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04/30/90 MATTER W.A.F.

April 30, 1990


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Ronald P. Wertheim, Trial Judge

Before Rogers, Chief Judge, Ferren and Farrell, Associate Judges.

Opinion for the court by Chief Judge Rogers.

IN Agreement opinion by Associate Judge Farrell.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers

ROGERS, Chief Judge : Appellant, W.A.F., a mildly retarded youth, appeals from an adjudication of delinquency on the ground that his due process rights were violated when the trial Judge refused to apply the adult standard for determining his competency to stand trial, as set forth in Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 4 L. Ed. 2d 824, 80 S. Ct. 788 (1960). Appellant further contends that, because he is not competent to stand trial under this standard and not subject to alternative civil commitment proceedings, he must be released under Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 738, 32 L. Ed. 2d 435, 92 S. Ct. 1845 (1972). See Thomas v. United States, 418 A.2d 122 (D.C. 1980). We agree that the trial Judge erred in failing to apply the Dusky standard and accordingly reverse the judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.


Appellant was arrested three times in short succession and charged as a juvenile delinquent with distribution and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance (phencyclidine on marijuana and cocaine). *fn1 D.C. Code § 33-541 (a) (1987 Supp.). His counsel filed a motion seeking a determination of appellant's incompetency under Dusky, supra, and his release under Jackson v. Indiana, supra, 406 U.S. at 738. Following an evidentiary hearing, *fn2 the trial Judge found that appellant was competent to stand trial because he was not incompetent within the meaning of D.C. Code § 16-2315 (c) (1) (1989), and the juvenile statutory scheme did not contemplate any other competency exception to delinquency proceedings. Based on stipulated facts, the Judge found that appellant was a delinquent and committed him to the care and supervision of the District of Columbia Department of Human Services, with placement in a group home and continued attendance at a private special education school in Virginia.


Under Dusky, the accused must have ". . . sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding [and have] a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him." 362 U.S. at 402. *fn3 The trial Judge rejected appellant's claim that this standard applied in juvenile delinquency proceedings, ruling instead that D.C. Code § 16-2315 (c) (1) *fn4 defined the standard for incompetency in delinquency proceedings. Thus, under § 16-2315 (c) (1), in the trial Judge's view, juvenile delinquency proceedings may be suspended due to incompetency only if the respondent is incapable of participating in his defense "by reason of mental illness or at least moderate mental retardation." The Judge's conception of § 16-2315 (c) (1)'s role in the juvenile delinquency statutory scheme was based on his view that the standard for juvenile incompetency was intended to be identical to the standard for commitment of mentally retarded juveniles. D.C. Code §§ 21-1114 and 6-1926 (1989 Repl.). This symmetry was attractive to the Judge because a juvenile offender would receive treatment either as a result of a juvenile delinquency Disposition or through a facility for the mentally retarded, *fn5 and, thus there would be no possibility of a child being found incompetent to stand trial, but not subject to civil commitment and therefore released. The trial Judge, citing In re C.W.M., 407 A.2d 617, 621 (D.C. 1979), viewed this interpretation to be most consistent with the principles underlying the juvenile court system which, unlike the focus in adult criminal proceedings on the imposition of punishment, are designed to provide treatment and rehabilitation for juvenile offenders.

Notwithstanding the laudable efforts of the trial Judge to assure that appellant would not fall through the cracks of the statutory scheme, we conclude that the denial of appellant's motion for a Dusky incompetency determination founders on the failure to appreciate the constitutional limits of the statutory scheme.

In Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 15 L. Ed. 2d 815, 86 S. Ct. 836 (1966), the Supreme Court held that the failure to observe procedures adequate to protect a defendant's right not to be tried or convicted while incompetent to stand trial is a deprivation of due process. See also Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 43 L. Ed. 2d 103, 95 S. Ct. 896 (1975). This court acknowledged in In re C.W.M., supra, that, as a matter of course, a person subject to a juvenile delinquency proceeding has the constitutional right to due process, which includes numerous procedural safeguards accorded adult offenders. *fn6 Noting, however, that the Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to hold that a juvenile delinquency proceeding must conform to all the requirements of an adult criminal trial, the court recognized that the question remains whether "fundamental fairness" requires that certain requirements of adult criminal proceedings apply to juvenile delinquency proceedings. 407 A.2d at 621 (citing McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, supra note 6, 403 U.S. at 543). In C.W.M., the court concluded that the insanity defense, prohibited in juvenile delinquency proceedings under D.C. Code § 16-1325 (d), did not serve a function essential to fundamental fairness that could not otherwise be performed adequately in the juvenile system and, hence, proceedings pursuant to D.C. Code § 16-2315 (d) were fundamentally fair. Id. at 621-25. Since the right not to be tried while incompetent is a due process right, see Pate and Drope, supra, the Dusky type competency standard would be applicable to juvenile delinquency proceedings unless the juvenile system adequately protects that right. We conclude that the incompetency standard in section 16-2315 (c) (1), together with other procedures in the juvenile system, does not do so.

