SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION FOR DELINQUENCY CASES IN JUVENILE COURT IN NORTH CAROLINA: AGE MATTERS
Explanation of Who a Juvenile is for purposes of Criminal Prosecutions in North Carolina. This is a brief attempt to explain juvenile proceedings as it relates to delinquent or criminal acts committed by juveniles, or persons under the age of 16 years old in North Carolina.
Delinquency Cases---Age at which an individual can be charged in Juvenile Court: Age MattersAn individual must be at least six (6) years old before the person can be charged with committing an offense against the laws of this state.
An individual must be less than sixteen (16) years old at the time the alleged offense occurred before the person can be charged with committing an offense in this State.
The proceedings usually commence with the filing of a petition in juvenile court alleging that the individual is a delinquent juvenile. N.C.G.S. 7B-1501(7). ).
If the individual was over the age of 16 years at the time the offense was committed, the proceedings will be handled in adult court, that is, either in District Court or in Superior Court of the County where the offense occurred. The juvenile court does not have jurisdiction to hear the cases where the individual was 16 years or older at the time the offense was committed. There are exceptions to be discussed later.
In most cases, the jurisdiction of the juvenile court over a a delinquent juvenile automatically terminates when a person reaches the age of eighteen. See N.C.G.S. 7B-1601(b).
Where a juvenile was at least 13 years of age at the time of the alleged offense but is less than sixteen (16) years of age at the time the alleged offense, but the offense is discovered after the juvenile turned 18 years old, the case must still be filed in juvenile court. The State cannot initiate prosecution in adult court just because the offense was discovered after the juvenile had turned 16 years of age. The age of the juvenile on the date of the offense is what matters, not the age at which charges are filed. Thus, in State v. Dellinger, 343 N.C. 93 (1996), the N.C. Supreme Court held that the State was barred from initiating a prosecution in superior court against an adult for an offense committed by that adult when he was less than sixteen years of age. At the time Dellinger was decided, there Juvenile Code did not have provisions giving the juvenile court jurisdiction over an adult offender. As a result of this missing link, no court had jurisdiction to prosecute the case against Dellinger. The court in Dellinger therefore dismissed the prosecution for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
After Dellinger, the North Carolina legislature amended the Juvenile Code to handle the Dellinger issue. Under current law, the statute provides that the juvenile court may assert jurisdiction over a person 18 years of age or older, for the limited purpose of determining whether to dismiss or transfer to superior court any felony charges and related misdemeanors alleged to have been committed by the NOW adult defendant even though this individual was at least 13 years of age but less than sixteen (16) years of age at the time the alleged offense was committed. See N.C.G.S. 7B-1601(d).
When a delinquency proceeding has been initiated but is not concluded before the juvenile's 18th birthday, the juvenile court retains limited jurisdiction to determine whether the juvenile petition will be dismissed or the case will be transferred to superior court.
Transferring Cases from Juvenile Court to Adult Court, i.e., Superior CourtEven though it is true that an individual who is less than sixteen (16) years old at the time the alleged offense occurred must be prosecuted in juvenile court ( N.C.G.S. 7B-1501(7).), there are circumstances when someone who is less than 16 years old can be prosecuted in adult court.
Under North Carolina law, a juvenile who is at least 13 years of age at the time of an alleged offense, who commits an offense which would be a felony if committed by an adult (someone over the age of 16 years old (for our purposes)), can have his or her case transferred to adult court (Superior Court), for trial as an adult. If the offense committed by the individual would be a Class A Felony (e.g., First Degree Murder), the case MUST BE TRANSFERRED to adult court if the juvenile court judge finds probable cause that the Class A felony offense occurred. N.C.G..S. 7B-2200.
In other cases not involving Class A felonies, where the juvenile is at least 13 years of age at the time of the alleged offense but is less than sixteen (16) years of age at the time the alleged offense, the cases can be retained and prosecuted in juvenile court if the state is not seeking to transfer those cases to adult court.
The statutes also require that a probable cause hearing be held in any proceeding in which a juvenile is alleged to have committed an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult and the juvenile was at least 13 years of age at the time of the alleged offense but was less than sixteen (16) years old at the time the alleged offense. N.C.G.S. 7B-2202(a).
In Mecklenburg County, it is standard practice to waive probable cause hearings unless the state is seeking to transfer the cases to adult court.
If the Judge finds probable cause to believe that the juvenile was at least 13 years of age at the time of the alleged offense but was less than sixteen (16) years of age at the time the alleged offense, and that the juvenile committed an offense that would constitute a Class A felony if committed by an adult, the judge must transfer the case to superior court for the juvenile to be tried by as an adult. N.C.G.S. 7B-2200.
If the Judge finds probable cause to believe that the juvenile was at least 13 years of age but was less than sixteen (16) years of age at the time the alleged offense, and that the juvenile committed an offense that would NOT constitute a Class A felony if committed by an adult, the court will schedule a HEARING to determine whether there are factors that support transferring the case to adult court, rather than retaining the case in juvenile court. N.C.G.S. 7B-2200.
After the transfer hearing, the judge may decide not to transfer the juvenile's cases to adult court. If the judge denies transfer, the case will be retained in juvenile court for further proceedings.
The juvenile has a right to appeal the transfer order for a "hearing on the record." N.C. G.S. 7B-2603(a). The transfer order must be properly appealed to the superior court to preserve the issue for appeal to the Court of Appeals. Id.
The notice of appeal must be given in open court or in writing within 10 days after entry of the order of transfer in juvenile court.