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
Tag Archives: juvenile justice
[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.
The district court judges are conferring this week at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord. I don’t know if robes are allowed on waterslides, but I expect that the judges will be pretty focused on business in any event. Among other topics, reports indicate that they’ll be hearing from former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton about raising the juvenile age from 16 to 18. As many readers know, that idea has been around a long time, and North Carolina is one of only two states that set the juvenile age at 16.
Coincidentally, a group called Campaign for Youth Justice released a report last week about juvenile justice reforms. (The press release is here and the full report is here.) It asserts that “[o]ver the past eight years, twenty-three states have enacted forty pieces of legislation to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult criminal courts and end the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons.” Specifically, the report notes that both Illinois and Massachusetts have recently raised their juvenile cutoffs from 17 to 18 years old.
Do the changes noted by the report signal coming change in North Carolina? The report certainly suggests that there is momentum for further reform. As it pertains to North Carolina, the report highlighted the changes to the sentencing laws made in response to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), which held that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment.” Shortly after Miller, the General Assembly enacted S.L. 2012-148, creating new G.S. 15A-1476 et seq. (allowing, and in some cases requiring, a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 25 years for defendants who were under 18 at the time they committed first-degree murder).
I don’t attach much significance to the fact that the General Assembly made a change that was constitutionally mandated. Nor is reform in other states necessarily a harbinger of change in North Carolina. But there is certainly continued interest in the juvenile age issue among advocates (as the report itself shows) and among influential court actors (as the judges’ conference agenda indicates). Another legislative session convenes in May, so stay tuned.