State v. J. C. N.-V. (In re J. C. N.-V.)

Citation359 Or. 559,380 P.3d 248
Decision Date26 May 2016
Docket NumberSC S063111,CC J090600,CA A147958
Parties In the Matter of J. C. N.–V., a Youth. State of Oregon, Respondent on Review, v. J. C. N.–V., Petitioner on Review.
CourtSupreme Court of Oregon

Angela Sherbo, Youth, Rights and Justice, Portland, argued the cause and filed the briefs for petitioner on review.

Erin K. Galli, Assistant Attorney General, Salem, argued the cause and filed the brief for respondent on review. With her on the brief were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Paul L. Smith, Deputy Solicitor General.

Jordan R. Silk, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, P.C., Portland, filed the brief for amici curiae Megan E. Annito, Neelum Arya, Tamar R. Birckhead, Caroline Davidson, Barry C. Feld, Erik J. Girvan, Martin Guggenheim, Leslie Harris, Carrie S. Leonetti, Susan F. Mandiberg, Margie L. Paris, and Barbara Bennett Woodhouse.

Marsha Levick, Juvenile Law Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, argued the cause and filed the brief for amici curiae Juvenile Law Center, American Probation and Parole Association, The Barton Child Law and Policy Center, The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Campaign for Youth Justice, Center on Children and Families, Michele Deitch, Fight for Lifers West, Inc., Kristin Henning, Justice Policy Institute, Louisiana Center for Children's Rights, Mental Health America of Oregon, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Center for Youth Law, National Juvenile Defender Center, National Juvenile Justice Network, Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, Rutgers–Camden School of Law Children's Justice Clinic, Sothern Poverty Law Center, Youth Law Center, Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon. With her on the brief was Roy Pulvers, Holland & Knight LLP, Portland.

Sara F. Werboff, Portland, filed the brief for amicus curiae Oregon Justice Resource Center. With her on the brief were Lindsay Burrows and Elizabeth G. Daily.

Bronson D. James, Portland, filed the brief for amici curiae American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and individual academics.

Before Balmer, Chief Justice, Kistler, Walters, Landau, Baldwin, and Brewer, Justices.**


, J.

This case involves a challenge to a juvenile court's decision to waive its jurisdiction over a 13–year–old boy who was alleged to have committed aggravated murder. Under the relevant statutes, ORS 419C.352

and ORS 419C.349, a youth under the age of 15 who is alleged to have committed murder may be waived into adult court only if, at the time of the conduct, he or she “was of sufficient sophistication and maturity to appreciate the nature and quality of the conduct involved.” In this case, based on evidence suggesting that youth was of “average” sophistication and maturity for his age and was “just as effective” as peers of his age in understanding that his conduct was wrong, the juvenile court found that the statutory “sophistication and maturity” requirement had been satisfied The Court of Appeals affirmed in an en banc decision, holding that the “sophistication and maturity” provision requires only an awareness of the physical nature and criminality of the conduct at issue—a test that generally has been considered sufficient to establish criminal capacity. State v. J.C.N.-V. , 268 Or.App. 505, 539, 342 P.3d 1046 (2015). As discussed below, we agree with youth that the “sophistication and maturity” requirement is more demanding. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and the decision of the juvenile court, and remand the case to the juvenile court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.


Youth was 13 years and eight months old when he allegedly participated in a violent murder and robbery. When he was taken into custody, youth was deemed to be within the exclusive jurisdiction of the juvenile court. ORS 419C.005(1)

; ORS 419C.094. The state, however, petitioned the juvenile court to waive youth into Washington County Circuit Court so that he could be tried as an adult for, among things, aggravated murder, ORS 163.095.

At a hearing on the state's petition, the parties presented evidence addressing the requirements for waiver. To show that youth possessed “sufficient sophistication and maturity to appreciate the nature and quality of the conduct involved,” ORS 419C.349(3)

, the state relied in large part on facts about youth's alleged participation in the murder. It presented evidence that Aguilar–Mandujano, the 20–year–old brother of youth's girlfriend, had solicited youth's assistance in a plan to rob and murder an adult acquaintance; that youth had agreed to participate; that youth had initiated the attack on the victim by striking him with a tire iron that Aguilar–Mandujano had provided; that youth had repeatedly hit the victim with the tire iron while Aguilar–Mandujano stabbed him with a knife; that Aguilar–Mandujano had given the knife to youth, who also had stabbed the victim in the chest and neck; that youth had assisted Aguilar–Mandujano in disposing of the murder weapons and in pushing the victim's body down to the river that ran next to the park where the murder occurred; and that youth had later returned to the river with another associate and, finding the victim's body still visible, had kicked the body completely into the river. The state suggested that the requisite “sophistication and maturity to appreciate the nature and quality of the conduct” was evident from youth's own admission that he had understood Aguilar–Mandujano's plan and what he was being asked to do, from his “high degree of participation” in the actual killing, from his efforts to conceal evidence of the murder, and from his own acknowledged apprehensions about being caught and going to jail for his participation in the murder.

