515.1Admission or Adjudication
- The juvenile may enter an admission to the allegation of delinquency, and the court may accept that admission after making the statutory determinations and ensuring the juvenile understands his or her rights.
- If the juvenile does not admit the allegation, the court must hold an adjudicatory hearing governed by the rules of evidence.
- If the allegation is not proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the court must dismiss the petition with prejudice.
- If the allegation is proved beyond a reasonable doubt (or if the juvenile admits the allegation), the court will enter an Order of Adjudication and move to Disposition.
Admissions by the Juvenile
Admission to a Juvenile Petition
A juvenile is not “charged with a crime,” and therefore he or she cannot “plead guilty” to the charge; however, a juvenile who is “alleged to be delinquent” may enter an “admission” to the alleged offense. The judge accepts a juvenile’s admission in a proceeding which is very similar to the taking of a guilty plea for a felony offense in superior court. G.S. 7B-2407 sets out the court’s duty in accepting a juvenile’s admission of delinquency. Before accepting an admission, the statute requires the judge to personally address the juvenile regarding certain rights and make several determinations, as follows:
- Informing the juvenile of the right to remain silent, and that any statement may be used against him or her;
- Determining that the juvenile understands the nature of the charge;
- Informing the juvenile of the right to deny the allegations;
- Informing the juvenile that entering an admission waives the right to confront the witnesses against him or her;
- Determining that the juvenile is satisfied with his or her attorney; and
- Informing the juvenile of the most restrictive disposition that may be imposed for the charge.
See In re T.E.F., 359 N.C. 570 (2005) (failure to address all six issues is reversible error). Use of the transcript form, AOC-J-410 (Transcript of Admission by Juvenile), can be helpful, but the juvenile’s completion of this form is not a legal requirement, nor can it be substituted for the required face-to-face communication between the judge and the juvenile. See, e.g., In re N.J., 221 N.C. App. 427 (2012) (holding before accepting a juvenile’s admission the court must personally inform the juvenile of the most serious possible disposition and may not delegate that responsibility); In re A.W., 182 N.C. App. 159 (2007) (transcript was not a sufficient substitute for court’s failure to address all six issues/determinations).
The court must also inquire whether there were any prior discussions involving the admissions, whether the parties have entered into a plea agreement, whether there was any improper pressure exerted on the juvenile, and whether the admission is the juvenile’s informed choice. See G.S. 7B-2407(b). Again, the transcript form AOC-J-410 can be very helpful for ensuring that all these questions are properly asked. Finally, the court may accept the admission only after determining there is a sufficient factual basis for the plea, which can be provided through: (i) a statement of facts from the prosecutor; (ii) a written statement from the juvenile; (iii) sworn testimony (which may include hearsay); or (iv) a statement from the juvenile’s attorney. See G.S. 7B-2407(c). If all these criteria are satisfied, the court will enter an order adjudicating the juvenile delinquent of the offense. See AOC-J-460 (Juvenile Adjudication Order).
Know the facts
Only the four categories of information listed above can be used to establish the factual basis for the admission – the facts alleged in the petition and a stipulation from the defense are not enough to support a factual basis finding. See In re Mecklenburg County, 191 N.C. App. 246 (2008) (“Since the State failed to provide information in compliance with section 7B-2407 to establish a factual basis for admitting the Juvenile's plea, we must vacate the Juvenile's admission of guilt in this matter.”).
If the prosecutor handling the plea does not personally know the facts of the case well enough to provide a factual basis in court, then he or she needs to have a thorough written summary of the facts prepared in advance or call a witness to testify. As a last resort, the prosecutor can ask the defense attorney to present a factual summary, but a presentation from the defense obviously may not focus on all the same facts that the state would want to emphasize.
The Court of Appeals has held in at least one case that the district court may accept a juvenile's “Alford admission” (i.e., entering an admission but without acknowledging actual guilt), as long as the court: (i) follows all the other requirements in G.S. 7B-2407 for accepting a juvenile's admission; (ii) concludes that the juvenile has been informed of the consequences of the admission; and (iii) finds that the juvenile understands that he will still be subject to the court's dispositional authority after making the admission. In re C.L., 217 N.C. App. 109 (2011).
However, this opinion relies on G.S. 7B-2405(6), which states that juveniles alleged to be delinquent have "[a]ll rights afforded adult offenders except the right to bail, the right of self-representation, and the right of trial by jury," which led the court to conclude that G.S. 15A-1011 and 15A-1022(d) should entitle a juvenile to make an “Alford admission.” But that reasoning may be questionable in light of the North Carolina Supreme Court’s holding and statements in other cases such as In re D.L.H., 364 N.C. 214 (2010), where the Court emphasized the difference between criminal and juvenile proceedings and specifically declined to infer from G.S. 15-196.1 that a juvenile was entitled to credit for time served.
