Ninth Circuit Finds Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act, Not Adult Act, Controls When Juvenile Committed to Determine Competency to Stand Trial

United States v. LKAV, Juvenile Male, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 6573 (9th Cir. April 2, 2013)

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a juvenile charged with murder under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act whose competency to stand trial is in doubt must be committed under the juvenile provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 5037(e) and not the provisions related generally to all commitments under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d).

Tribal authorities with the Tohono O’odham nation charged 17-year old LKAV with murder in May 2009. He was found incompetent and remained in tribal custody but without being sent to a treatment facility for restoration to competency. In November 2011, the United States filed its own charge against LKAV as an alleged juvenile delinquent under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act. The United States then obtained a writ of habeas corpus to remove him from tribal custody and moved to commit him for a psychiatric evaluation pursuant to the provision pertaining in general to all federal criminal cases under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d). The presiding magistrate judge granted LKAV’s request for a local evaluation in Phoenix, Arizona.

After an extensive evaluation, the examining psychologist determined LKAV was incompetent to stand trial. LKAV then moved to proceed with commitment under the juvenile act. The United States maintained that LKAV should be committed to an adult facility under § 4241(d). The magistrate judge granted the United States’ motion and committed LKAV to the custody of the Attorney General for hospitalization for a period not to exceed four months to determine whether he could be restored to competency. LKAC filed a timely appeal, but in the interim was transported to the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina. FMC-Butner completed its competency evaluation in January 2013 and advised the court that with an additional period of hospitalization and treatment, LKAV could be restored to competency. It requested an additional 120-day extension of the commitment order, which the district court granted. LKAV appealed.

The Ninth Circuit heard LKAV’s appeal under the collateral order doctrine finding that the commitment order conclusively determines LKAV’s rights as to his pre-adjudication commitment; his commitment is a completely separate issue from the ultimate issue of his delinquency; and delay until a final decision of his delinquency on the merits would render the commitment order effectively unreviewable.

The Ninth Circuit then reviewed the language of the respective statutes and determined that the plain language of § 5037(e) is clear that it applies to the commitment and evaluation of alleged juvenile delinquents:

If the court desires more detailed information concerning an alleged or adjudicated delinquent, it may commit him…to the custody of the Attorney General for observation and study by an appropriate agency. Such observation and study shall be conducted on an outpatient basis, unless the court determines that inpatient observation and study are necessary to obtain the desired information. In the case of an alleged juvenile delinquent, inpatient study may be ordered only with the consent of the juvenile and his attorney. The agency shall make a complete study of the alleged or adjudicated delinquent to ascertain his personal traits, his capabilities, his background, any previous delinquency or criminal experience, any mental or physical defect, and any other relevant factors. The Attorney General shall submit to the court and the attorneys for the juvenile and the Government the results of the study within thirty days after the commitment of the juvenile, unless the court grants additional time. (Emphasis added.)

By contrast, the commitment scheme generally applicable to all defendants contained in § 4241(d) requires mandatory commitment for determination of the defendant’s potential for restoration to competency. The United States had argued that § 5037(e) does not mention competency and therefore the mandatory competency evaluation and commitment procedures in § 4241(d), which are more explicit and comprehensive and apply to all federal criminal proceedings applies.

The Court found that because § 5037(e) expressly provides for commitment, study, and observation of alleged juvenile delinquents, and specifically references a study of any mental or physical defect, it controls over conflicting provisions in § 4241(d) that apply to federal criminal defendants generally. The Court pointed out, however, that the United States could have sought to have LKAV transferred for trial as an adult and therefore all of the provisions in § 4241(d) would have applied, but for some reason chose not to do so. The Court recognized that because LKAV has now turned 21 and is no longer a juvenile, his further treatment and custody may cause the United States some incidental inconvenience because he cannot be housed with other juveniles or adults. Nonetheless the Court held that the purpose of Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act is to provide for the preferential and protective care and treatment of juvenile delinquents who are significantly different from adult offenders, and its provisions must therefore control.

Found in DMHL Volume 32 Issue 2