A federal judge has ordered a new trial in an 18-year-old Carson City murder case.
Peter Quinn Elvik was convicted in the August 1995 murder of William Gibson at the Carson City Gun Range. Elvik, who was 14 at the time, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, plus the same sentence for use of a deadly weapon along with lesser sentences for robbery and the use of a weapon.
The Attorney General’s Office is appealing to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the conviction, Carson City Assistant District Attorney Mark Krueger said. What the DA’s office does depends on what happens with that process, he said.
The Nevada Supreme Court rejected Elvik’s appeals in 2002, closing the case. He took the issue to federal court, where he was again denied.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit Court remanded the case to federal district court for a variety of errors, including that his trial lawyer repeatedly misinformed him about the appellate status of his case and was unavailable to help with the appellate process.
In an order issued Dec. 4, U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro rejected most of Elvik’s claims. But she ruled that the trial court wrongfully refused to instruct jurors that children 14 and younger are presumed not to understand the wrongfulness of their actions.
Adults are presumed to understand when they do wrong. Protections under the 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution put the burden of proving a person between 8 and 14 understood his actions were wrong on the prosecution, not the defense.
Navarro’s order states that, therefore, Elvik’s conviction and sentence are invalid and must be vacated.
She ruled that the Nevada Supreme Court was wrong in putting an impermissible burden on the defense “because it is the prosecutor who must prove that the eight-to-14-year-old child understood the wrongfulness.”
She ruled that the trial court should have presented jurors with that instruction so they could decide whether Elvik had the capacity to understand what he had done.
“At the time the murder was committed, Elvik was 14 years old,” she wrote. “His age alone is sufficient evidence to require the instruction be given.”
Without that instruction, she wrote, “a verdict of guilty of murder would actually be far easier to reach.”