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State v. Cota-Medina

Supreme Court of Idaho

April 26, 2018

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MANUEL JESUS COTA-MEDINA, Defendant-Respondent.

         2018 Opinion No. 43

          Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. D. Duff McKee, District Judge.

         The district court's order is reversed.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for appellant. Kenneth K. Jorgensen argued.

          Canyon County Public Defender's Office, Caldwell, for respondent. Randy W. Smith and Mikel J. Hautzinger argued.

          BURDICK, Chief Justice.

         The State of Idaho appeals from the Canyon County district court's decision reversing the magistrate court's order waiving juvenile jurisdiction of Manuel Jesus Cota-Medina (Cota-Medina). Cota-Medina was charged with trafficking heroin as a result of an undercover police operation. Cota-Medina was seventeen years old when he allegedly committed the trafficking offense. The State moved to waive juvenile jurisdiction and proceed on the trafficking charge in adult criminal court. The magistrate court, applying the relevant statute, determined juvenile jurisdiction should be waived and Cota-Medina should be tried in adult court. Cota-Medina appealed and the district court, acting in an intermediate appellate capacity, reversed the magistrate court's order, thus concluding juvenile jurisdiction should not have been waived. The State timely appealed the district court's decision. We reverse the district court's order and affirm the magistrate court's order waiving juvenile jurisdiction.

          I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In June 2016, investigator Joel Garcia (Garcia) of the Nampa Police Department began working in an undercover capacity with a confidential informant (informant) to set up the delivery and purchase of heroin. The informant introduced Garcia to a supplier of heroin based out of Phoenix, Arizona. Posing as a drug buyer, Garcia set up a deal with the Phoenix supplier to purchase twenty-five "pieces" of heroin, with one piece being about twenty-five grams. The Phoenix contact told the informant and Garcia that they would need to pick up a man named Rodrigo Ramirez (Ramirez) from the Boise Airport. Garcia and the informant picked up Ramirez on June 16, 2016, and drove to the Holiday Inn Express hotel in Nampa, Idaho. Ramirez told Garcia and the informant that he would call them when the car loaded with the heroin arrived.

         Ramirez called two hours later stating the car had arrived, after which Garcia drove to the hotel and got into the loaded car with Ramirez. Cota-Medina was sitting in the driver's seat of the car, and his cousin, nineteen-year-old Irwin Camacho (Camacho) was in the passenger seat. Both Cota-Medina and Camacho indicated there were drugs in the back of the car, and that they needed to use a tool that would open and remove the drugs in about five minutes. Cota-Medina indicated they needed to drive somewhere safer, like a house with a garage, to unload the drugs. Garcia then exited the vehicle, gave the arrest signal, and all three suspects were arrested and the vehicle searched.

         Although Garcia expected to purchase twenty-five pieces of heroin, the vehicle contained 2, 387.4 grams of heroin, which is over five pounds, and about ninety-five pieces. The street value of the heroin, depending on how it is sold, had a value between $350, 000 and $500, 000. The investigators learned that the additional quantities of heroin were intended for other unknown buyers, to which Cota-Medina and Camacho would deliver after delivering Garcia's drugs.

         The three suspects-Cota-Medina, Camacho, and Ramirez-were interviewed and provided statements. Cota-Medina stated that a few days before driving from Phoenix to Nampa he met a person named "Pariente" who asked Cota-Medina if he would drive a car up to Idaho to deliver some "little pieces." Cota-Medina stated he knew that meant drugs but he did not know how much was involved. Cota-Medina was to be paid $4, 000 and he arranged for Camacho to assist and split the money. Cota-Medina had been living with Camacho, his nineteen-year-old cousin, and Cota-Medina stated Camacho was the adult responsible for him. The car used to transport the heroin belonged to Camacho and the drugs had been concealed in the car prior to leaving Phoenix. Cota-Medina denied knowing there were drugs hidden in the car, but the magistrate court found Cota-Medina's "denial of knowledge of concealed drugs [was] not credible." The magistrate court found that Garcia's testimony and Cota-Medina wanting to move the car to a safer location to unload the drugs demonstrated Cota-Medina did have knowledge there were drugs in the car.

         As to Cota-Medina's parents, the magistrate court found Cota-Medina's father lives in Phoenix and is not involved in Cota-Medina's life. When Cota-Medina was arrested, police attempted to contact Cota-Medina's father; however, upon learning Cota-Medina was arrested, the father hung up the phone and subsequent calls were not answered. Cota-Medina's mother lives in Mexico, and is in contact with Cota-Medina only through Facebook messenger.

         Cota-Medina has no known criminal history. He last attended school in Phoenix, where he was dropped from school for poor attendance in March of 2016. The magistrate court found Cota-Medina's poor grades and failure to advance were a result of poor attendance rather than a learning disability. Cota-Medina turned eighteen on September 11, 2016. Cota-Medina has never held down a job. Cota-Medina did admit to drug use, and admitted to using cocaine to stay awake on the drive from Phoenix to Idaho.

         Cota-Medina was charged with trafficking heroin, and the prosecution filed a motion to waive juvenile court jurisdiction under Idaho Code section 20-508. The magistrate court ordered a juvenile probation report and an evidentiary hearing. The probation report recommended the juvenile court retain jurisdiction. Following the evidentiary hearing, the magistrate court weighed the factors under Idaho Code section 20-508 and determined juvenile jurisdiction should be waived and Cota-Medina should be tried in adult court. In so holding, the magistrate court noted that four factors weighed heavily in favor of waiving juvenile jurisdiction, one weighed against, and one was neutral.[1] Following the magistrate court's waiver of juvenile jurisdiction, Cota-Medina appealed, and the district court, acting in an intermediate appellate capacity, reversed the magistrate court's waiver of jurisdiction. The district court stated the magistrate court incorrectly applied the legal standards articulated in 20-508, and the legal standards are issues over which the district court exercised free review. The district court stated that four factors clearly weighed against waiver, and two were neutral.[2] Thus, the district court reversed the magistrate court's decision. The State timely appealed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A decision regarding whether or not to waive a juvenile into adult court is a matter that is within the sound discretion of the juvenile court. Accordingly, a waiver decision will be upheld on appeal so long as it was not an abuse of discretion. A waiver decision will not be regarded as an abuse of discretion when the court: (1) perceived the issue as one of discretion; (2) acted within the boundaries of its discretion and consistently with the legal standards applicable to the available choices; and (3) reached its decision through an exercise of reason. Additionally, the court's findings of fact must be supported by substantial and competent evidence.

In re Doe, 147 Idaho 243, 247-48, 207 P.3d 974, 978-79 (2009) (citations omitted).

         When this Court reviews the decision of a district court sitting in its capacity as an appellate court, the standard of review is as follows:

The Supreme Court reviews the trial court (magistrate) record to determine whether there is substantial and competent evidence to support the magistrate's findings of fact and whether the magistrate's conclusions of law follow from those findings. If those findings are so supported and the conclusions follow therefrom and if the district court affirmed the ...

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