While I was finishing up my post last Wednesday on Senate Bill 682 (the bill implementing the 2018 constitutional amendments expanding victims’ rights), the Governor was signing that bill into law. In the week since S.L. 2019-216 was chaptered, I’ve fielded a couple of questions about the responsibilities for notifying victims of court hearings and the interplay between victims’ state constitutional rights and defendants’ rights under the state and federal constitutions. This post sets forth my (admittedly preliminary) thoughts on those matters.
Tag Archives: victims’ rights
Victims’ Rights Bill Sent to Governor
Author’s note: Senate Bill 682 was signed by the Governor on September 4, 2019, and was chaptered as S.L. 2019-216.
Last week, the General Assembly ratified Senate Bill 682, which implements the 2018 constitutional amendment that expanded the rights of crime victims. The bill, ratified one day before the constitutional amendment took effect, awaits the Governor’s signature. This post briefly reviews the history of state-law protections for crime victims and the provisions of the 2018 amendment before discussing some of the more significant aspects of SB 682.
Marsy’s Law Is on the Ballot; Voters Will Decide Whether it Goes on the Books
There will be six constitutional amendments on the ballot this November. One of them, S.L. 2018-110 (H 551), expands the constitutional rights of crime victims. Voters will be asked to vote for or against a “Constitutional amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for crimes; and to ensure the enforcement of these rights.” If House Bill 3, ratified yesterday, becomes law no additional explanation of the amendment will appear on the ballot, though the Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission will prepare an explanation of the amendment at least 75 days before the election. If you just can’t wait that long to learn more about the amendment and its effect on existing law, this post is for you. Continue reading →
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.