North Carolina is no longer the only state in the U.S. that automatically prosecutes juveniles as adults beginning at age 16. In June, the General Assembly ended a century long practice of prosecuting teens as adults by enacting the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act as part of the 2017 state budget, which raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18. As a result, most 16 and 17-year-olds will be prosecuted in juvenile court beginning December 1, 2019. There are, however, some exceptions. Here’s what you should know about this historic reform. Continue reading
New Bulletin on Juvenile Interrogations
Nearly five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided J.D.B. v. North Carolina, a case arising from the police interrogation of a middle school student in Chapel Hill. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that police officers must consider a juvenile’s age when determining whether they must read juveniles their Miranda rights before questioning them. The ruling represents a major shift in Miranda jurisprudence by establishing a different standard for evaluating police interrogations of juveniles – the reasonable child standard. In the years since J.D.B., however, lower courts have not clearly defined how the reasonable child standard impacts the assessment of whether a juvenile was “in custody.” The application of this new standard also raises questions about how North Carolina courts evaluate custody determinations in the school setting. These and other issues are addressed in “Applying the Reasonable Child Standard to Juvenile Interrogations After J.D.B. v. North Carolina” (No. 2016/01), a new Juvenile Law Bulletin. Continue reading →
Last week, a local news outlet reported that the 17-year-old quarterback of a Cumberland County high school was benched when school officials learned he was under investigation for allegedly sending “sexually explicit” photos of himself to his 16-year-old girlfriend. According to the report, officers took the teenager’s phone while investigating another incident and discovered photos of himself and his girlfriend on the phone. Now, both the teenager and his girlfriend are facing charges for “sexting” in what appears to have been a consensual exchange of nude photos between two teens in a dating relationship. Judging by the string of harsh comments to this report (which use various derogatory words to describe the charges), many people are outraged that such behavior, while improper, is a crime. Instead, they suggest that the behavior is a discipline issue that should be privately addressed by parents at home. In response to these concerns, this post examines the criminal laws in NC that possibly cover sexting and discusses their application to minors. Continue reading →
Juvenile Code Reform Legislation (HB 879) Becomes Effective December 1, 2015
In a prior post, I wrote about SB 331, which proposed several changes to the delinquency subchapter of the Juvenile Code. That bill didn’t make it. Instead, it became HB 879 (enacted as S.L. 2015-58), which includes several new laws intended to either increase due process protections for juveniles, reduce further entry of juveniles in the delinquency system, or reduce juvenile confinement. Although it’s similar to the prior Senate bill, there are some important differences that you should know about before the new laws become effective on December 1, 2015. One of these laws involves a juvenile age increase, although it’s not quite the change for which “raise the age” advocates were lobbying. Continue reading →
Reducing Charges in Juvenile Court
Many juvenile cases are resolved through admissions (known as guilty pleas in criminal court), often with the prosecutor’s agreement to reduce the charge. Sometimes, the reduced charge is a lesser-included offense of the original offense charged in the petition, such as changing common law robbery to misdemeanor larceny. See State v. White, 142 N.C. App. 201, 204 (2001). But, often, a reduced charge is not a lesser-included offense, like changing sexual battery to simple assault. See State v. Corbett, 196 N.C. App. 508, 511 (2009). The question then becomes: How can the State proceed on a different offense than the one charged in the petition? Can the prosecutor prepare a misdemeanor statement of charges as in criminal court? Or, is a new petition required? Here are the answers. Continue reading →
U.S. Senators Support “Raise the Age”
Just weeks after the NC House passed bipartisan legislation to “raise the age” of juvenile court jurisdiction to 17 for misdemeanor offenses (HB 725), US Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have given NC a new incentive to enact this bill. According to this press release, Senators Paul and Booker have introduced the REDEEM (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) Act, which proposes major criminal justice reform by removing non-violent juvenile offenders from the adult criminal court system and improving employment opportunities for non-violent adult offenders.
A key provision of the bill encourages states to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18 by offering those states a preference for federal community police grants. The REDEEM Act would also:
- Create a process for adult, non-violent offenders to seal their criminal records;
- Limit information available to employers via FBI criminal background checks;
- Automatically expunge or seal juvenile records for non-violent offenses;
- Restrict the use of solitary confinement for juveniles; and
- Restore welfare benefits to low-level drug offenders who have served their time.
The bill’s sponsors have called it common sense legislation designed to reform a costly and “broken criminal justice system,” citing research, long advanced by “raise the age” proponents, which shows that rehabilitating youth in the juvenile justice system costs less, reduces recidivism, and removes barriers to employment caused by having an adult criminal record. In short, they claim it will save taxpayers money.
NC has twice studied the fiscal impact of raising its maximum juvenile court age, and reached the same conclusion. Currently, juveniles in NC are automatically prosecuted as adults starting at age 16. G.S. 7B-1604(a). In 2009, the Governor’s Crime Commission Juvenile Age Study reported that raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 could result in a net benefit of approximately $7.1 million to the state. In 2011, that number was increased to $52.3 million in a report by the NC Youth Accountability Planning Task Force, which recommended prosecuting 16 and 17-year-old misdemeanants and low-level felons in juvenile court. The cost savings, according to both reports, would largely result from reduced recidivism, which eliminates future costs associated with youth “graduating” to the adult criminal system, and increased lifetime earnings for youth who will not have the burden of a criminal record. As a result, the Task Force concluded that because more youth will become law-abiding, productive citizens, rather than a hindrance to the state, the long term benefits of treating more kids in the juvenile justice system far outweigh the costs.
Yet, the Task Force also estimated that moving 16 and 17-year-olds to juvenile court would initially cost NC taxpayers approximately $70 million per year, an investment opponents say the state can’t afford right now. This article also cites opposition from some law enforcement groups as another reason why NC has yet to “raise the age” of juvenile court jurisdiction.
