The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner-Appellee, In the Interest of A.C.E-D., Juvenile-Appellant.
Jefferson County District Court Nos. 13JD285 & 13JD424
Honorable Ann Gail Meinster, Judge
Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Megan C. Rasband,
Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for
Office of Diana M. Richett, Diana M. Richett, Lakewood,
Colorado, for Juvenile-Appellant
1 Is the previous iteration of the competency statute for
juveniles, section 19-2-1301(2), C.R.S. 2015, facially
unconstitutional or unconstitutional as applied because it
incorporated the definition of "incompetent to
proceed" for adults in criminal proceedings set out in
section 16-8.5-101(11), C.R.S. 2015? The juvenile, A.C.E-D.,
raised this novel question in seeking dismissal of the
misdemeanor theft and harassment charges against him,
asserting these statutes did not allow the court to consider
A.C.E-D.'s age and maturity. The trial court rejected his
constitutional arguments, found him competent to proceed, and
convicted him of both charges, resulting in his adjudication
2 On appeal, A.C.E-D. challenges the adjudication on the same
constitutional grounds. Alternatively, he asserts that the
juvenile court abused its discretion in finding him
competent. He also asserts evidentiary error in
authenticating Facebook messages that supposedly constituted
harassment and a one-year discrepancy between the dates of
those messages as charged in the amended petition and as
proven. The Attorney General concedes preservation of the
constitutional and evidentiary contentions.
3 We affirm.
4 Following a complaint of shoplifting, police officers
contacted A.C.E-D. He confessed, led them to the merchandise,
and was charged with misdemeanor theft. In a separate case,
A.C.E-D. was charged with misdemeanor harassment based on
Facebook messages sent to his ex-girlfriend.
5 In both cases, A.C.E-D. pleaded guilty. But before
sentencing, he moved to determine competency and later moved
to withdraw his guilty pleas. Without addressing the pleas,
the trial court ordered a competency evaluation. A
psychologist evaluated A.C.E-D. and recorded his findings in
a report. After receiving the psychologist's report, the
court made a preliminary finding of competency. Then A.C.E-D.
requested a competency hearing.
6 Before that hearing was held, A.C.E-D. moved to dismiss the
charges based on a facial constitutional challenge to the
juvenile competency statute. The court denied the facial
challenge. At the competency hearing, the court also rejected
an as-applied challenge and found A.C.E-D. competent to
proceed based on the psychologist's testimony and his
7 Still, the court allowed A.C.E-D. to withdraw his guilty
pleas and conducted a bench trial. The court found A.C.E-D.
guilty of the charges and adjudicated him a juvenile
Juvenile Competency Statute Is Constitutional
Standard of Review
8 Constitutional challenges are reviewed de novo. Coffman
v. Williamson, 2015 CO 35, ¶ 13. Because a statute
is presumed constitutional, the party challenging it must
prove unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt.
Anderson v. Colo. Dep't of Pers., 756 P.2d 969,
975 (Colo. 1988). A successful facial challenge must show
that "the law is unconstitutional in all its
applications." Dallman v. Ritter, 225 P.3d 610,
625 (Colo. 2010) (quoting United States v. Salerno,
481 U.S. 739, 745 (1987)).
9 An as-applied constitutional challenge succeeds if the
statute is unconstitutional "under the circumstances in
which the [plaintiff] has acted or proposes to act."
Developmental Pathways v. Ritter, 178 P.3d 524, 534
(Colo. 2008) (quoting Sanger v. Dennis, 148 P.3d
404, 410 (Colo.App. 2006)). Unlike a successful challenge to
facial validity, the result of "holding a statute
unconstitutional as applied is to prevent its future
application in a similar context, but not to render it
utterly inoperative." Id. (quoting
Sanger, 148 P.3d at 410).
10 Under the Children's Code, a juvenile "shall not
be tried or sentenced if the juvenile is incompetent to
proceed, as defined in section 16-8.5-101(11), C.R.S
....." § 19-2-1301(2). Under that statute,
"[i]ncompetent to proceed" means that, as a result
of a mental disability or developmental disability, the
defendant does not have sufficient present ability to consult
with the defendant's lawyer with a reasonable degree of
rational understanding in order to assist in the defense, or
that, as a result of a mental disability or developmental
disability, the defendant does not have a rational and
factual understanding of the criminal proceedings.
