512.1Pretrial Motions & Continuances
- Motions to suppress in juvenile court must comply with specific statutory requirements, and if a motion is not summarily granted or denied, the court must conduct a hearing and make findings of fact and conclusions of law on the record.
- The court has authority to continue the adjudication or disposition hearing upon a sufficient showing of good cause, extraordinary circumstances, or other grounds as provided by statute.
- The criminal procedure rules are generally not applicable in juvenile cases unless they have been specifically incorporated into the Juvenile Code, so motions or arguments based on unincorporated statutes may not apply.
Motion to Suppress
Basis and Requirements
A juvenile may file a written motion to suppress evidence at any time before the adjudicatory hearing. See G.S. 7B-2408.5(a). The motion must made be in writing, served on the state, provide the grounds upon which it is based, and be accompanied by an affidavit containing facts supporting the motion. See G.S. 7B-2408.5(a). The affidavit may be based on personal knowledge or information and belief, as long as the source and basis of that knowledge or belief are stated. Id. The state may (but is not required to) file a written response, and serve it on the juvenile’s counsel (or parent/guardian). Id.
Instead of filing the suppression motion before the adjudicatory hearing, the juvenile can wait and make the motion either in writing or orally at the adjudicatory hearing, as long as all the other requirements for the motion are met. See G.S. 7B-2408.5(e).
Hearing and Ruling
If the state concedes the allegations in the motion, or stipulates that the challenged evidence will not be used, the court must summarily grant the motion. G.S. 7B-2408.5(b). If the motion does not state a legal basis for the motion, or the affidavit fails to support the grounds for the motion as a matter of law, the court may summarily deny the motion. G.S. 7B-2408.5(c). If the motion is neither summarily granted nor denied, the judge must conduct a hearing and make findings of fact and a determination. G.S. 7B-2408.5(d). The judge must set forth the findings of fact and conclusions of law in the record. G.S. 7B-2408.5(f); G.S. 15A-974(b).
Hearings on a suppression motion are a “determination of questions of fact preliminary to the admissibility of evidence,” and therefore the formal rules of evidence do not apply. See G.S. 8C-1, Rule 1101(b)(1); Rule 104(a).
Additionally, G.S. 7B-2408.5(h) makes the provisions of G.S. 15A-974 (“Exclusion or suppression of unlawfully obtained evidence”) applicable to motions to suppress in juvenile court. G.S. 15A-974(a) directs that evidence must be suppressed if its exclusion is required by the Constitution or if the evidence was obtained as a result of a substantial violation of the defendant’s rights. Under G.S. 15A-974(a)(2), the statutory “good faith” exception applies to motions to suppress, and “evidence shall not be suppressed under this subdivision if the person committing the violation of the provision or provisions under this Chapter acted under the objectively reasonable, good faith belief that the actions were lawful.” However, North Carolina cases interpreting and applying the good faith exception have held that the exclusion of such evidence is still required under the state constitution, so this exception is of limited value to the state. See State v. Carter, 322 N.C. 709 (1988); State v. Elder, 232 N.C. App. 80 (2014).
Good Faith Exception?
G.S. 15A-974 was amended effective July 1, 2011, to add a statutory good faith exception, which provides that “evidence shall not be suppressed under this subdivision if the person committing the violation of the provision or provisions under this Chapter acted under the objectively reasonable, good faith belief that the actions were lawful.” However, North Carolina cases interpreting and applying the good faith exception have held that the exclusion of such evidence is still required under the state constitution, so this exception is of limited value to the state. See State v. Carter, 322 N.C. 709 (1988); State v. Elder, 232 N.C. App. 80 (2014). The statutory revision cannot overrule the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of a constitutional issue, so any evidence obtained as result of a substantial violation of the defendant’s state constitutional rights is still subject to exclusion under Carter in North Carolina. For a more complete discussion of this issue, see “New North Carolina Legislation on Good Faith Exception to Exclusionary Rules,” Robert Farb, NC Criminal Law Blog, March 21, 2011.
