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Court of Appeals Delinquency Opinion

In the matter of C.J.J., 2015 N.C. App. Lexis 471 (unpublished opinion)

Rule(s): Judge can impose the maximum term of imprisonment equal to an adult sentence in the aggravated range if the court finds that the term is the best plan for the juvenile and in the interest of the State.

The State filed a petition alleging the juvenile committed larceny from the person and common law robbery. The juvenile admitted that he committed larceny from the person, and the State dismissed the other petition for common law robbery. The trial court entered a level three disposition and committed the juvenile to a youth development center (YDC) for a minimum of six months to a maximum of 39 months.

The juvenile appealed first arguing the trial court violated N.C.G.S. § 7B-2513(a) by committing him to a maximum of 39 months for the larceny from the person adjudication, which was an amount more than the presumptive sentence that an adult could receive for committing the same Class H felony. Specifically, the juvenile asserted that because N.C.G.S. 7B-2513 references structured sentencing, and N.C.G.S. 15A-1340.13 refers to an aggravated sentence as a “deviation” from presumption sentencing, “maximum term of imprisonment” should be interpreted to mean only the maximum in the presumptive range.

The Court disagreed holding that “the maximum term of imprisonment” could include a placement term equal to an adult sentence in the aggravated range for that class of felony offense with a prior record level of VI, if the court finds that the term would be the best plan for the juvenile and best interests of the State.

While the issue wasn’t raised at trial, the juvenile also argued for the application of Blakely v. Washington, which held that it was a violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to enhance a criminal sentence by aggravating factors without first submitting them to a jury and having that jury find them beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court overruled the argument noting that Blakely has only been applied to criminal proceedings involving juveniles tried as adults but not juvenile adjudications, dispositions and commitments.

Next, the juvenile contended that the trial court abused its discretion in committing him to a youth development center because the findings of fact show that his rehabilitation and treatment needs did not support the conclusion that commitment was warranted.

N.C.G.S. § 7B-2501 states that “in choosing among statutorily permissible dispositions, the court shall select the most appropriate disposition both in terms of kind and duration for the delinquent juvenile” and sets forth five factors that the court must consider in selecting a disposition. In the present case, the Court determined that the trial court made findings pursuant to the aforementioned factors in the written order and at the hearing. The Court found that while it was true that the court counselor recommended the juvenile receive treatment in the community and a level 2 disposition, it was within the trial court’s discretion to reject the recommendation. Accordingly, the disposition order was affirmed.

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