House Bill 879 – Juvenile Code Reform

Justice System Reform

House Bill 879 (H879) proposes various reforms and technical changes to the Juvenile Code. The changes are designed to improve due process protections, prevent further entry into the delinquency system, and reduce confinement in facilities.

Due Process

Sections 1.1 through 1.4 of the bill address several points in delinquency procedures. Section 1.1 raises the age at which a parent or attorney must be present to allow an in-custody admission or confession into evidence from 14 to 16. Sections 1.2 and 1.3 clarify that after a probable cause hearing or transfer hearing, if the case is to continue to adjudication, that the adjudicatory hearing is to be a separate hearing. Section 1.4 creates a procedure for hearing motions to suppress in delinquency court by adopting, in large part, the adult criminal procedure.

Further Entry

Sections 2.1 through 2.6 address reducing further entry into the delinquency system. Section 2.1 emphasizes the duty of the juvenile court counselor to make reasonable efforts to meet with the juvenile and parent to determine whether a petition should be filed. Section 2.2 creates a procedure for voluntary dismissal by the prosecutor. Section 2.3 defines a prior adjudication as an adjudication that occurs before the adjudication currently before the court. Section 2.4 includes two amendments: 1) defining the parameters for hearing an extension of probation; and 2) clarifying that upon a violation of probation, a court may raise the disposition level, or give twice the term of confinement authorized by statute, but not both, reducing the possibility of both a longer term of confinement in detention and future exposure to long term placement or even commitment to a youth development center. Sections 2.5 and 2.6 address juvenile expunctions. Section 2.5 creates a new obligation on the court to inform a juvenile of the right to an expunction, while Section 2.6 allows for an easier expunction process for offenders who commit minor offenses.

Juvenile Confinement

Sections 3.1 and 3.2 address juvenile confinement. Section 3.1 includes two new provisions. It clarifies that for juveniles placed in secure custody after adjudication and before disposition, or after disposition and pending placement, the court must have hearings every ten days (can be waived only by and through counsel) and make findings of facts in the order. It also creates a provision that juveniles under age ten found to be in need of medical or psychiatric treatment should not be restrained unless for safety reasons. Section 3.2 codifies case law providing that the judge has the sole discretion in determining when a juvenile may be placed in custody as a dispositional sanction.

Bill Status and Support

H879 has been heard in committee (where a committee substitute included friendly amendments from the Division of Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice, the NC Sheriff’s Association, and committee members) and passed the House 110-3. There is a companion bill in the Senate (S331) that doesn’t include the most recent amendments.

Sections 1.1 (age of in-custody admission), 1.2 and 1.3 (providing for a separate adjudicatory hearing after probable cause and transfer), 1.4 (providing for a procedure to hearing motions to suppress), 2.3 (defining prior adjudication), and 3.2 (granting sole discretion with the court to order intermittent confinement) are supported by the North Carolina Bar Association and part of its legislative agenda.

Eric Zogry is on the advisory board of Youth Justice North Carolina