The 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco has upheld the district court order granting a new trial in a 20-year-old Carson City murder case.
Peter Quinn Elvik was just 14 when he shot and killed William Gibson, 63, at the Carson City Gun Range in August 1995. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The Nevada Supreme Court upheld the conviction but U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro ruled the trial court erred by refusing to instruct jurors that defendants who are 14 or younger are presumed not to understand their actions are wrong. She wrote that, “a verdict of guilty of murder would actually be far easier to reach,” without that instruction.
The 9th Circuit panel, agreed, ruling that jurors should have been given the instruction requiring them to find “by clear proof that Elvik knew that what he was doing was wrong when he committed the crime.”
“Instead, because the jury wasn’t told, the jury was never even aware that acquittal under Nevada law was an option,” according to the opinion by Judges Mary Schroeder and N.R. Smith. “The jury was deprived of the opportunity to follow the judge’s instruction outlining the presumption that Elvik did not understand right from wrong.
“We cannot suggest that the effort was not substantial and injurious.”
But District Judge John Kronstadt, who was named to the three-judge panel, disagreed with that conclusion saying the trial record “contains strong evidence indicating that Elvik understood the wrongfulness of his actions.”
“Consideration of the record evidence as a whole supports the conclusion that the error did not have a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the verdict,” he wrote.
Among other things, Kronstadt pointed out that Elvik initially denied any recollection of the murder, then said his memory was clouded by LSD at the time. He also noted that Elvik was just one month shy of age 15 when he would have no longer qualified for that jury instruction.
Adults are presumed to understand when they do something wrong but the 5th and 14th amendments put the burden of proving that someone 14 or younger understands their actions are wrong on the prosecution, not the defense.
Elvik was captured in Costa Mesa, Calif., in possession of Gibson’s car and his pistol.
After his conviction, he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison with possible parole.
It will be up to Carson City District Attorney Jason Woodbury to decide whether to retry the case.
Elvik, 34, is being held at Lovelock Correctional Center. The teenager was living with his adopted grandfather in Jacks Valley when he ran away on Aug. 31, 1995, the day of the shooting.