If you’ve been appointed to represent a juvenile charged with an offense that will likely be transferred, but won’t be handling the case once it’s transferred to adult criminal court, how can you best prepare your client’s case for the next level?
Locate and visit/contact your client: If your client is under 18 and in detention, they will be housed in a juvenile detention center. There are twelve juvenile detention centers spread out across the state. Make sure to have regular contact with your client – it’s confusing when the first set of hearings are so fast, yet the rest of the case can take months if not years. Start to process this with the youth. Contact with your youth client builds trust and credibility, even for the short period you’ll be representing them – and they’ll be more likely to trust the next attorney. If your client is not in detention, write and call your client to meet ASAP.
Contact your client’s family/guardian: Like with your youth client, the parent/guardian may be confused as to what’s going on with the case, and why it may move very quickly to the next stage. Take some time to inform/prep your client’s parent or guardian – they might have invaluable information on the case and can be a strong ally during the process. But always remember that your client is the youth, not the parent, and you have no attorney – client relationship with the parent. Also, you may need to remind the parent that while they are required to be part of the juvenile proceeding, that status ends in adult criminal court although their participation may still be helpful.
Get a copy of the juvenile court record: Get a copy of the court record, or commonly referred to as the clerk’s file. You’ll probably do this as you’re prepping for a probable cause or transfer hearing, but even if you anticipate an indictment, you should still gather these documents for possible use at the next level. And BTW you have a right to it as the “juvenile’s attorney.” See NCGS 7B-3000 if you’re getting resistance. The court record includes not only the court documents (petition, summons, motions, transfer and other orders) but possibly other information and records, such as detention reports or forensic or mental health examinations.
Get a copy of DJJDP’s records: This information is kept by the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as electronic files commonly referred to as “NCJOIN” (North Carolina Juvenile Online Information Network). Information can include prior referrals and court history, family history (including involvement with child welfare), school and medical/mental health history. You are also eligible for this as the “juvenile’s attorney.” DJJ has recently streamlined their records request process; you can read about it here: https://www.ncdps.gov/juvenile-justice/juvenile-records.
Prepare for a bond hearing and prepare the juvenile and their family. If the judge orders transfer, the juvenile has a right to pre-trial release. Be prepared to argue for a bond and explain to your client and their parent/guardian/custodian that the youth will remain in the detention center until age 18, and that the attorney in adult criminal court will handle any further bond hearings.
Determine if the case should be appealed: Talk to your client to see if the decision to transfer should be appealed. Note that the appeal is before a Superior Court judge. Make sure to preserve the case in a timely fashion and be prepared to argue the case in superior court. If you have questions about the process or would like to brainstorm the decision to appeal, please reach out to our office or the Office of the Appellate Defender.
Contact the next attorney: Have your client sign a release to allow you to share any information with the attorney in adult criminal court. If possible, have a conversation with the next attorney – you never know what they may learn that’s not in records or documents. If you have trouble determining who the attorney is or finding that attorney, our office will be glad to help.