PANAMENO v. COMMONWEALTH
April 17, 1998
Record No. 971361
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
OPINION BY JUSTICE ELIZABETH B. LACY
FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA
Present: All the Justices
Santos Panameno seeks reversal of his convictions for rape and
extortion because the order entered by the juvenile court
transferring him to the circuit court for adjudication did not
contain a finding that Panameno was competent and, therefore,
Panameno contends that the circuit court did not acquire
jurisdiction to try him as an adult. We conclude that, when a
defendant does not contest his competency to stand trial, Code
? 16.1-269.1 does not require an explicit finding of
competence by the transferring court and, therefore, we will
affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
In May 1995, petitions charging 17-year-old Panameno with two
counts of rape and three counts of extortion were filed in the
Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
Following a hearing, that court entered an order transferring
Panameno to the Circuit Court of Arlington County for trial as an
adult. The order did not contain an explicit finding that
Panameno was competent. Panameno appealed the certification
order. Following a hearing, the circuit court concluded that the
transfer order substantially complied with ? 16.1-269.1,
and that it had jurisdiction over the matter.
The Commonwealth obtained indictments against Panameno. He
entered a conditional plea of guilty on two counts of rape and
one count of extortion but reserved the right to challenge on
appeal his certification as an adult and the transfer of the case
to the circuit court. The circuit court accepted Panameno’s
conditional plea and sentenced him to a four year indeterminate
term. The Court of Appeals denied Panameno’s petition for appeal.
We awarded an appeal on a single issue: whether
? 16.1-269.1 requires the juvenile and domestic relations
court to make an explicit finding that the juvenile is competent
before entering an order of transfer to the circuit court.
Prior to 1994, ? 16.1-269 required that, in order to
transfer a juvenile defendant to circuit court for trial as an
adult, the juvenile and domestic relations court had to make a
number of specific findings, including a finding that the
juvenile was "competent to stand trial." If the
juvenile and domestic relations court did not make this finding,
the circuit court could not acquire jurisdiction over the
juvenile. See, e.g., Matthews v. Commonwealth,
216 Va. 358, 361, 218 S.E.2d 538, 541 (1975)(interpreting former
? 16.1-176 (repealed 1977), the predecessor of
Section 16.1-269 was repealed in 1994 and replaced with
? 16.1-269.1, the statute applicable in this case. The
current statute makes transfer of a juvenile to the circuit court
"subject to the following conditions." As relevant
here, one condition for transfer is that:
3. The juvenile is competent to stand trial. The juvenile is
presumed to be competent and the burden is on the party alleging
the juvenile is not competent to rebut the presumption by a
preponderance of the evidence . . . .
Panameno argues that pursuant to this section, a finding of
competence must be made by the transferring court. However, the
language in former ? 16.1-269 directing the trial court to
make specific findings before transferring a juvenile is not
contained in the current section. By this deletion, the General
Assembly has determined that, unless the competency of a juvenile
is challenged, an explicit finding by the juvenile and domestic
relations court that the juvenile is competent is not required.
In this case, Panameno neither alleged that he was incompetent to
stand trial nor did he present any evidence to that effect.
Therefore, an explicit finding that Panameno was competent to
stand trial was not required.
Accordingly, we will affirm the judgment of the Court of