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Case Law Corner Vol. 10: No. COA22-965 & No. COA23-100

In re: S.C.

No. COA22-965, 2023 N.C. App. LEXIS 529

Onslow County

September 5, 2023

Summary: A hearing was held in delinquency court on a petition for misdemeanor assault in which the youth testified on her own behalf. Before allowing the youth to take the stand, the Court did not conduct any colloquy with the youth nor advise her of her rights, including fifth amendment rights and protections. During her testimony, the youth made incriminating statements against herself, which statements were used by the State in its closing arguments. The youth was found responsible, and an adjudicatory order was entered. On appeal, the State conceded that the failure to advise the youth constituted reversable error; the adjudication was vacated and remanded.

Issues Affecting Youth: It is a clearly established statutory mandate that a youth must be advised of their rights before testifying on their own behalf in a delinquency proceeding, and that youth are afforded greater protections than adults during such proceedings.

“‘Our courts have consistently recognized that the State has a greater duty to protect the rights of a respondent in a juvenile proceeding than in a criminal prosecution.’ … ‘[T]he court shall protect the following rights of the juvenile and the juvenile’s parent, guardian, or custodian to assure due process of law,’ including ‘[t]he privilege against self-incrimination.’ ‘[B]y stating that the trial court shall protect a juvenile’s delineated rights, [the General Assembly] places an affirmative duty on the trial court to protect . . . a juvenile’s right against self-incrimination.’ ‘The plain language of N.C.G.S. § 7B-2405 places an affirmative duty on the trial court to protect the rights delineated therein during a juvenile delinquency adjudication.’” (internal citations omitted)

In re: N.M.

No. COA23-100, 2023 N.C. App. LEXIS 601

Surry County

September 19, 2023

Summary: A hearing was had in delinquency court in this matter in regard to a fight on a school bus. The youth charged was found to be delinquent and adjudicated for simple assault and Level 1 disposition, including 12 months of probation. In the disposition order, the Court marked the pre-printed checkbox that it had received and considered the predisposition report, risk assessment, and needs assessment, as well as a Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument (YASI) full narrative assessment, but left the section entitled “Other Findings” blank, and did not make any independent findings about the contents of the submitted documents or any other dispositional factors required to be considered pursuant to NCGS §7B-2501(c). The Court of Appeals reversed the dispositional order and remanded for a new dispositional hearing.

Issues Affecting Youth: In crafting dispositional orders, Courts must consider all five factors required by NCGS §7B-2501(c): (1) The seriousness of the offense; (2) The need to hold the juvenile accountable; (3) The importance of protecting the public safety; (4) The degree of culpability indicated by the circumstances of the particular case; and (5) The rehabilitative and treatment needs of the juvenile indicated by a risk and needs assessment. The Court must make independent findings on each of these factors, which means something above and beyond reading, considering, and/or incorporating by reference the predisposition report, risk assessment, needs assessment, or YASI assessment (or other such submitted documentation); while the information can come from these documents, the Court should make independent findings from the documents and indicate that each prong of NCGS §7B-2501(c) was thus considered.

“This Court has held ‘the trial court is required to make findings demonstrating that it considered the [N.C. Gen. Stat.] § 7B-2501(c) factors in a dispositional order entered in a juvenile delinquency matter.’ ‘The plain language of Section 7B-2501(c) compels us to find that a trial court must consider each of the five factors in crafting an appropriate disposition.’ (internal citations omitted)

In re J.M.

No. COA23-215, 2023 N.C. App. LEXIS 623

Cumberland County

October 3, 2023

Summary: In a delinquency matter, custody of the youth was granted to the Cumberland County Department of Social Services. CCDSS appealed from this order, seeking relief from the grant of custody. By the disposition of the matter, custody was given to the youth’s grandmother. The Court of Appeals determined the issue to be moot and that no exception to reviewing the matter existed, and as such dismissed the appeal.

Issues Affecting Youth: While this case didn’t address a delinquency issue directly, it is likely the first case in which the issue of mootness, and the exceptions to that doctrine, are addressed in a delinquency case. While the Court of Appeals found that none of the exceptions applied in this case, Defenders should take note that the explanation of the “capable of repetition” prong may be applicable to many areas of delinquency defense, including but not limited to secure custody issues, and other issues that resolve at disposition of a matter and as such are generally not appealed, especially when an interlocutory appeal is not available. The argument is not one that is necessarily to be used in the courtroom (no immediate relief for the youth in custody), but defenders should keep in mind to contest secure custody, particularly if the youth is being detained illegally, so that the issue is preserved for appellate review.

“Nevertheless, there are five exceptions to this general rule of dismissal [for mootness]: (1) when a defendant voluntarily stops the challenged conduct; (2) when the challenged conduct involves an important public interest; (3) when the challenged conduct evades review but is capable of repetition; (4) when there are adverse collateral consequences of denying review; and (5) when other claims of class members remain.”

“[A] case is capable of repetition, yet evades review, when: (1) the challenged conduct is too fleeting to be litigated before the conduct ends; and (2) there is a reasonable expectation that the complaining party will be affected by the same conduct again. Under this exception, ‘the underlying conduct upon which the relevant claim rests [must be] necessarily of such limited duration that the relevant claim cannot be fully litigated prior to its cessation and the same complaining party is likely to be subject to the same allegedly unlawful action in the future.’”

“The first prong requires a brief controversy with a ‘firmly established’ endpoint. An example of such a controversy includes election misconduct. An election is short, and its conclusion is established by statute and ‘beyond the control of litigants.’ Because an election winner is declared soon after any alleged election misconduct, the scenario is too fleeting to be litigated before the election ends. Juvenile-custody controversies, however, are not too fleeting to be litigated before the controversy ends. Indeed, we regularly review juvenile-custody cases.” (all internal citations omitted)


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