Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile and Criminal Justice

People of Colorado v. Ybanez

When he was sixteen years old, Nathan Ybanez was charged as an adult with the first-degree murder of his mother. Nathan’s father retained and paid for his son’s defense counsel. Later, Nathan’s father served as a key prosecution witness against his son, testifying that Nathan had become a “bad kid” during his adolescence. Despite potential conflicts of interest presented by Nathan’s father paying for Nathan’s attorney and continuing to be involved in Nathan’s representation when he was a victim of Nathan’s crime, a witness for the prosecution, and after allegations of his abuse of Nathan arose, Nathan was deemed to have validly waived his right to conflict free counsel.

Nathan was convicted of his mother’s murder and initially received a mandatory life without parole sentence. On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned his sentence and ordered him re-sentenced pursuant to the United States Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama. He subsequently received a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after forty years.

Juvenile Law center filed an amicus brief arguing that Nathan had a constitutionally protected right to conflict-free counsel that was violated when the representation was allowed to proceed. Our brief argued that special scrutiny is required when a child’s liberty interest is at stake and the parent and child’s interest diverge so that the parent cannot play the traditionally protective parental role. Under these particularly egregious circumstances, Nathan’s father’s roles as victim, prosecution witness, and potentially coercive parent created an unwaivable conflict of interest that Nathan should not have been permitted to waive. Thus, we argued that the Colorado Supreme Court should overturn the decision of the appellate court and find that Nathan was deprived of his right to the effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

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