The state also relied on an evaluation of youth submitted by a psychologist, Dr. Sebastian. Dr. Sebastian's report acknowledged youth's immaturity. She reported that, on a well-accepted “Sophistication–Maturity Scale” designed for use by courts in making waiver decisions, youth was immature in many ways: he “ha[d] not developed an internal locus of control,” he was “influenced and led by older youth,” and his “self-concept [was] not yet solidly developed.” His “moral development [was] still immature in that he c [ould] identify the impacts of his behavior on his immediate family * * * but he was unable to appreciate the impact of his behavior on his victims.” Dr. Sebastian's conclusion, however, was that youth exhibited average sophistication and maturity for his age and that he understood that his conduct was wrong:

“By structured interview, testing and collateral dat[a], it is this examiner's opinion that [youth] is as sophisticated and mature as one might expect of a thirteen/fourteen-year old. In other words, he is average in sophistication and maturity for his age. Using records, testing and interview it is clear this young man has the ability to: (1) think independently, (2) understand behavioral norms and expectations of adolescents in the larger picture, (3) weigh the risks and benefits of his action, (4) demonstrate age appropriate social skills, (5) anticipate the consequences of his actions, [and] (6) discern which of his behaviors are antisocial. When compared to his age mates, he is just as effective or more effective (because of his strong cognitive ability) in understanding that his crime was wrong and identifying alternatives to his actions. He is less able than his peers at understanding his emotions, resolving conflicts effectively and resisting the influence of other youth.”

To counter the state's contention that, at the time of the murder, youth had sufficient “sophistication and maturity to appreciate the nature and quality of [his] conduct,” youth presented neuro-scientific evidence about the limitations of adolescent brains in relation to those of adults. An expert, Dr. Nagel, testified about the undeveloped nature of the pre-frontal cortex in adolescents, and about how that neurological difference makes it harder for adolescents to access the brain's higher level, logical functions. Dr. Nagel also testified that not only do adolescents thus remain deficient in higher level thinking and decision-making, but the onset of puberty causes additional neurological “disequilibrium” by “turning up the volume” on the brain's emotional and reward centers. The result, Nagel testified, is that adolescents have significantly more trouble than both adults and younger children in making moral choices in emotionally-charged or social reward-based situations. Although adolescents may have the capacity to understand the act of killing someone in a cold situation, Nagel explained, that capacity is easily overridden in emotionally-laden situations.

Youth also presented the report of a psychologist, Dr. Bolstad, who had performed an intensive examination of youth and his history. Bolstad concluded that cognitively and in most other respects youth was “average” or “normal” for a 13–year–old. Bolstad noted, however, that young adolescents as a whole are considerably less capable of independent thinking than are adults; they are “vulnerable to turning their own decision making responsibilities over to their peers or leaders in their peer group.” Based on his review of youth's testing record, Bolstad opined that youth was even more strongly affected in that respect than most adolescents; he had “an immature orientation toward peer group associations, even in comparison with his own same-aged group.”

Bolstad also noted that, because of their immature brains, 13–year–olds generally lack sophistication in terms of understanding abstract principles and have difficulty in weighing alternatives and in anticipating the consequences of their actions and decisions. Bolstad added that, because empathy and remorse require abstract thinking, 13–year–olds generally have limitations in those areas as well. He opined that much of the deficits in...

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11 cases
  • Perez v. Cain
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oregon
    • October 1, 2020
    ...interpretation of ORS 419C.349 , a statute governing when a juvenile defendant can be waived into adult court, in State v. J. C. N.-V. , 359 Or. 559, 380 P.3d 248 (2016). The post-conviction court concluded that petitioner's claims were barred by the claim preclusion rule in ORS 138.550(3)......
  • State v. Link
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Oregon
    • April 17, 2019
    ...legislature in 1985 and remain the same criteria set forth in the current Oregon waiver statute, ORS 419C.349. See State v. J. C. N.-V ., 359 Or. 559, 574-76, 380 P.3d 248 (2016) (describing history of 1985 Oregon legislature). Oregon’s waiver statute includes a specific requirement that, b......
  • State v. Carey-Martin
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Oregon
    • September 6, 2018
    ...whether the juvenile court erred in waiving its jurisdiction over a 13-year old boy, the Supreme Court in State v. J. C. N.-V. , 359 Or. 559, 599, 380 P.3d 248 (2016), acknowledged research indicating that maturity in adolescents—even late adolescents such as defendant—manifests differently......
  • Jenkins v. Cain
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    • April 14, 2021
    ...that the offender must be " ‘emotionally as well as intellectually aware of the significance of his conduct.’ " State v. J. C. N.-V ., 359 Or. 559, 581, 380 P.3d 248 (2016) (quoting Commentary to Criminal Law Revision Commission Proposed Oregon Criminal Code, Final Draft and Report § 36, 34......
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