In an adult criminal prosecution, the purpose of an inquiry into an accused's competency is twofold: first, to assure that the accused understands the nature of the proceedings against him and is able to consult with his lawyer in order to prepare a defense, recognizing that a proper defense is essential to the accuracy of the guilt determination process, Drope v. Missouri, supra, 420 U.S. at 171-72; Evans v. United States, 83 A.2d 876, 879 (D.C. 1951), and, second, "to prevent the infliction of punishment upon a person so lacking in mental capacity as to be unable to understand the nature and purpose of the punishment," Neely v. United States, 80 U.S. App. D.C. 187, 189, 150 F.2d 977, 979, cert. denied, 326 U.S. 768, 90 L. Ed. 463, 66 S. Ct. 166 (1945). A finding of incompetency results in the commitment of a defendant for care and treatment, and for observation and examination, in order to evaluate the possibility of a defendant regaining his competency. D.C. Code § 24-301 (a), (supra) note 3. If the defendant regains competency, the prosecution can be resumed, id. § 24-301 (b), but if it appears that the accused will not become competent in the reasonably foreseeable future, the criminal proceedings must be dismissed and civil commitment proceedings may be commenced pursuant to D.C. Code § 21-541 (1989). Id. § 24-301; Thomas, (supra) , 418 A.2d at 125-26. Since the standard of incompetency to stand trial does not mirror the standard for civil commitment, a criminal defendant could be found incompetent to stand trial and also not be subject to civil commitment, and, therefore, would be entitled to be released. Jackson v. Indiana, supra, 406 U.S. at 738; Thomas, supra, 418 A.2d at 125-26.

The first function served by the adult competency requirement and the Dusky standard is to assure that the person charged with violating the law is able to prepare a defense, in order to increase the accuracy of the factual and guilt determinations. *fn7 No less a need exists for a youth in juvenile delinquency proceedings. The condition precedent for the court's ordering of a rehabilitative Disposition in a juvenile delinquency proceeding is a factual determination that the juvenile has violated a provision of the . D.C. Code § 16-2305 (d) (1989 Repl.); In re W.B.W., 397 A.2d 143, 147 (D.C. 1979). Even if all parties to a juvenile delinquency proceeding share the goal of finding a Disposition in the child's best interests, and the proceedings may be less adversarial than adult prosecution, *fn8 such proceedings clearly present an opportunity for factual disputes. Differing views of what is in the child's best interests may arise from these disputes as to the underlying facts. In addition, a Disposition may well not be in the best interests of a child if it rests on an erroneous or unreliable factfinding determination. While counsel as well as a guardian ad litem are available to juvenile delinquents, D.C. Code § § 16-2304, 21-2033 (1989 Repl.), as they were to appellant, both are limited in their ability to prepare a defense by the juvenile's knowledge, understanding, and ability to reconstruct and communicate the facts. For this reason, the legislature has given the juvenile an unqualified right to be present at "a factfinding hearing" in delinquency proceedings. D.C. Code § 16-2316 (f) (1989 Repl.). Consequently, we find no inconsistency between the goals of the juvenile Justice system, as reflected in our statutory scheme, and the basic principle that the accuracy of the factfinding determination -- and the accused's own minimal contribution thereto -- is part of the fundamental fairness inherent in due process.

Accordingly, we hold that the determination of mental competency of a juvenile is one of those instance's where the procedure followed in adult criminal prosecutions must be applied to juvenile delinquency proceedings. The right not to be tried or convicted while incompetent is a fundamental right of a juvenile in juvenile delinquency proceedings, see, e.g., State ex rel. Dandoy v. Superior Court In and For Pima County, 127 Ariz. 184, 619 P.2d 12 (1980) (en banc); In re Welfare of S.W.T., 277 N.W.2d 507 (Minn. 1979); State in Interest of Causey, 363 So. 2d 472 ...

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