Only two states, New York and North Carolina, retain juvenile justice laws allowing sixteen and seventeen year olds to be tried as adults. As the debate over criminal responsibility and maturity continues, the trend is clearly moving toward an adult system that begins at age 18. What changes that would mean for our court system has yet to be determined, but it is clear that a vastly different courthouse landscape and allocation of resources will emerge from the inevitable transition.
The current state of juvenile law in North Carolina cannot be fully understood in summary form. However, as juvenile cases take more time, and public defenders and appointed counsel stretched thinner, it is vitally important that experienced attorneys defend juvenile cases, and both mentor and encourage the next generation of young lawyers to join the esteemed ranks of criminal juvenile defenders.
Special training is necessary, available and required for anyone who wishes to be appointed juvenile cases. The NC Office of Juvenile Defender website has a plethora of information and resources.
When representing a juvenile, an attorney must keep in mind the differences, both Constitutional and statutory, regarding a juvenile’s statements and admissions, determination of custody, and responsibility to inform them of their rights. Also be aware of ethical issues regarding parental influence and representation of your clients interests versus the parent’s concerns. The role of the juvenile defender is to advocate for the juvenile’s express interests, not the best interests.
To highlight the differences between adult court and juvenile court, a simple review of the language is appropriate (and may be of assistance for either defense or prosecutors when they find themselves there for the first time!).
Adult Court Terminology Juvenile Court Terminology
Defendant Juvenile or Respondent
Crime Delinquent Act
Arrest Take into Custody or Temporary
Order for Arrest Secure Custody Order
Warrant / Indictment Petition
Trial Adjudicatory Hearing
To Convict Adjudicate Delinquent
Guilty Plea Admission
Not Guilty Plea Denial
Plea Transcript Transcript of Admission
Prior Conviction Prior Adjudication
Prior Record Level Delinquency History Level
Sentencing Hearing Dispositional Hearing
Pre-Sentencing Hearing Predisposition Report
Sentencing Grid Dispositional Chart
Probation Officer Juvenile Court Counselor
Extradition Proceeding Under the Interstate
Compact on Juveniles
Motion for Appropriate Relief Motion for Review
Jail Detention Facility
Prison Youth Development Center
Sentencing is structured similarly to adult court, but with different punishments and levels that determine punishment ranges and options.
To determine the proper disposition of juvenile cases, counsel must first determine the offense class that is pending disposition. A-E felonies are classified as “violent,” F-I felonies and A1 misdemeanors are “serious,” and all other misdemeanors are classified as “minor.” Next, the prior delinquency history level is determined by adding points assigned to prior adjudications (A-E felonies are 4 points, F-I felonies and A1 misdemeanors are 2 points, and all other misdemeanors are worth 1 point) with points based on the juvenile’s probation status (2 points if on probation at the time of the offense). Similar to adult court, use the highest point level for the greater offense if the juvenile was adjudicated for more than one offense in a single court session. One point is “low,” 2-3 points is “medium,” and at least 4 points is a ‘high” delinquency history level.
After determining the offense class and delinquency level, apply them to the Delinquency Disposition Chart. Determine if any exceptions apply, and then the proper disposition options are identified.
Level One disposition is a “Community Disposition,” and includes sanctions such as evaluation and treatment, different alternatives from N.C.G.S. 7B-2506(1)-(13) and (16), and up to five days of commitment. “Intermediate Disposition” is Level Two, and may include evaluation and treatment, any alternative from N.C.G.S. 7B-2506(1)-(23) with at least one from (13)-(23), and up to 14 days of commitment. Level Three Disposition is “Commitment,” requiring commitment to a Youth Development Center.
Exceptions contradict general guidelines. For minor offenses, a juvenile may not receive a Level 3 Disposition. An exception exists allowing a Level Three disposition for a juvenile with 4 or more prior delinquencies. An Intermediate or Community Disposition requires Level 2 or lower disposition, but the court may enter Level 3 if the juvenile has previously received a Level 3 disposition. And finally, if the court is required to impose a Level Three disposition, a Level Two may be entered if the court makes written findings that justify the juvenile’s exceptional needs.
If you have been charged with a crime, no matter your age, contact the 10.0 rated criminal attorneys at Garrett, Walker, Aycoth and Olson. We are here to help!
Relevant Statutory Authority
Chapter 7B Juvenile Code