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Clay v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court of State ex rel. County of Clark

Supreme Court of Nevada

November 27, 2013

Bryan CLAY, Petitioner,
v.
The EIGHTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT OF the STATE of Nevada, In and for the COUNTY OF CLARK; and the Honorable William O. Voy, District Judge, Respondents, and The State of Nevada, Real Party in Interest.

Page 233

Patti, Sgro & Lewis and Anthony P. Sgro, Las Vegas; Christopher R. Oram, Las Vegas, for Petitioner.

Catherine Cortez Masto, Attorney General, Carson City; Steven B. Wolfson, District Attorney, and Jonathan E. VanBoskerck, Chief Deputy District Attorney, Clark County, for Real Party in Interest.

BEFORE GIBBONS, DOUGLAS and SAITTA, JJ.

OPINION

SAITTA, J.:

Petitioner Brian Clay stands charged with two counts of first-degree murder and associated

Page 234

offenses for which he faces the death penalty. He challenges a juvenile court order granting the State's motion to unseal and release his juvenile delinquency records to assist in the prosecution. We conclude that Nevada law does not allow the State to inspect a person's sealed juvenile records for use against the person in subsequent criminal proceedings. Accordingly, we conclude that the juvenile court manifestly abused its discretion by unsealing and releasing Clay's records.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The State accuses Clay of two brutal murders and related offenses. Relying upon NRS 62H.030 and NRS 62H.170(2)(c), the State filed a broad motion in the juvenile court seeking to unseal and release Clay's juvenile records to facilitate his prosecution.[1] The State asserted it would use the information gathered to issue subpoenas to persons who had relevant testimony. Clay opposed the motion, arguing that the State could not inspect his juvenile records in order to use them against him in a subsequent criminal prosecution. At a hearing on the motion, however, both parties retreated from the arguments made in the pleadings. The State agreed that the records would not be used in the guilt phase of the prosecution and Clay conceded that the records could be used in the penalty phase.[2] In support of Clay's concession, he and the juvenile court referred to an unspecified statute allowing the use of sealed juvenile records for sentencing purposes for persons up to age 25. Likely because the parties agreed with respect to the allowable uses of Clay's sealed records, argument at the hearing focused on when the records could be released— prior to the guilt phase or only after conviction.

The juvenile court made an oral ruling apparently resolving only the parties' timing arguments but then entered a written order broadly unsealing and releasing the records " for use in the prosecution" without mention of the timing argument or the parties' concessions. Despite this broad language, in light of the concessions made during the hearing, it appears the juvenile court's written order authorizes the unsealing and release of the records solely for use at the penalty phase of the prosecution. This petition for extraordinary relief followed.

DISCUSSION

Clay seeks a writ of mandamus or prohibition on the ground that the juvenile court erred by allowing the State to inspect his sealed juvenile records because NRS 62H.170(2)(c) does not allow the State to inspect sealed juvenile records for use against him in a subsequent criminal proceeding. " We have original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus and prohibition." Gonzalez v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 129 Nev. ----, ----, 298 P.3d 448, 449 (2013); Nev. Const. art. 6, ยง 4. A writ of prohibition is available to halt proceedings occurring in excess of a court's jurisdiction. NRS 34.320. Because the juvenile court had jurisdiction to consider the State's motion to unseal and release Clay's juvenile delinquency records and Clay did not challenge the juvenile court's jurisdiction to proceed, prohibition is not an appropriate avenue for relief.

Clay's original petition is more appropriately addressed as seeking a writ of mandamus. A writ of mandamus may issue to compel the performance of an act that the law requires " as a duty resulting from an office, trust or station," NRS 34.160, or to control an arbitrary or capricious exercise of discretion, Round Hill Gen. Improvement Dist. v. Newman, 97 Nev. 601, 603-04, 637 P.2d 534, 536 (1981). The ultimate decision whether to consider a petition for an extraordinary writ lies within this court's discretion. We will exercise this discretion " ...


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