Key Concepts

  • The juvenile court has original and exclusive jurisdiction over all offenses committed by juveniles aged 6 to 16 (up to age 18, effective for offenses committed on or after 12/1/19) at the time of the offense.
  • If the proceedings cannot be concluded before the juvenile ages out, or if the juvenile has already aged out by the time the proceedings are initiated, then the court has jurisdiction for the sole purpose of conducting a probable cause and transfer hearing.
  • Venue for the petition and adjudication is proper in the district where the offense took place; venue for the disposition is usually proper in the district where the juvenile resides, but may be held elsewhere or transferred in some circumstances.

Jurisdiction to Initiate a New Case 

Whether to initiate a case in superior court or in juvenile court is not a “choice” to be made by a prosecutor. In every case, there is only one court (if any) which is the proper place for initiation. The proper court is determined by several factors:

  1. Minimum Age:
    Was the offense committed when the individual was least 6 years of age? See G.S. 7B-1501(7).
  2. Maximum Age:
    Was the offense committed when the individual was less than 16 years of age (or 18 years of age, effective 12/1/19)? See G.S. 7B-1501(7).
  3. Juvenile:
    At the time of the offense, was the individual still legally a “juvenile” – that is, was he or she unmarried, not emancipated, and not in the armed services? See G.S. 7B-1604(a).

If the answer to any of these three questions is “no,” then the juvenile court does not have jurisdiction. Someone younger than 6 years at the time of the offense cannot be charged in any court. Someone 16 or older at the time of the offense (18 or older, effective for offenses committed on or after 12/1/19), or a person who is married, emancipated, or in the armed services at the time of the offense, must always be charged in criminal court as an adult.

If the answer to all three of the questions is “yes,” then in most situations the case can only be initiated by a petition filed in juvenile court. However, there are two important exceptions to this rule. First, even for offenses committed on or after 12/1/19, a juvenile aged 16 or 17 who commits a Chapter 20 motor vehicle offense will still be prosecuted as an adult in district or superior court. Second, if the juvenile already has a prior conviction as an adult in district or superior court (e.g., for a Chapter 20 traffic offense or as a result of having a previous case transferred from juvenile court to superior court) at the time that the new offense is committed, then he or she must be charged as an adult for the new offense.

Original Jurisdiction Beyond Age 18

Because of the age limits on the court’s jurisdiction, there are a number of factors to consider in cases where delinquency allegations are not initiated until after the juvenile is too old for juvenile proceedings (e.g., a sex offense committed at age 15, but not discovered until the person is 22) or where proceedings cannot be completed before the juvenile reaches 18 (e.g., juvenile is under 18 when the petition is filed, but reaches age 18 before the court can conduct the adjudication hearing and enter a disposition). The following summaries illustrate how jurisdiction applies in such cases.

Offenses Committed Before Age 16 -- Person Is Now Over 16, But Still Younger Than 18

The juvenile court has original jurisdiction over all offenses committed while the person was younger than 16, and that jurisdiction continues until terminated by the court or the person turns 18, whichever occurs first. See G.S. 7B-1601(b). Therefore, the juvenile court does have jurisdiction to initiate new proceedings and carry them through to a final disposition, as long as the proceedings are fully concluded before the person turns 18.

If the proceedings cannot be concluded before the person turns 18, then the juvenile court retains jurisdiction for the sole purpose of conducting probable cause and transfer hearings, resulting in either a dismissal of the petition or transfer to superior court for trial as an adult. See G.S. 7B-1601(c). For example, if a person is taken into custody at age 17 for a felony assault allegedly committed when the person was 15, a juvenile petition would be filed and the juvenile court would have jurisdiction to conduct the probable cause and transfer hearings, even if the person turned 18 before both of those hearings could be completed.