Appealing the Ruling
The juvenile does not have an immediate right to appeal the judge’s ruling denying the motion. However, upon subsequent adjudication and disposition (i.e., “final order”), the juvenile may appeal the denial of the motion to suppress – as long as the objection was renewed at the time of adjudication or admission. See G.S. 7B-2408.5(g); 7B-2602; State v. Grooms, 353 N.C. 50 (2000). If an objection is not renewed or preserved, the juvenile’s appeal may be limited to plain error review. See State v. Stokes, 357 N.C. 220 (2003). If the judge grants the motion to suppress, the state has a right to appeal if the suppression order has the practical effect of terminating the prosecution. See G.S. 7B-2604(a), (b)(2) (“appeal may be taken by…the State” from an order that “terminates the prosecution of a petition by…granting a motion to suppress”); 7B-2602 (state’s right to appeal from an order which “in effect determines the action” and prevents a final judgment).
“Terminated” or voluntarily dismissed?
G.S. 7B-2604(b)(2) explicitly authorize the state to appeal from any order that “terminates the prosecution…by granting a motion to suppress,” but in practice it may be better for the state if the judge makes a clear ruling on the record that as a result of granting the motion to suppress, the court is now dismissing the case for insufficient evidence. If the prosecutor enters a voluntary dismissal following an order of suppression, the Court of Appeals might later decide that the appeal does not fall within G.S. 7B-2602 or 7B-2604(b)(2) because the state theoretically could have proceeded using other evidence, and simply chose not to do so. See In re P.K.M., 219 N.C. App. 543 (2012) (“Assuming arguendo that dismissal of the case for insufficient evidence is not required in order to satisfy the ‘terminates the prosecution’ standard,” the state’s appeal in this case was still improper because the order granting the motion to suppress the juvenile’s statement did not, on its own, terminate the prosecution – the state could have proceeded with other evidence).
Motion to Continue
For “good cause,” the court may continue an adjudication hearing for as long as reasonably required to (i) receive additional evidence, reports, or assessments requested by the court; (ii) obtain other information in the best interests of the juvenile; or (iii) allow the parties to conduct expeditious discovery. See G.S. 7B-2406. Otherwise, continuances should be granted only in “extraordinary circumstances” as necessary for the proper administration of justice or best interests of the juvenile. See G.S. 7B-2406. In the court’s discretion, dispositional hearings may also be continued (for no more than six months) for the purpose of allowing the juvenile’s family to meet the juvenile’s needs through more adequate supervision, or placement with a specialized school, agency, relative, or some other plan approved by the court. See G.S. 7B-2501(d); see also In re Vinson, 298 N.C. 640 (1979) (juvenile entitled to reasonable continuance of disposition hearing for purpose of obtaining and presenting evidence); but see In re C.L., 217 N.C. App. 109 (2011) (no error in denying juvenile’s motion to continue disposition to have more time to read disposition report and prepare).
Subject to a few exceptions for issues of fundamental due process (e.g., right to a reasonable continuance in Vinson, above), the criminal procedure rules which apply to the prosecutions of adults are not applicable in juvenile cases unless they have been specifically incorporated into the juvenile code. See In re D.L.H., 364 N.C. 214 (2010) (so stating, declining to apply unincorporated jail credit statute for adults to a juvenile case, and distinguishing several other areas where juvenile code doesincorporate adult criminal procedure). For example, a juvenile could file a motion to compel discovery under the Juvenile Code in G.S. 7B-2302 (Regulation of discovery), but not under the general provisions of G.S. 15A-903 (Disclosure of evidence by the state), because the more general discovery statute is not specifically incorporated into the Code. By contrast, G.S. 7B-1806 (Service of summons) does incorporate certain aspects of adult criminal procedure found in G.S. 15A-301 (Criminal process generally), so a motion challenging service under those statutes might be proper – unless, of course, the party appears and participates despite the defect, in which case it is waived. See In re D.S.B., 179 N.C. App. 577 (2006).
Check the statutes
It is beyond the scope of this entry to compile a complete list of every possible circumstance in which a general rule of criminal procedure may or may not apply to juvenile cases, but the broader point is that before proceeding to argue the merits of any motion filed by the juvenile, the prosecutor should first carefully review the motion to determine if it has a legitimate statutory basis to even be heard, and if so, to ensure that the court is analyzing the motion under the appropriate statutes within the Juvenile Code.