Andy Womble - Your Local DA office Recently, the North Carolina House of Representatives voted on legislation which would raise the jurisdictional age of juveniles from 16 years of age to 18 years of age. House Bill 725, which passed by a vote of 77 for to 39 against, still must pass through the North Carolina Senate and be signed by the Governor before it becomes law. The effective date of this legislation is July 1, 2019. As your District Attorney, I would like to take this opportunity to briefly highlight the processes of juvenile court in North Carolina. North Carolina juvenile courts handle cases in which juveniles are accused of acts that would be crimes if committed by adults. Juveniles who are accused of committing criminal offenses are brought to court through a process which is quite different than adult criminal court. First, a juvenile, and their parents or guardians, are served with a petition, rather than a criminal warrant. The petition is the charging instrument in juvenile court and it sets forth the offense the juvenile has allegedly committed. Once in court, the next step is an adjudication proceeding. The adjudication proceeding constitutes the “trial” of the matter or, alternatively, the juvenile can “admit” the veracity of the petition. If the allegations in the petition are proven to the court or if the juvenile admits the allegations, the juvenile is determined to be delinquent for the purpose of the courts’ jurisdiction. A finding of delinquency in juvenile court is akin to a finding of guilt in adult criminal court. The second phase of the process is the disposition. The dispositional phase is the sentencing phase and consists of a determination by the court of what resources may be available to the juvenile and his/her parents. The disposition may include confinement in a juvenile detention when appropriate. Currently in North Carolina, a person is considered an adult for the purposes of criminal prosecution when they reach the age of sixteen. Consequently, a person under the age of sixteen is in the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts. The pertinent determination is the age of the accused on the date when the criminal offense allegedly occurred. In forty states, the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction is 17 years of age. Eight states draw the juvenile/adult line at 16 years of age and two states set it at 15 years of age. In these two states, North Carolina and New York, 16- and 17-year olds are automatically tried in the adult system. However, all states have transfer laws that allow or require young offenders to be prosecuted as adults for more serious offenses, regardless of their age. Four forms of transfer laws are as follows: Statutory Exclusion - State law excludes some classes of cases involving juvenile age offenders from juvenile court, granting adult criminal court exclusive jurisdiction over some types of offenses. Murder and serious violent felony cases are most commonly “excluded” from juvenile court. Judicially Controlled Transfer - All cases against juveniles beginning in juvenile court and not concluded by age 18 must be transferred by the juvenile court to the adult court. Prosecutorial Discretion Transfer - Some categories of cases have both juvenile and criminal jurisdiction, so prosecutors may choose to file in either the juvenile or adult court. The choice is considered to be within the prosecutor’s executive discretion. “Once and adult, always an adult” Transfer - The law requires prosecution in the adult court of any juvenile who has been criminally prosecuted in the past, usually regardless of whether the current offense is serious or not. The impact of House Bill 725 on the judicial system remains up for debate. Once fully implemented, the filings in juvenile courts statewide are expected to increase by roughly 30,000 cases. Additionally, juvenile petitions take longer to resolve than adult criminal matters and generally require multiple court appearances to work through the issues and find adequate resources. As your District Attorney, I will continue to monitor this potential landmark change. In this climate of tightened budgets and the increased expectation to do more with less, it is vitally important we have a strategic plan to accomplish our main purposes of enforcing the laws and bringing justice for victims.
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