11 The party asserting the juvenile's incompetence bears
the burden of submitting evidence, and bears the burden of
persuasion by a preponderance of the evidence. §
12 A.C.E-D. makes three arguments why section 19-2-1301(2) is
facially invalid: using the adult incompetency standard for
juveniles violates their right to due process; the
statute's requirement limiting juvenile incompetency to a
finding of a mental or developmental disability is
inconsistent with the test in Dusky v. United
States, 362 U.S. 402, 402 (1960); and the statute
violates due process because it places the burdens of
submitting evidence and persuasion on juveniles. We address,
and reject, each argument in turn.
13 A.C.E-D. first argues that because the United States
Constitution offers greater protections to juveniles in some
circumstances, an incompetency standard that applies equally
to both juveniles and adults is unconstitutional. But
A.C.E-D. does not cite, nor are we aware of, any Supreme
Court or Colorado authority requiring different competency
standards for juveniles.
14 Instead, A.C.E-D. cites to Supreme Court cases applying
the Eighth Amendment to juveniles. But these cases are
uninformative because they did not address juveniles'
competency to stand trial. Rather, they addressed the
constitutionality of executing a defendant for a homicide
committed as a juvenile or sentencing a juvenile to life in
prison without the possibility of parole. See Miller v.
Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 479 (2012) (mandatory sentence of
life without the possibility of parole); Roper v.
Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 578 (2005) (death penalty).
15 In both cases, the Court recognized important differences
between children and adults: children have a diminished sense
of responsibility, are more vulnerable to peer pressure, and
have greater prospects for reform. See Miller, 567
U.S. at 471-74; Roper, 543 U.S. at 569-70. While
these differences are reasons for sparing juveniles from the
harshest of criminal punishments, they do not address
juveniles' ability to assist their attorneys or
comprehend the meaning of an adjudication proceeding.
A.C.E-D. admits as much in his reply brief, conceding that he
is not suggesting the Eighth Amendment applies to juvenile
competency evaluations. And in any event, the trial of an
incompetent defendant involves the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S.
375, 378 (1966); accord People v. Zapotocky, 869
P.2d 1234, 1237 (Colo. 1994). Unsurprisingly, A.C.E-D. next
argues that the statute violates the due process rights of
16 In some circumstances, especially police interrogations
and the waiver of certain rights, courts have considered
youth and all its associated circumstances when deciding due
process requirements. See, e.g., Gallegos v.
Colorado, 370 U.S. 49, 55 (1962) (confessions to
police); Haley v. Ohio, 332 U.S. 596, 600-01 (1948)
(same); People in Interest of M.R.J., 633 P.2d 474,
476-77 (Colo. 1981) (same); People in Interest of
J.F.C., 660 P.2d 7, 9 (Colo.App. 1982) (guilty pleas and
waiver of right to trial). But A.C.E-D. does not explain why
the factors that warrant special due process protections for
juveniles under police interrogation or when waiving certain
rights necessitate different competency standards for
juveniles than for adults. Although juveniles may be more
susceptible to police interrogation or an unwitting waiver of
fundamental rights because of their age, inexperience, and
intelligence, these factors do not necessarily show
incapacity to assist counsel or to understand the nature of a
juvenile adjudication. Indeed, the United States Supreme
Court has held that juvenile adjudications do not need to
conform with the due process requirements of a criminal
trial. In re Application of Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 30
(1967). A juvenile adjudication, instead, requires
"fundamental fairness." McKeiver v.
Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528, 543 (1971).
17 Colorado and other jurisdictions recognize that juveniles
have a fundamental right not to be tried while incompetent.
People in Interest of W.P., 2013 CO 11, ¶ 37;
accord Matter of W.A.F., 573 A.2d 1264, 1267 (D.C.
1990); In re K.G., 808 N.E.2d 631, 639 (Ind. 2004).
And some states have gone further to consider factors unique
to juveniles when making a competency determination. See
In re Carey, 615 N.W.2d 742, 747-48 (Mich. Ct. App.
2000); accord In re J.M., 769 A.2d 656, 662 (Vt.
2001). But both Carey and J.M. involved
states that had no statutory juvenile competency test and
neither court held that due process requires a
juvenile-specific test. See ...