The CNMI Supreme Court turned down yesterday the CNMI government’s petition to order the Superior Court to reinstate the charge of sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree against former Department of Public Safety commissioner James C. Deleon Guerrero and former police officer Jesse Salas Concepcion.
In the same decision, the CNMI high court also denied the government’s request for the justices to order Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja to recuse Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho from the case.
Justice pro tem F. Philip Carbullido issued the opinion. Associate Justice John A. Manglona and Justice pro tem Timothy H. Bellas concurred.
The justices said they find Camacho’s determination logical.
In 2016, Camacho issued separate orders that dismissed without prejudice the charges against Deleon Guerrero and Concepcion.
Dismissal without prejudice means the Office of the Attorney General may re-file the charges.
Camacho found no probable cause as to the charge of conspiracy to commit sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree as the government has produced no evidence that Deleon Guerrero and Concepcion conspired to specifically have sex with a minor.
Camacho also found no probable cause for the two counts of misconduct in public office as the government has presented no evidence that the alleged offense occurred.
Camacho earlier also dismissed without prejudice the charge of sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree filed each against Deleon Guerrero and Concepcion. The judge said the government failed to prove essential element of the offense.
The government then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus before the high court.
The OAG alleges that Camacho incorrectly performed his role in a probable cause hearing and determined the defendants’ position was outside the scope of a statute as a matter of law.
In denying the government’s petition, the justices said in order to determine whether a customer of a prostitute is substantially similar to a babysitter, Camacho listed typical attributes of a babysitter.
The justices said after comparison of Deleon Guerrero’s and Concepcion’ position to that of a babysitter, Camacho concluded their position was simply too general to assert any opinion of authority, as such a comparison would allow “any adult to occupy a position of authority…”
Additionally, the justices said, Camacho based his analysis on a reasonable interpretation of the Legislature’s intent: addressing “adults using their positions of authority to coerce minor victims into having sex.”
The justices said although Camacho’s order admittedly does not embody a pinnacle of clarity, it purported to analyze the Commonwealth’s unique argument under their limited guidance as to the statutes.
“It keenly hinted at the instruction we now provide: that an authoritative role is a requirement separate from the requirement of undue influence or coercion within the incident’s factual circumstances,” the justices said.
In this case, the justices pointed out, regardless of how much coercion, intimidation, or force was present, there was no role or position abused by Deleon Guerrero and Concepcion.
Rather, the justices said, Deleon Guerrero and Concepcion encountered the victim solely for the purpose of receiving sex services, with no other pretext to their relationship.
The justices said Camacho’s interpretation effectuated all parts of the statute and instilled meaning into the substantial similarity requirement, two aspects in which the government’s interpretation was lacking.
As such, the justices said, Camacho’s reasoning was reasonable, and not erroneous.
Manglona further wrote as to the element of position of authority as it relates to Deleon Guerrero’s and Concepcion’s position as police officers.
Manglona highlighted defendants’ role in law enforcement as the case involves serious allegations in which none other than the DPS commissioner and a DPS officer engaged in sexual acts with a minor.
Manglona said such an incident did not just occur once—Guerrero was alleged to have had sex with the minor on two occasions, while Concepcion had sex with the minor victim on “at least four occasions.”
Manglona said due to the statute’s construction and heightened standards police officers are charged with upholding, he could construe the statute as according law enforcement officers a per se position of authority.
“In other words, I find Sections 1317(5) and 1306 prohibit police officers’ sexual involvement with minors as a matter of law—regardless of whether the minor is aware of the officer’s occupation,” Manglona said.