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People ex rel. J.V.D.

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Sixth Division

May 9, 2019

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner-Appellee,
In the Interest of J.V.D., Juvenile-Appellant.

          Gunnison County District Court No. 17JD8 Honorable J. Steven Patrick, Judge.

          Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Gabriel P. Olivares, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Petitioner-Appellee

          Tara Jorfald, Alternate Defense Counsel, Lakewood, Colorado, for Juvenile-Appellant


          RICHMAN JUDGE.

         ¶ 1 The juvenile, J.V.D., appeals his delinquency adjudication on a charge of first degree criminal trespass. Because we agree with him that his right to counsel was violated when he proceeded without representation despite no valid waiver of that right, we reverse the adjudication.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 According to the prosecution's evidence, J.V.D., then sixteen years old, opened the window of his neighbor's trailer, but left after the neighbor's face appeared in the window.

         ¶ 3 Nearly six months later, J.V.D. received a notice to appear concerning an allegation of second degree criminal trespass - a class 3 misdemeanor. He appeared at the hearing with his mother. There, the juvenile court advised them, as relevant here, (1) of the allegation of second degree trespass; (2) that if he pleaded guilty or was found guilty at trial, he could be sentenced to the Department of Youth Corrections; and (3) that he had the right to be represented by counsel and that a public defender would be appointed if he was financially qualified. J.V.D. asked the court if he could represent himself. After cautioning him that the proceedings could be complicated and that he might get bad advice from a nonlawyer, it responded that he had the right to represent himself.

         ¶ 4 J.V.D. proceeded to debate his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial with the juvenile court, and it advised him repeatedly that he was "getting bad advice." The court offered to appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL), and J.V.D. declined. As the court attempted to conclude the proceedings, J.V.D. asked whether the case was a civil or criminal action. The court briefly explained that a juvenile delinquency case was neither civil nor criminal but was analogous to a criminal case, and it repeated its caution against getting legal advice from nonlawyers.

         ¶ 5 A week later, the prosecution filed a delinquency petition charging first degree criminal trespass, a class 5 felony, not the second degree trespass about which J.V.D. had been advised. A copy of the petition was mailed to J.V.D.'s mother, but the envelope was returned unclaimed.

         ¶ 6 At the plea hearing, J.V.D. stated that he did not wish to enter a plea until some of his questions were answered. He asked for information on the nature and cause of the action, whether the action was civil or criminal, and "for the rule-book - the regulations, the rules, the codes, the statutes - in order for me to intelligently defend myself."

         ¶ 7 The juvenile court suggested that perhaps he should have an attorney, but J.V.D. said that he was not looking for legal advice. The prosecutor asked for a GAL to be appointed. J.V.D. objected, and his mother agreed that a GAL was not necessary. The court did not appoint a GAL.

         ¶ 8 J.V.D. pressed the court regarding his questions. The court told him that he had been informed of the nature of the proceeding, directed him to go to the library to find the relevant information, deemed his actions to be a denial of the petition, and set the matter for trial.[1] J.V.D. repeatedly objected to the involuntary entry of a plea. The matter was set for trial six weeks later.

         ¶ 9 At the outset of trial, J.V.D. "totally object[ed] to the proceeding" because he did not "know the full nature and cause," and he had been unprepared to enter a plea. The juvenile court took a few moments to explain jurisdiction and then proceeded with the trial.

         ¶ 10 J.V.D. acted pro se at trial, though he was also represented by his mother.[2] He was not invited to give an opening statement, and he did not testify or call any witnesses, though he claimed that he had an alibi. His mother made some objections, asked some questions on cross-examination, and made closing arguments. Both J.V.D. and his mother made clear that they had not accessed any of the exhibits or the police report before trial.[3]

         ¶ 11 The juvenile court adjudicated J.V.D. delinquent. Due in part to two prior adjudications for possession/consumption of marijuana and misdemeanor criminal mischief - each of which had resulted in a plea agreement - the court sentenced him to one to two years in the custody of the Department of Youth Corrections.

         ¶ 12 J.V.D. is represented by counsel on appeal. He contends that he did not effectively waive his right ...

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