Offenses Committed Before Age 16 -- Person Is Now Over 18

If the person is alleged to have committed (a) only misdemeanors, or (b) a felony before the person reached age 13, then a case can be initiated in juvenile court only before the person reaches age 18. See G.S. 7B-1602(d). In other words, if the person is now over 18, charges that only allege misdemeanors or felonies committed before age 13 cannot be filed in any court.

But if the person is alleged to have committed a felony (and any related misdemeanors) while he or she was age 13, 14, or 15, then the case can still be initiated in juvenile court (and only in juvenile court), regardless of the person’s age when the petition is filed. The juvenile court has jurisdiction for the limited purpose of conducting a probable cause and transfer hearing. The juvenile court’s role is thus limited to either dismissing the case, or transferring it to superior court for further proceedings as an adult. See G.S. 7B-1601(b), (c).

Practice Pointer

No time limit 
For the limited purposes of conducting probable cause and transfer hearings for respondents who were juveniles at the time of the offense but are over 18 now, the court’s jurisdiction continues indefinitely. See G.S. 7B-1601(d). For example, if a juvenile committed a rape when he was 15, but he is 50 by the time he is finally identified through DNA evidence as the assailant, the charges still can (and must) be initiated as a juvenile petition, which (assuming probable cause exists) will then be transferred over to superior court for trial.

Effective December 1, 2019, when new legislation expanded the juvenile court’s original jurisdiction to include offenses committed by 16- and 17-year-olds, additional scenarios became possible:

Offenses Committed After juvenile Turns 16, But Before He or She Reaches 19

  1. The court has original jurisdiction over the offenses until the person reaches age 19 (rather than age 18, as above). If the proceedings cannot be concluded before the person turns 19, then the juvenile court retains jurisdiction for the purpose of conducting probable cause and transfer hearings, resulting in either a dismissal of the petition or transfer to superior court for trial as an adult. See G.S. 7B-1601(c1).
  2. If the person is already over the age of 19 at the time the charges are initiated, then the juvenile court has jurisdiction for the sole purpose of conducting probable cause and transfer hearings and either dismissing the case or transferring it to superior court for trial as an adult. See G.S. 7B-1601(d1). Note that this jurisdiction is limited to allegations of felonies and related misdemeanor offenses. Id. Therefore, if the allegation is solely for a misdemeanor committed while the juvenile was age 16, and he or she is now over age 19, then charges cannot be filed in either court. (The statute of limitations on misdemeanors would likely bar such a prosecution anyway. See G.S. 15-1.)

Offenses Committed After Juvenile Turns 17, But Before He or She Reaches 20

  1. The court has original jurisdiction over the offenses until the person reaches age 20 (rather than age 18, as above). If the proceedings cannot be concluded before the person turns 20, then the juvenile court retains jurisdiction for the purpose of conducting probable cause and transfer hearings, resulting in either a dismissal of the petition or transfer to superior court for trial as an adult. See G.S. 7B-1601(c1).
  2. If the person is already over the age of 20 at the time the charges are initiated, then the juvenile court has jurisdiction for the sole purpose of conducting probable cause and transfer hearings and either dismissing the case or transferring it to superior court for trial as an adult. See G.S. 7B-1601(d1). Note that this jurisdiction is limited to allegations of felonies and related misdemeanor offenses. Id. Therefore, if the allegation is solely for a misdemeanor committed while the juvenile was age 17, and he or she is now over age 20, then charges cannot be filed in either court. Id. (The statute of limitations on misdemeanors would likely bar such a prosecution anyway. See G.S. 15-1.)
Practice Pointer

