LITTLE ROCK Andrew Golden, the younger of two boys who killed four students and a teacher at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro two years ago, should have been allowed to argue in his juvenile court proceeding that he was incompetent, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The 6-1 decision said he had a right under the "due process" provision of the constitution to make such an argument, and the court overturned a Craighead County juvenile court ruling that had denied him the right to argue incompetence.
But it was unclear what effect, if any, the ruling will have on Andrew's situation. He is at the Youth Services Center at Alexander after being found guilty in the juvenile court proceeding and is to be released when he turns 21.
His attorney, Val Price of Jonesboro, a public defender, described the Supreme Court ruling as having "mixed results."
"In essence this throws out his conviction at this point," Price said, adding that the case now goes back to the juvenile court for a competency hearing.
The high court affirmed the juvenile court judge's ruling on other aspects of the case, including his rulings that neither the due process right nor the right to equal protection of the laws afforded Andrew the right to an insanity defense.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that state law does not allow juvenile court defendants to use an insanity defense.
If Andrew is declared incompetent to defend himself in court, he would be sent to the State Hospital for rehabilitation, Price said. After 90 days of treatment, a second competency hearing would be held. If still deemed incompetent to stand trial, Andrew could be sent back to the State Hospital until he is competent.
The "big" question, Price said, is if Andrew is still deemed incompetent when he turns 21, would he stay in the hospital until he is competent or be released from state custody?
"That's never happened in Arkansas before," Price said.
"If my client is declared competent, then we're back to square one," Price said, and without the insanity defense he's not sure how he would defend his client a second time.
Price said he is considering appealing the state Supreme Court's insanity ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"There was a question in Arkansas law whether a juvenile could argue competency, and this has now been established," Price said. "Juveniles should have the same rights that have already been available to adults and that includes arguing insanity."
Craighead County prosecutor Brent Davis couldn't be reached for comment.
In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice W.H. "Dub" Arnold said: "While the Arkansas Juvenile Code seems to presume that a defendant being tried in juvenile court is incompetent to some degree, particularly under the age of 14, there was no statutory provision for juveniles at the time of [Andrew's] hearing affording juveniles the same fundamental liberty interests as adults where the issue of competency is concerned.
"We hold that a juvenile must be allowed to assert incompetency and have his competency determined prior to adjudication," Arnold wrote.
In 1998, Andrew, then 11, and Mitchell Johnson, then 13, were found to be delinquent in a juvenile court proceeding in the March 24, 1998, shooting deaths and the wounding of 10 other people at the school. Mitchell admitted to the killings.
Andrew's attorney didn't deny that his client participated in the shootings but tried unsuccessfully to argue that his client was incompetent and then that his client was insane.
A juvenile court judge rejected both arguments, saying that state law doesn't allow youthful offenders to use those defenses.
The judge ruled that because the juvenile code does not specifically mention incompetence or insanity, then they cannot be argued, Price said, adding that the juvenile code is based on the Arkansas Criminal Code, which does allow those defenses.
After being found delinquent in juvenile court, the boys were assigned to the Youth Services Center. State law at the time did not provide for youth offender incarceration past age 21, and the state had no place to hold youths after their 18th birthday.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Lavenski Smith said there are substantial distinctions between youthful-offender proceedings and adult proceedings. He said giving a youthful offender the right to a competency hearing appears equitable but he believes it is unwise.
"It reflects the continued erosion of all distinction between juvenile court and adult criminal courts," Smith wrote. "The erosion could ultimately lead to the irrelevance of juvenile court in general."
Justices Tom Glaze, Don Corbin, Robert Brown, Annabelle Clinton Imber and Ray Thornton joined Arnold in the majority opinion.
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