So, you’ve been appointed a juvenile charged with first-degree murder, but you didn’t handle the transfer from juvenile court – now what?
· Locate and visit/contact your client: remember, if your client is under 18, 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. Contact with your youth client builds trust and credibility.
· Contact your client’s family/guardian: Like with your youth client, the parent/guardian may be confused as to why the case moved quickly and has now slowed down. 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 them. 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.
· Contact the prior attorney: The juvenile attorney should have accessed significant information about your client, including the court file, juvenile justice file, school records, child welfare records, etc. Request a copy and have your client sign a release. And have a conversation with the prior attorney – you never know what you may learn that’s not in records or documents. If you have trouble determining who the attorney was or finding that attorney, our office will be glad to help.
· Get a copy of the juvenile court record: As mentioned above, get a copy of the court record, or commonly referred to as the clerk’s file. You have a right to it as the “juvenile’s attorney.” It 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.”
· Determine if the case has been appealed: Check with the prior attorney to see if the decision to transfer had been appealed. Note that the appeal is before a Superior Court judge. If so, get a copy of the notice of the appeal and determine if you or the juvenile court attorney will be arguing the appeal. If the appeal is denied, get a copy of the decision and consider whether to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals at the conclusion of the case.
· Get experts: If the juvenile court attorney has not retained experts, consider obtaining funds for a facts investigator, mitigation specialist, and a psychologist to determine any developmental, forensic, or other relevant issues. Check with OJD or IDS Forensic Counsel Sarah Rackley Olson for potential experts.
· Know the law! Make sure you are familiar with any arguments or theories of defense grounded in adolescent development that may benefit your client. This could include capacity, suppression, lack of intent, etc. And of course, start preparing for the potential of a Miller hearing immediately. The information you obtain and case you build for sentencing may be the difference between life WITH or WITHOUT parole.
Written by, Eric Zogry, State Juvenile Defender. Eric was appointed state Juvenile Defender by the Indigent Defense Services Commission in November 2004 and has served since then.