Step-by-step example 
On a date after December 1, 2019, a 17 year-old juvenile commits a Class H felony larceny. The identity of the juvenile as the perpetrator is finally discovered through the cooperation of another witness a couple years later. The juvenile who committed the offense is now 19, and about to turn 20 in a few months. Where are charges filed?
The charges should be initiated as a petition in juvenile court, not as an indictment in superior court, because the suspect was a juvenile at the time the offense was committed. If the case can be “fully resolved” (including final disposition) before the juvenile reaches his 20th birthday, then it will remain solely under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. If the case cannot be fully resolved before the juvenile turns 20 (or if the charged offense had been a Class A-G felony, instead of only an H-I offense), the juvenile court will conduct a probable cause hearing on the charge. If probable cause exists, the juvenile court will then conduct a transfer hearing, and decide whether to send the case to superior court. (For more information, including a discussion about mandatory transfer for Class A-G felonies, see the related entry on Transfer Hearings.)
Prosecutors should also keep in mind that under G.S. 7B-2513(a3) (effective 12/1/19), a juvenile who commits a felony offense at age 17 cannot be committed to detention at YDC beyond his or her 20th birthday.  (For more information, see the related Juvenile entry on Commitment.) Therefore, to ensure that some sort of meaningful punishment will be possible, the prosecutor in this example should seriously consider seeking transfer of this case to superior court anyway, even if it might be theoretically possible to “fully resolve” the case in juvenile court within the few months of jurisdiction remaining.

Continuing and Extended Jurisdiction

After a juvenile is adjudicated to be delinquent, the court’s jurisdiction and the time during which the individual may be subject to juvenile disposition orders continue until terminated by court order, or until the juvenile reaches age 18 (or age 19 or 20, effective 12/1/19, for juveniles aged 16 or 17 at the time of offense, respectively), whichever occurs first. But in some circumstances, the court’s jurisdiction can extend beyond those limits and reach as far as age 21, even for juveniles who are under the age of 16 at the time of the offense.

First, when a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent for first-degree murder, first-degree rape, or first-degree sexual offense and committed to a youth development center (formerly called “training school”), jurisdiction continues until terminated by court order or until the juvenile reaches age 21, whichever occurs first. G.S. 7B-1602(a). Second, when a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent for a Class B1, B2, C, D, or E felony (other than the three offenses just discussed above) and is committed to a youth development center, the court’s jurisdiction continues until terminated by an order or until the juvenile reaches age 19, whichever occurs first. G.S. 7B-1602(b).

The Juvenile Code refers to court jurisdiction past age 18 as “extended jurisdiction.” G.S. 7B-1602. The Code uses the term “extended commitment” to refer to a juvenile’s commitment to a youth development center beyond age 18. See G.S. 7B-2515. But even when jurisdiction extends past age 18, a juvenile’s commitment to a youth development center beyond age 18 is never automatic. See G.S. 7B-2515. For more information, see the related Juvenile entry on Commitment

Venue

The proper venue for filing a petition and conducting the adjudication hearing is the district in which the offense allegedly occurred.  See G.S. 7B-1800(a). The proper venue for holding the disposition hearing is normally in the district where the juvenile “resides.” See G.S. 7B-1800(a).

However, if the offense (and thus the filing of the petition and the adjudication hearing) take place in a district where a juvenile is in foster care or residential treatment, then the disposition hearing must take place in that district as well, even if that is not the district where the juvenile permanently resides. The disposition hearing can be transferred to the juvenile’s district of residence, but only if the judge enters an order, supported by findings of fact, concluding that the transfer serves the ends of justice or is in the best interest of the juvenile. See G.S. 7B-1800(a).

If the juvenile does not legally reside in the district where the offense/petition/adjudication took place, nor is he or she in foster care or treatment in that district (e.g., the offense happened in Durham County, but the juvenile resides with his family at a home in Wake County), then upon motion the juvenile has a right to have the disposition hearing transferred to his or her district of residence. See G.S. 7B-1800(b)(3). Additionally, the chief district judge of the district where the juvenile resides must be notified of the out-of-district proceedings, and if that judge requests a transfer of the disposition back to the district of residence within five days, the charging district must transfer the proceeding. See G.S. 7B-1800(b)(2).

Portions of this entry were excerpted from the 2017 North Carolina Juvenile Defender Manual, Chapter 3, by David W. Andrews and John Rubin.