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When may an admission by a juvenile be accepted? Is a transcript of admission by a juvenile, Form AOC-J-410 required for adjudication?
AOC-J-410 and Legal Requirements
AOC provides numerous forms for use in court proceedings, some required and others not. While a transcript of admission by a juvenile is not specifically required for adjudication, it is best practice to utilize the form. This form tracks the necessary language set out in the Juvenile Code, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2407. Because only adult superior court, not district court, requires plea transcripts, it may be thought that in juvenile court, the transcript of admission is only utilized in felony cases. It should be noted that 7B-2407 applies to both misdemeanors and felonies.
N.C. General Statute § 7B-2407 establishes the criteria to determine when admissions by a juvenile may be accepted. Subparagraph (a) requires the court to address the juvenile personally and inform the juvenile of the right to remain silent and that any statement the juvenile makes may be used against the juvenile; determine if the juvenile understands the nature of the charges; inform the juvenile of the right to deny the allegations in the petition; inform the juvenile that, by the juvenile’s admissions, the juvenile is waiving the right to be confronted by the witnesses against the juvenile; determine that the juvenile is satisfied with the juvenile’s attorney; and inform the juvenile of the most restrictive disposition.
Subparagraph (b) requires the court to inquire of the prosecutor, the juvenile’s attorney and the juvenile personally to determine whether there were prior discussions involving admissions, whether the parties have entered into any arrangements and, if so, the terms of any admission. Further, the court is required to determine whether “any improper pressure was exerted.” The statute specifically states, “The court may only accept an admission after determining that the admission is a product of informed choice.”
Subparagraph (c) requires the court to determine that there is a factual basis for the admission based upon any of the following: a statement of facts by the prosecutor, a written statement of the juvenile; sworn testimony which may include reliable hearsay; or a statement of facts by the juvenile’s attorney.
Form AOC-J-410, if followed closely, complies with the statutorily required inquiry of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2407. While some districts, as a local practice, only utilize a transcript of admission for felonies, this can be problematic. For example, if disposition is transferred to another county, newly appointed counsel on disposition should determine if the juvenile was properly advised at adjudication. The juvenile may not know or remember being addressed by the presiding judge. In the absence of a transcript of admission, counsel may need to obtain a copy of the recorded proceeding to determine if the proper inquiry was completed and whether the terms of the admission by the juvenile and the Court’s order are the same. (Another AOC form provides the motion and order for obtaining the recording. AOC-G-115.)
Failure to make the proper inquiry is reversible error. Addressing each statutory prong of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2407 is mandatory. In re T.E.F., 359 N.C. 570, 614 S.E.2d 296 (2005) establishes that the standard is not totality of the circumstances and failure to make one of the inquiries (in that case, whether the juvenile was satisfied with his counsel) is reversible error. See also In re A.W., 182 N.C. App. 159, 641 S.E.2d 354 (2007) where both adjudication and disposition were reversed when there was no indication of informing the juvenile of his right to remain silent and that statements made could be used against him or that he had a right to deny the allegations; In re N.J., 221 N.C. App. 427, 728 S.E.2d 9 (2012) where an adjudication was reversed when the juvenile was not advised of the most restrictive disposition prior to accepting the admission; and In re Register, 84 N.C. App. 336, 352 S.E.2d 486 (1987), stating that it is impossible for a judge to determine that the admission is the product of informed choice without making the required inquiries of each child. Counsel should note that the Court of Appeals has determined that 7B-2407 does not apply to probation violations. In re D.J.M., 181 N.C. App. 126, 638 S.E.2d 610 (2007).
AOC-J-410 as a Helpful Tool
In addition to providing verification of the proper N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2407 inquiry, AOC-J-410 provides counsel an opportunity to ensure that the juvenile understands the proceedings and can aid communication between counsel and the juvenile. By asking questions about the juvenile’s level of education and any medications in a more formalized way, an attorney can gain additional information to aid in proper advocacy. Counsel should consider keeping a copy of the transcript of admission for use during the adjudication. This can be particularly useful for juveniles with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or for juveniles who are visual rather than auditory learners. Reviewing a transcript of admission in advance will help prepare the juvenile for court and can decrease anxiety regarding court. It may be the Court’s first opportunity to see and address the juvenile client, so preparation in advance is a necessity.
Finally, should a matter be transferred to another county for disposition, the transcript of admission can provide useful information to counsel for disposition advocacy. In addition to providing information regarding the juvenile’s educational level and whether the juvenile is taking any medications, form AOC-J-410 provides documentation of the terms of any arrangement regarding admissions. Clerical errors on adjudication orders may be easily addressed with comparison to a transcript of admission. A local practice that dictates that a transcript of admission only be utilized for felonies may increase the risk of errors in adjudication orders for misdemeanor offenses.
Best Practice Based upon N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2407
While use of a transcript of admission does require additional time in and out of court, best practice is to utilize AOC-J-410. The Court may accept an admission by a juvenile only after addressing each of the criteria set out in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2407. The statute applies equally to both misdemeanors and felonies, and failure to address even one of the criteria is reversible error. Use of form AOC-J-410 in all cases ensures that the juvenile is properly advised pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2407, decreases the risk of errors in adjudication orders and aids in communication with the client and disposition advocacy. If counsel is appointed in a juvenile matter for disposition following transfer from another county, counsel should carefully review the Court file and be prepared to obtain and review any recordings when a transcript of admission has not been utilized. In cases where the proper statutory inquiry was not made, Counsel should advise the juvenile regarding entering notice of appeal.
Written by: Assistant Juvenile Defender Terri Johnson. Terris graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University in 2000. She received her Juris Doctor degree from UNC Chapel Hill School of Law in 2003, and was admitted to the North Carolina Bar in 2003. Her practice areas included criminal law, family law and juvenile law and has focused on juvenile law as OJD’s Assistant Juvenile Defender in delinquency court in both Iredell and Alexander counties.