513.1Probable Cause Hearing
- Unless it is waived, the court must conduct a probable cause hearing in all felony cases involving juveniles aged 13 or older at the time of the offense. The probable cause hearing must take place within 15 days of the initial appearance.
- The state has the burden of showing, through non-hearsay evidence (subject to certain exceptions), that there is probable cause to believe the juvenile committed the offense.
- If the court finds probable cause, the state may proceed to the adjudication or transfer hearing.
- If the court does not find probable cause for the charged felony, then the state may not proceed on that charge -- but the state may still be able to proceed on a lesser offense for which the court does find probable cause.
Timing and Need for a Hearing
A probable cause hearing is required whenever a juvenile aged 13 or older at the time of the offense is alleged to have committed a felony. See G.S. 7B-2202(a). The hearing must be conducted within 15 days of the date of the juvenile’s first appearance , but the court may continue the hearing for good cause. See G.S. 7B-2202(a). In the case of a juvenile aged 16 or 17 who is charged with a Class A-G felony, the probable cause hearing must be held within 90 days, but the court may continue the hearing for good cause. See G.S. 7B-2200.5(c). Alternatively, the juvenile’s attorney may stipulate to a finding of probable cause and waive the right to a probable cause hearing, as long as he or she does so in writing. See G.S. 7B-2202(d). There is a space provided on the standard AOC juvenile probable cause form for entering a signed stipulation and waiver of hearing. See AOC-J-343 (Probable Cause Hearing).
Conducting the Hearing
At the hearing, the state must show (through testimony or other evidence) that there is probable cause to believe that the charged offense was committed, and that the juvenile is the person who committed it. See G.S. 7B-2202(c). The state must make this showing through the use of "nonhearsay evidence," but there are two important exceptions to the hearsay limitation.
First, under G.S. 7B-2202(c)(1), a report by a physicist, chemist, fingerprint examiner, firearms identification expert, or other expert or technician in a scientific, professional, or medical field concerning the results of an examination, comparison, or test in the case (e.g., fingerprint comparison, shell casing analysis, or blood test results) are all admissible in evidence at the probable cause hearing.
Second, under G.S. 7B-2202(c)(2), if there is no serious contest, reliable hearsay is also admissible to prove:
- Value, ownership, or possession of property by a person other than the juvenile;
- Lack of consent by the owner/possessor/custodian of property to the breaking and entering of a premises;
- Chain of custody; and
- Authenticity of signatures.
Results of the Hearing
- Finding of Probable Cause for the Charged Felony
If the court finds that probable cause does exist for the felony offense charged in the petition, then the court must do one of the following:
- Mandatory Transfer
If transfer of the case to superior court is statutorily required, the court shall automatically enter an order transferring the case. See G.S. 7B-2200; G.S. 7B-2200.5 (effective 12/1/19). For more information on mandatory transfers, see the related Juvenile entry on Transfer Hearings.
- Discretionary Transfer
If transfer of the case to superior court is not mandatory under G.S. 7B-2200 or G.S. 7B-2200.5 (effective 12/1/19), but discretionary transfer is being sought by either party or on the court’s own motion, then the court must either proceed immediately with a transfer hearing or set a date for that hearing. If the juvenile has not received notice at least 5 days before the probable cause hearing of the intention to seek transfer, then at the juvenile’s request the court must continue the transfer hearing. For more information on discretionary transfers, see the related Juvenile entry on Transfer Hearings.
- Proceed to Adjudication
If transfer to superior court is neither statutorily mandated nor being sought by the court or either party, then the court will proceed to an adjudication hearing on the felony charge in juvenile court, or set a date for that hearing. See G.S. 7B-2203(d). The adjudication hearing must be conducted as a separate proceeding from the probable cause (or transfer) hearing. See G.S. 7B-2203(d). For more information, see the related Juvenile entry on Adjudication Hearings.
- No Probable Cause for the Charged Felony
If the court finds that probable cause does not exist for the felony offense charged in the petition, then the court must do one of the following:
- Dismiss the Proceeding
The judge may order the case dismissed based on the lack of probable cause. See G.S. 7B-2202(f)(1).
- Proceed on a Lesser Offense
If the court finds probable cause that the juvenile committed a lesser-included misdemeanor offense, then the court shall proceed to (or set a date for) an adjudicatory hearing on the lesser offense for which the court did find probable cause. See G.S. 7B-2202(f)(2).
- Limitations on Jurisdiction
If the court finds that: (i) the juvenile has already reached age 18 (or age 19 or 20 for an offense committed by a 16 or 17 year-old, respectively, effective 12/1/19); and (ii) probable cause is only found for a misdemeanor offense, then the court must dismiss the petition. See G.S. 7B-1601(c), (d). Only “felonies and related misdemeanors” are included in the court’s original jurisdiction over juveniles whose age exceeds the statutory limits, so the court lacks jurisdiction to proceed to adjudication solely on a misdemeanor in such a case. Id. For more information, see the related Juvenile entry on Jurisdiction & Venue.
- No Right to Appeal
There is no mechanism for either party to appeal directly from the court’s determination of probable cause. The juvenile has no immediate right to appeal because a finding of probable cause is not yet a “final order” in the matter. See G.S. 7B-2602; In re K.R.B., 134 N.C. App. 328 (1999); In re Ford, 49 N.C. App. 680 (1980). The state has no right to appeal because it is not included among the limited statutory grounds allowed for an appeal, even though a finding of no probable cause may effectively terminate the case. See G.S. 7B-2604(b). For more information, see the related Juvenile entry on Appeals.