Vol. 18, No. 2 • May 2014

NC's Juvenile Justice System:
Overview for Foster Parents

Adapted from NC Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services (2005)

The juvenile justice system is separate from the adult criminal justice system. Adults are held fully responsible for their behavior. The laws are different for young people because of their age.

Juveniles in North Carolina
NC law defines a juvenile as someone under age 18 who is unmarried, has not been emancipated (i.e., not legally freed from parental control), and is not in the armed forces.
An undisciplined juvenile is a youth between the ages of 6 and 18 who is:

  • Absent from school without permission; or
  • Often disobedient to, and beyond the control of his/her parents, guardian, or caregivers; or
  • Regularly found in places it is unlawful for a juvenile to be; or
  • Has run away from home for a period of more than 24 hours.

A delinquent juvenile is someone who is at least 6 years old but not yet 16 years old and does something that would be a crime if an adult did the same thing.

Delinquent and Undisciplined Acts
A delinquent act is a criminal act committed by a young person under the age of 16. NC's Juvenile Code (http://bit.ly/1i6WVUr) also has its own categories of offenses, which the judge must use in determining which options are available at disposition (sentencing).

Anyone can file a complaint alleging that a juvenile has committed a delinquent or undisciplined act. The intake counselor at the Division of Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice (DACJJ) reviews all delinquent and undisciplined complaints and decides whether they should go to court.

Can a youth be arrested?
The term "arrest" is not used for juveniles. However, under the following situations a juvenile may be taken into custody for up to 12 hours (or longer if on a weekend or legal holiday) without a court order:

  1. By law enforcement if reasons exist for the arrest of an adult in the same situation;
  2. By law enforcement or a court counselor if there are reasons to believe the youth is an undisciplined juvenile;
  3. By a law enforcement officer, court counselor, or DACJJ worker if there are reasons to believe the youth has run away from a youth development or detention facility center; or
  4. By a law enforcement officer or department of social services (DSS) worker if there are reasons to believe the youth is abused, neglected, or dependent and would be hurt or they would lose the chance to take the youth into custody if they spent time getting permission from the courts.

How long are juveniles held?
A juvenile accused of being delinquent of certain offenses may be held in secure custody for no more than five days or in non-secure custody for no more than seven days without a hearing before a judge. A youth accused of being a runaway may be held in secure custody for no more than 24 hrs. (72 hrs. on weekends/holidays).

Secure vs. non-secure custody
Secure custody is placement in a detention center and is used for delinquent juveniles and sometimes for undisciplined juveniles who have run away from home. Non-secure custody is placement in a foster home or a similar facility and is used for some undisciplined juveniles as well as juveniles who are dependent, abused, or neglected.

What happens after a complaint is received?
The intake counselor asks questions to determine if the offense can be considered a crime. When possible, the intake process includes talking with the person(s) making the complaint, the juvenile and his/her parent(s) or legal guardian, the victim (if not the person filing the complaint), and others who have information about the juvenile and his/her family (e.g., school, DSS, and others).

How long is the intake process?
It takes up to 30 days to determine whether to file the complaint as a petition and to decide whether the youth needs to go to court or not. A petition is a document that states the facts in the complaint.

What happens after the complaint is processed?
One of the following: (1) the case is closed, (2) the case is diverted, or (3) a petition is filed to bring the case to court. In the most serious cases the intake counselor must approve the filing of a petition if the intake counselor finds reasonable grounds to believe the juvenile committed the offense.

What does "divert" mean?
Divert means to connect the juvenile and the juvenile's family to resources in the community to help them deal with behaviors and problems instead of taking the case to court.

Do the youth and family have a plan when the case is diverted?
The intake counselor, the juvenile, and the juvenile's family may enter into a diversion plan or contract. A diversion plan is a verbal agreement between the juvenile, the parent/guardian, and court counselor that tells what each of them will do. A diversion contract is a written agreement between the juvenile, parent/guardian and court counselor that tells what each of them will do.

The intake counselor can monitor the plan or contract for up to 6 months to determine the youth's progress. If the juvenile completes the diversion plan or contract, a petition is not filed and he/she does not have to go to court. If the juvenile does not complete the terms of the diversion plan or contract, the intake counselor can take the case to court any time within six months.

Can a felony charge be diverted?
Juveniles charged felonies may be diverted from the juvenile justice system unless the offense is specifically classified as non-divertible. Non-divertible offenses include murder, rape, arson, any felony drug offense, first-degree burglary, crimes against nature, and any felony that involved willful infliction of serious bodily injury or was committed with a deadly weapon. If the intake counselor finds reasonable grounds to believe the juvenile has committed a non-divertible offense, he/she must authorize the complaint to be filed as a petition.

The Petition ("Filing of Charges")

How is a youth brought into juvenile court?
If the court counselor approves the complaint to be filed as a petition, the juvenile and his/her parents are notified. The notification is called a summons to appear in court. Copies of the petition are served (given) to the juvenile and his/her parents or legal guardians.

How are juvenile cases handled?
In North Carolina, juvenile cases are sent to the state district courts for hearings. These courts have authority over delinquent and undisciplined juveniles.

