I have had the pleasure of working here at the School of Government for eight months now. In that time I have gotten some interesting questions about North Carolina’s delinquency laws. Most often, those questions relate to the confidentiality of juvenile court records. When I first read the statute – G.S. 7B-3000 – I thought it was an open and shut case. Unless you are on the list of people allowed access without a court order, access can only be allowed pursuant to a court order. But then the questions started to come in. Who exactly is the juvenile’s attorney under this statute? Can any prosecutor access juvenile records any time? Can a federal court order disclosure of a North Carolina juvenile record? On what basis can courts order release of juvenile records? It turns out that it’s not open and shut at all. Here is what I have learned so far.
[Editor’s note: This post was originally published on the SOG’s civil law blog, On the Civil Side. Given its coverage of criminal law, we thought that it would be of interest to many of our readers.]
You are appointed to represent a juvenile in a delinquency proceeding. The petition alleges the juvenile assaulted his stepfather. When you meet with your client, he discloses that his stepfather has been beating him for years. This time, his stepfather went after his younger sister, and your client tried to protect her. In another case, you are hired to represent a father in a child custody action. Your client tells you that he just moved out of the home, where his baby and the baby’s mother live. He discloses that the mother has a drinking problem and frequently attacks him physically when she is intoxicated, sometimes while she is holding the baby. He also tells you that he has come home from work to find the baby is in dirty diapers and crying in the crib while the mother is passed out on the couch.
In both these scenarios, you have cause to suspect a child is being abused or neglected. Are you required to report to the county department of social services or keep your client’s communication confidential? What are the possible repercussions of your decision?