OPD wants juvenile court to handle minors’ traffic cases


The Office of the Public Defender believes traffic cases involving persons who commit traffic offenses while under 18 years old should be handled by the juvenile court.

Assistant public defender Heather M. Zona, who is representing two persons facing traffic charges, asked the Superior Court to have the cases transferred to juvenile court in accordance with the Commonwealth Juvenile Justice Act.

Zona said her 18-year-old client was charged on Jan. 30, 2017, for allegedly driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, among other things.

Under the Vehicle Code, a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.01 percent or more for a person under the age of 21 shall not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of any vehicle.

Zona said that, at the time of the alleged violation, as noted in the citation, her client was 17 years of age.

In the second case, Zona said, her 16-year-old client was charged on Oct. 14, 2017, with DUI, among other things.

At the time of alleged violation, and as noted on the citation, Zona’s client was 16 years old.

Zona pointed out that the Commonwealth Juvenile Justice Act provides that the Superior Court shall have exclusive, original jurisdiction over any juvenile and over any adult who was a juvenile at the time of an alleged offense.

The Act further provides that this chapter shall not apply to juvenile violators of non-felony-level traffic statutes, except a juvenile charged with DUI, Zona said.

She said the Commonwealth Code defines “juvenile” as “any person less than 18 years of age or who was less than 18 years of age at the time of any act, commission or status…”

Zona said that, at the time of the alleged offenses, her first client was 17 years old and other was 16 years old, and therefore juveniles.

She said the charges include DUI. As such, Zona said, the Juvenile Justice Act code gives exclusive jurisdiction to the juvenile court.

She said it is in the interest of judicial economy to have these two cases transferred to the juvenile court.

She asked that the bench trial set for Sept. 12, 2018, in the first case and Oct. 4, 2018, in the second case in traffic court be vacated.

Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho vacated yesterday the Sept. 13 bench trial in the first case and Oct. 4 bench trial in the second case, and set the hearing on the motion to transfer on Dec. 5, 2018.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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