The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out the 9th Circuit Court decision ordering a new trial for Peter Quinn Elvik.
Elvik remains in the Nevada State Prison where he has been since he was convicted of murdering William Gibson, 63, at the Carson City gun range in 1995. He was 14 at the time of the shooting, which was the basis for the 9th Circuit’s decision ordering a new trial.
The panel ruled that the trial court failed to put on the record solid evidence that Elvik understood the nature of his crime. Children aged 8-14 are presumed not to know that their actions are wrong.
The ruling doesn’t reinstate the two life sentences Elvik was given. Instead, it sends the case back to a new hearing before the 9th Circuit Court with instructions to consider it in light of a new decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ruling in Davis v. Ayala was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court shortly after the 9th Circuit rejected a new hearing in Elvik’s case. Ayala, according to the Nevada petition to the high court, reinforces limits on the ability of federal courts to change state court criminal convictions.
“We continue to believe the 9th Circuit’s decision was improper and for the safety as well-being of our public citizens, my office will fight, in this and other similar cases, against the disruption and costs imposed on Nevada and our justice system,” said Attorney General Adam Laxalt.
Solicitor General Lawrence Van Dyke argued in his petition to the Supreme Court that federal courts can’t change a state court conviction “unless a habeas petitioner can establish that the state court made an error so obvious that the state court’s decision is contradicted by (the Supreme Court’s) clear, unequivocal holdings.”
Van Dyke argued there is no such error in this case because Elvik’s lawyers deliberately avoided presenting evidence on his state of mind. He said there was ample evidence the state could have presented to show that Elvik did understand what he did was wrong. He argued that the fact Elvik claimed to have acted in self defense because he feared Gibson was going to shoot him is a clear indication the teen was aware of right and wrong when he committed the murder.
He also pointed out that the fact one of the three judges voted to uphold Elvik’s conviction is in the state’s favor. Judge John Kronstadt weighed the evidence and concluded Elvik “had a level of sophistication and understanding that would cause any reasonable jury to conclude that, when he shot and killed the victim, Elvik knew the difference between right and wrong.”
Van Dyke said the 9th Circuit could still order a new trial but that the high court order improves the state’s case for upholding the original conviction.
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