Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Watson (October 18, 2016) ruled that an officer’s erroneous completion of a juvenile waiver of rights form did not bar the admissibility of the juvenile’s confession. This post will discuss North Carolina statutory law concerning juvenile warnings and rights and the Watson ruling. Continue reading
Tag Archives: juveniles
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 →
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 →
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 →
Kids do some appalling things. Last week, the court of appeals decided a case involving conduct at a school event that was beyond the pale. But did it rise to the level of a juvenile offense, i.e., a crime?
The case is In re M.J.G. It began at a charity volleyball game that was being held in an elementary school gym. Two boys seemed to be getting ready to scuffle in the stands. A teacher approached, and saw (a) that other teachers were dealing with the two boys, and (b) that a third boy was waving at her and telling her “don’t stop it, go away.” The teacher asked the third boy, who was in sixth grade at the school, to come down from the bleachers and talk to her about his effort to allow the fight to take place. The boy got angry, eventually coming down from the stands and “body check[ing]” a bystander on his way out of the gym.
The teacher followed the boy into an adjacent hallway where the two met a school resource officer. The boy became agitated, shouting “I’m tired of this [expletive] school, these teachers lying on me.” He turned to the teacher and “postured up chest to chest,” saying “especially you, you [expletive].” Another teacher had come on the scene by then and the boy did the same to her. The resource officer had to restrain the boy and remove him from the hallway. The officer escorted the juvenile to the school office.
A juvenile petition was filed charging the boy with simple assault and with disorderly conduct by disrupting students. The juvenile was adjudicated delinquent. He appealed, arguing in part that the evidence was insufficient to support the disorderly conduct adjudication. The court of appeals affirmed.
The relevant statute is G.S. 14-288.4(a)(6), which makes it unlawful for a person intentionally to cause a “public disturbance” by “disrupt[ing], disturb[ing], or interfere[ing] with the teaching of students” at a school or by “engag[ing] in conduct which disturbs the peace, order, or discipline” at any school. An overview of the offense is contained in Jessica Smith, North Carolina Crimes 513 (7th ed. 2012). The book collects cases in which the court of appeals has tried to draw the line between bad behavior that doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal charge (or, more frequently, a juvenile petition) and misconduct that is severe enough to satisfy the statute.
In this case, the court began its analysis by observing that a violation of the statute requires “substantial interference with, disruption of and confusion of the operation of the school.” Distinguishing cases concerning brief disruptions involving a single class, the court noted that in this case, between 200 and 300 students watched the events unfold in the gym; at least four students were present in the hallway; multiple school personnel were required to respond; and a group of special needs students missed their bus as a result of the commotion arising from the incident.
The result in M.J.G. appears to be consistent with previous decisions under this statute. But the fact that there was sufficient evidence to support the adjudication of juvenile delinquency does not mean that the conduct was best addressed by the filing of a juvenile petition. We haven’t had a poll on the blog in a while so let me put it to you, readers: based on the foregoing description of the facts, if it were up to you, would you address this juvenile’s behavior by filing a juvenile petition, or through the school’s disciplinary procedures?
[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.