Week in Review: NC Court of Appeals – Juvenile Opinions

Happy Friday Readers! Today’s Week in Review will be a bit different and longer than most. Recently the NC Courts of Appeals has released opinions that we at OJD find useful and important to share. These opinions have been summarized by OJD’s very own Kim Howes and added to the Master List of Case Summaries available on our website!

Have a great & safe weekend and comment below with your thoughts on these opinions!

In re D.A.H., ___ N.C. App.,___, No. COA20-212, (April 20, 2021)

In re D.A.H., ___ N.C. App.,___, No. COA20-212, (April 20, 2021). Last month the N.C. Court of Appeals published an opinion on a delinquency case, In re D.A.H., ___ N.C. App.,___, No. COA20-212, (April 20, 2021). The Court reversed and remanded an appeal based on a motion to suppress an in-custody statement made by the youth in a school setting.  The Court provided a clear roadmap to analyze whether your client has been subject to a custodial interrogation in the school setting when no Miranda warnings were given.   We’ve included a more detailed summary on our website in the Case Summaries section, but here is a brief overview and a link to the opinion.

The Court ruled that school interrogations are unique in determining whether a student is in a custodial situation requiring Miranda warnings and that no single factor is controlling. The inquiry is whether the totality of the circumstances surrounding the questioning constitute a custodial interrogation.

With regard to whether or not the youth was in custody, the Court determined that while presence of a SRO weighs heavily in the analysis, it is not dispositive. It listed seven other factors that must also be considered in the totality of the circumstance’s analysis.

As to whether the youth was subjected to an interrogation, the Court identified three factors as most relevant to the analysis. It noted that as with the reasonable adult standard, no single factor is controlling in determining whether or not the statements made by the youth are a product of a custodial interrogation. The inquiry is whether the totality of the circumstances surrounding the questioning add up to custody.

The Court also found that the trial court used an improper legal standard in its analysis of the factors used to determine whether a youth has been subjected to a custodial interrogation without being properly advised of his Miranda warnings. The Court emphasized that the proper legal standard for the analysis is objective, not subjective. That is, would a reasonable 13-year-old (this particular youth) have felt free to end the interrogation and leave under the circumstances.

To read the full opinion, please click here.

Also, over the last few months, the N.C. Court of Appeals published several delinquency opinions. Here are two more published opinions on delinquency cases, In re J.S.G.., ____ N.C. App. ____ , No. COA20-82, (March 2, 2021) and In re W.M.C.M., ____ N.C. App. ____ , No. COA20-164, (April 20, 2021).

In re J.S.G., ____ N.C. App. ____ , No. COA20-82, (March 2, 2021)

In re J.S.G., ____ N.C. App. ____ , No. COA20-82, (March 2, 2021) – the Court of Appeals vacated both the adjudication and disposition orders. The Court ruled that (1) Juvenile petitions are held to the same standard as criminal indictments in that it must assert every element of a criminal offense, with sufficient specificity as to provide notice to the juvenile of the charge; and (2) a fatally deficient petition fails to convey jurisdiction to the court.

In this case, the youth was charged with Intent to Manufacture, Sell, and Deliver a Controlled Substance. However, the petition only stated that the juvenile delivered something that was believed to be, and the State was told, a controlled substance. Identification of the controlled substance is a crucial element of the offense. The Court stated that the petition cannot be based on a guess about whether the substance was a controlled substance or not.

Of note, the Court also commented on additional issues raised on appeal that did not need to be addressed since the orders were vacated on other grounds. These issues related to the evidence of the identification of the pill. For example – the lay testimony of the SRO regarding identification of the pill would not be competent evidence to identify the controlled substance, as the SRO never saw the pill, his identification was based solely on the description provided by another student. Our Supreme Court has determined that expert witness testimony is required to establish that a pill is in fact a controlled substance because this evidence “must be based on a scientifically valid chemical analysis and not mere visual inspection.

To read the full opinion, please click here.

In re W.M.C.M., ____ N.C. App. ____ , No. COA20-164, (April 20, 2021)

In re W.M.C.M., ____ N.C. App. ____ , No. COA20-164, (April 20, 2021) – the Court of Appeals affirmed a Level 3 commitment order, with a dissent. The Court ruled that (1) The statute does not require that the exact statutory language be used when accepting an admission; (2) During an admission, when the court asks the juvenile questions from Form AOC-J-410 nearly verbatim, and the trial court gives a broader explanation of his confrontation rights than the exact language in the statute, there is no error, prejudice, or violation of the youth’s confrontation rights and an admission is entered into knowing and voluntary; and (3)The trial court provided sufficient findings of fact to support its decision to commit the youth to a Youth Development Center (YDC), as was provided by statute.

The trial court accepted the youth’s admission to two felony petitions after asking the youth the questions from Form AOC-J-410 almost verbatim, but with additional clarifying language regarding the youth’s “right to ask witnesses questions during a hearing.” The youth argued on appeal that the adjudication should be reversed because the trial court did follow the exact language of the statute, specifically as to confrontation of witnesses. The Court of Appeals determined that the youth’s admission was knowing and voluntary and his rights were protected.

The Court also found that the trial court is not required to use the AOC adjudication order so long as its order meets all the findings required in the statute and affirmed the adjudication and Level 3 commitment order.

The dissent would have found that the adjudication hearing was inadequate; and the trial court’s adjudication order was insufficient. He would have reversed the trial court’s orders and remanded for further proceedings.

To read the full opinion, please click here.

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