What is a juvenile hearing?
This is a court session in which statements and information are presented to a judge. This is to decide if someone has committed a crime. Court hearings are open to the public unless closed by the judge.

What is the hearing procedure in juvenile court?
Juvenile hearings occur in two steps:

  1. In the first step, adjudication, the court focuses only on the "facts of the case" and determines whether the juvenile actually committed the offense.
  2. In the second step, disposition or sentencing, the court decides what plan of services, treatment, and consequences best meets the needs of the juvenile and the interests of the state.

Is adjudication considered a conviction?
No. The legal effect of adjudication of delinquency is not considered a "conviction" of any criminal offense. This means if a youth with a juvenile record is asked on a job or college application if he/she has ever been convicted of a criminal offense the answer is "NO" because adjudication is not considered a conviction.

Can a juvenile be represented by a lawyer?
In all delinquency cases, a lawyer must represent a juvenile. In fact, according to the North Carolina Juvenile Code, if a juvenile is alleged delinquent for committing a crime, no statement made by the juvenile may be allowed into evidence if the juvenile is under 14 without a lawyer or parent present; for youth 14 or older, law enforcement must offer that the juvenile have a parent or lawyer present before making a statement that would be admissible in court.

What if a youth and his/her family cannot afford a lawyer?
Delinquent juveniles are presumed indigent and are appointed counsel once a petition is filed in court.

Is a juvenile permitted to have witnesses testify on his/her behalf?
Yes. The juvenile's attorney handles this.

Sentencing Juveniles

What happens if a youth is found to be delinquent?
If a judge finds a youth is delinquent, the judge orders a disposition (similar to a sentence in the adult system). For delinquent juveniles the judge may:

  • Place the juvenile on probation;
  • Order the juvenile to pay a fine, pay money to the victim, or to perform community service;
  • Prevent the juvenile from being licensed to drive a motor vehicle, and/or order the juvenile to spend time in a group home, detention facility, or youth development center.

What happens if a youth is found undisciplined?
An undisciplined juvenile can be placed under the protective supervision of a court counselor.

How does a judge decide what consequences to give?
The disposition (consequences) the judge orders will depend on the seriousness of the offense, the juvenile's prior record, the juvenile's needs, and the protection of the community.

What is probation?
Probation requires a delinquent juvenile to follow rules the court sets. On probation, a youth must be supervised by a court counselor. If the youth doesn't follow the rules (violates probation), he/she may have to return to court. The judge may order a different set of consequences (disposition). This could be detention or the youth development center.

How old must a youth be to be sent to a Youth Development Center ("training school")?
At least ten years old.

What is protective supervision?
Protective supervision is similar to probation, but is for undisciplined juveniles. A court counselor supervises the juvenile to ensure he/she is following the rules set by the court. The court counselor also offers community services to the juvenile and the juvenile's family.

Youth Rights in the Legal System

Does a youth have a trial like an adult?
Juveniles have hearings that are similar to adult trials, but they are held before a judge and not a jury. Juveniles have constitutional rights similar to adults. These rights include written notice of the alleged offense, a court-appointed attorney, the right to remain silent, and the right to confront and cross-examine any witness against the juvenile. If the offense charged is a crime, it must be proved by the same standard of proof, "beyond a reasonable doubt," that applies in criminal trials.

Does the legal system protect youths' confidentiality?
All juvenile records are withheld from public inspection, except by court order. A juvenile's record can be examined by the juvenile, the juvenile's attorney, his/her parent, guardian and/or custodian, the district attorney, and the court counselor without a court order. The district attorney can share information found within a juvenile's file with law enforcement officers, but they cannot copy any part of the file. Others can obtain a juvenile's record only by court order. A youth's records may be made available to schools, youth agencies, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, probation officers, victims, and the public only under certain circumstances.

Can agencies share a juvenile's information with each other?
The Chief District Court Judge decides what information agencies can share with each other concerning juveniles. They can share information that is important to any case in which a petition is filed claiming that a juvenile is abused, neglected, dependent, undisciplined, or delinquent. Also, schools must be notified if a student is charged with a felony offense.

Adult Outcomes for Crossover Youth

What happens to the crossover population--youth involved in the child welfare system and the juvenile justice system--as adults? To find out, Culhane and colleagues (2011) studied youth who exited care between the ages of 16 and 21 in Los Angeles County. They found that crossover youth were more at risk for negative outcomes than (a) youth who exited from a child welfare out-of-home placement or (b) youth who exited from any type of juvenile probation supervision. Crossover youth were:

  • More likely to have multiple out-of-home placements and to exit care from a group home.
  • Twice as likely to be heavy users of public systems in adulthood, three times as likely to experience a jail stay, one-and-a-half times more likely to receive welfare, and 50% less likely to be employed consistently.
  • Twice as likely to receive treatment for a serious mental illness during the first 4 years of adulthood.

The researchers concluded that providing foster care and transition services to non-minor youth, as well as education and employment services, can result in more positive outcomes for these vulnerable youth.

Adapted from CB Express, March 2012, Vol. 13, No. 2, cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov

To view references cited in this and other articles in this issue, click here.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~