithstanding the parties' stipulation to the state mental health assessment, there was independent statutory authority for the magistrate judge to order a state mental health assessment of Higgins.

         ¶4 Higgins then petitioned this court for relief under C.A.R. 21, arguing that (1) the trial court lacked authority to order a juvenile charged as an adult to undergo a mental health assessment for a reverse-transfer proceeding, and (2) the United States Constitution precludes such orders and requires the trial court to advise a juvenile of her Fifth Amendment rights in such an assessment. We issued a rule to show cause.

         II. Original Jurisdiction

         ¶5 "This court will generally elect to hear C.A.R. 21 cases that raise issues of first impression and that are of significant public importance." People v. Steen, 2014 CO 9, ¶ 8, 318 P.3d 487, 490. We granted review in this case as a companion to People v. Johnson, 2016 CO 69. This case raises two issues of first impression. First, one of the issues we considered in Johnson, whether a trial court may order a juvenile who requested a reverse-transfer hearing to submit to a mental health assessment by a state doctor. Second, whether the Constitution requires a trial court to advise a juvenile of her Fifth Amendment rights before such an assessment.

          ¶6 These issues are of significant public importance because they will impact when a district attorney files adult charges against a juvenile and when a trial court may order mental health assessments for juveniles. Therefore, original relief is appropriate in this case.

         III. Standard of Review

         ¶7 The interpretation of statutes and the United States Constitution are questions of law, which we review de novo. See Bostelman ...


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