The Office of the Attorney General said the case of the 17-year-old male accused of hitting and abandoning the victim in the fatal Marpi hit-and-run last month will stay in juvenile court for a number of reasons.
According to Chester Hinds, OAG criminal division acting chief prosecutor, the OAG has received numerous inquiries why the alleged driver that killed 20-year-old Sophia Demapan is being tried as a minor. The OAG explains that the case falls in the juvenile jurisdiction by law because of a number of factors involved in the case, chief of which is the fact that the individual allegedly involved in the case was below 18 at the time of the incident, therefore pursuant to CNMI law, the juvenile court takes jurisdiction over the case.
“In this case, juvenile jurisdiction is required by law. 6 CMC § 5121 states that ‘[t]he Superior Court shall have exclusive, original jurisdiction over any juvenile and over any adult who was a juvenile at the time of any act.’ Generally, a 17-year-old is considered to be juvenile, under the statute,” he said.
Another factor considered was that the crime was technically a traffic case. Despite being charged with homicide, the specific charge against the defendant was “homicide by vehicle,” which is considered a felony level traffic case.
“6 CMC § 5121(d) states that juvenile jurisdiction shall not apply to juvenile violators of non-felony-level traffic statutes. Basically, juvenile court has exclusive and original jurisdiction over all felony level traffic cases, such as homicide by vehicle, 9 CMC § 7110(a). 9 CMC § 7110(a), states that ‘[w]hoever shall unlawfully and unintentionally cause the death of another person while engaged in the violation of any law applying to the operation or use of a vehicle or to the regulation of traffic shall be guilty of homicide when the violation is the proximate cause of the death.’” Hinds said.
Lastly, although the law does allow for a minor to be charged as an adult when the crime involves the death of another individual, this can only be done if there is sufficient evidence to prove that the minor killed the individual intentionally.
“The law does provide that a juvenile could be charged as an adult under 6 CMC § 5131, which states that any juvenile, age 16 years or age 17 years, who is alleged to have committed murder shall be proceeded against as an adult. To charge a juvenile with murder, there would have to be evidence that the juvenile acted intentionally to cause the death of another,” he said.
Currently, details about the proceedings still cannot be shared as the case is in juvenile court and all proceedings are confidential and closed to the public.
However, the OAG is currently addressing the victim’s immediate family being able to be present at all scheduled hearings.
Meanwhile, regarding the autopsy, Hinds confirmed that Demapan suffered massive trauma as a result of the accident.
“The autopsy conducted by Dr. Phillip Dauterman was finalized on Aug. 18. Cause of death found was massive trauma. The manner of death was a motor vehicle accident. All injuries found were related to the cause and manner of death,” he said.