NC remains one of only two states in the nation that prosecute 16-year-olds in adult criminal court. NY is the other state with this distinction, but it has a “reverse waiver” law that permits a defendant to petition the court to be tried as a juvenile. Eight states send juveniles to criminal court at age 17, but the overwhelming majority of states (40 plus the District of Columbia) set their respective ages of criminal responsibility at age 18.
Illinois, one of the most recent states to “raise the age” to 18, has reported results that tend to support the reasoning behind the REDEEM Act. Three years ago, Illinois became the first state to increase its juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors only. However, in July 2013, the state passed a law to include all 17-year-olds in the juvenile court system upon finding the initial change was less costly than anticipated, did not overwhelm the juvenile justice system, and actually resulted in a decline in juvenile crime, as detailed in this report by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.
Although early reports show the REDEEM Act is unlikely to succeed this session, it is another example of the momentum gained by the “raise the age” campaign as more policymakers embrace new evidence that shows removing youth from the adult criminal system makes sense from an economic and public safety perspective. Of course, the campaign has also been propelled by a wave of U.S. Supreme Court decisions recognizing that children are categorically different from adults, which must be accounted for by the courts. See Miller v. Alabama, J.D.B. v. North Carolina, and Graham v. Florida.
As for the fate of HB 725, NC’s “raise the age” bill, it is also unlikely to obtain passage during the short session. Since it arrived at the Senate, the bill has been fatally marked – “Held in Senate Clerk’s Office” – which is likely its final resting place until the short session adjourns. However, if the REDEEM Act becomes law, it could help to “redeem” HB 725 next session.
Victim Rights in Juvenile Court
[Editor’s note: We’re excited to welcome our new colleague LaToya Powell to the blog. LaToya’s work at the School of Government focuses on juvenile justice, especially the law of juvenile delinquency. Because of the close relationship between juvenile law and criminal law, we hope she will write for the blog from time to time.]
Recently, I was asked by a prosecutor whether the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) – Article 46 of Chapter 15A – applies to juvenile delinquency cases. The answer is: probably not, but flip the page to Article 45.
The CVRA provides victims of certain felonies and serious misdemeanors the right to participate in all critical stages of a criminal trial, including post-trial proceedings. It also requires court officials (i.e., prosecutors, probation officers, etc.) to make several post-trial notifications to victims, including the final disposition of the case, the terms of the defendant’s incarceration or probation period, and the date and location of any probation violation hearings. See G.S. 15A-835, -836, and -837. However, the CVRA defines a victim as “a person against whom . . . one of the [listed] crimes was committed.” G.S. 15A-830(a)(7). It also defines an accused as “a person who has been arrested and charged with committing a crime covered by this Article.” G.S. 15A-830(a)(1).
In NC, juveniles are not arrested, and they commit delinquent acts, not crimes. See G.S. 7B-2412 (“[a]n adjudication that a juvenile is delinquent . . . shall neither be considered conviction of any criminal offense nor cause the juvenile to forfeit any citizenship rights.”). Due to this statutory distinction between delinquent acts and crimes, it is unlikely that the CVRA applies to juvenile delinquency proceedings. See In re D.L.H., 364 N.C. 214, 222 (2010) (cautioning lower courts against applying criminal procedure statutes to juvenile proceedings when the law does not explicitly require it).
It’s also instructive that the statutory definitions applicable to the CVRA do not specifically mention delinquent acts; whereas, its predecessor, Article 45 of Chapter 15A, explicitly includes them. Article 45, entitled “Fair Treatment for Certain Victims and Witnesses,” defines a crime as “a felony or serious misdemeanor . . . or any act committed by a juvenile that, if committed by a competent adult, would constitute a felony or serious misdemeanor.” G.S. 15A-824(1). This language clearly reflects the legislature’s awareness of the difference between crimes and delinquent acts by juveniles. Thus, the absence of such language in the CVRA, enacted several years later, suggests the legislature did not intend for the CVRA to apply to victims of juvenile delinquency.
Why does it matter? While Article 45 generally recognizes the rights of victims “to be present throughout the entire trial” and “during the final disposition of the case,” see G.S. 15A-825, it is much more limited in scope than the CVRA. There are no post-trial notification provisions, unless the defendant either escapes or is released from custody, see G.S. 15A-825(11)-(12), and compliance with Article 45 is not mandatory. Instead, court officials are simply directed to comply “[t]o the extent reasonably possible and subject to available resources[.]” Id. As a result, the CVRA provides more meaningful protections to victims that extend well beyond the offender’s conviction.
It’s unclear why Article 45 includes delinquent acts, and the CVRA does not. Yet, the CVRA’s exclusion of juveniles seems consistent with the Juvenile Code’s emphasis on confidentiality in juvenile proceedings. See G.S. 7B-3000, 7B-3001, and 7B-3100(b). Although juvenile delinquency hearings are open, see G.S. 7B-2402, the Code strictly prohibits the disclosure of information about juveniles to the public. Ignoring the inherent conflict of interest here, most victim notifications required by the CVRA would violate the confidentiality provisions of the Code. In fact, the Code authorizes victim notification in only one instance – notification of the juvenile’s release from a youth development center for an offense that would have been a Class A or B1 felony, if committed by an adult. See G.S. 7B-2513(j), and G.S. 7B-2514(d). However, these notifications rarely occur because only 2% of all delinquency complaints involve alleged A-E felonies, according to the most recent Annual Report of the Division of Juvenile Justice.
Prosecutors and other juvenile justice officials who are unsure about their obligations to victims should look to Article 45 for guidance rather than the CVRA. Its recognition of a victim’s right to participate in the process, while limiting access to information about offenders, is more consistent with the Juvenile Code.