Accepting a juvenile’s admission to probation violations is not subject to the same requirements as accepting an admission at adjudication. See In re D.J.M., 181 N.C. App. 126 (2007) (holding that the trial court did not err by failing to make the specific inquires set out in G.S. 7B-2407 in accepting the juvenile’s admission to probation violations pursuant to G.S. 7B-2510).
Conducting the Adjudication Hearing
If the juvenile does not admit to the allegation contained in the petition, then the court must conduct an adjudication hearing. This hearing is analogous to conducting a bench trial in district court for an adult offender. The state goes first in the presentation of evidence, and the juvenile has the right to cross-examine any witnesses. See G.S. 7B-2405(3). The juvenile may then choose to present evidence or not, as the defense sees fit. Counsel should generally follow the procedural steps that would apply in any other bench trial (marking exhibits for evidence, tendering experts, making objections, etc.), but several key procedural issues for juvenile hearing are summarized below.
Effective December 1, 2015, the adjudication hearing must be held separately from the probable cause and transfer hearings. See G.S. 7B-2202(f) (after a finding of probable cause, “the adjudicatory hearing shall be a separate hearing”); G.S. 7B-2203(d) (similar rule regarding transfer hearings). The amendments to these two statutes overrule those portions of prior Court of Appeals decisions that had approved of conducting the probable cause, transfer, and adjudication hearings all together in a single proceeding. E.g., In re G.C., 230 N.C. App. 511 (2013); In re J.J., Jr., 216 N.C. App. 366 (2011). However, this amendment does not appear to bar courts from continuing to conduct the probable cause and transfer hearings as a single proceeding. See G.S. 7B-2202 (Probable Cause); G.S. 7B-2203 (Transfer).
Pursuant to G.S. 7B-2402, all hearings must be open to the public unless the court closes the hearing (or part of the hearing) for good cause, on motion of a party or the court’s own motion. In determining good cause, the court must consider the circumstances of the case, including, but not limited to, the five factors set out in G.S. 7B-2402 (nature of allegations, juvenile’s age and maturity, benefit to juvenile of confidentiality, benefit to public of open hearing, and extent to which open hearing would compromise confidentiality).
No party has a right to “demand” a closed hearing. See In re K.T.L., 177 N.C. App. 365 (2006) (court properly denied request by both juvenile and state to close hearing). If the court does close all or part of a hearing, it may allow any victim, member of the victim’s family, law enforcement officer, witness, or any other person directly involved in the hearing to be present. The court may not close any hearing, in whole or in part, if the juvenile requests that it remain open. See G.S. 7B-2402.
Rules of Evidence
The “rules of evidence applicable to criminal cases” apply in juvenile adjudicatory hearings. See G.S. 7B-2408. Therefore, any statutory exceptions to the rules of evidence (such as the admissibility of chain of custody evidence and laboratory drug test results without the need for live testimony) apply as well. See G.S. 90-95(g), (g1). No statement made by a juvenile to the juvenile court counselor during the preliminary inquiry and evaluation process is admissible until the dispositional hearing. See G.S. 7B-2408. For more information on this topic, see the related Juvenile entry on Custody and Questioning.
Remote testimony is permitted in certain circumstances in juvenile delinquency proceedings. See G.S. 15A-1225.1 (authorizes remote testimony by child witnesses in specified circumstances); G.S. 15A-1225.2 (authorizes remote testimony in criminal cases by witnesses with developmental disabilities or mental retardation). For more information on remote testimony in general, see the related entry on Expert Witnesses: Crawford, Substitute Analysts, and Remote Testimony (Section E, “Remote Testimony”).
Record of Hearing
All adjudicatory hearings (as well as all hearings on probable cause and transfer to superior court) must be recorded by stenographic notes or by electronic or mechanical means. Records may be reduced to a written transcript only when timely notice of appeal has been given. The court may order that other hearings be recorded. See G.S. 7B-2410.
Burden of Proof
The allegations in a petition alleging that a juvenile is delinquent must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. See G.S. 7B-2409. Allegations in a petition alleging that a juvenile is undisciplined must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Id.
Jeopardy attaches in an adjudicatory hearing when the court begins to hear evidence. See G.S. 7B-2414; In re Phillips, 128 N.C. App. 732 (1998). But if there is a procedural defect in the petition that deprives the court of jurisdiction, then jeopardy ordinarily does not attach. For more information on this topic, see the related Juvenile entry on Petitions – Defects and Amendments.
Results of the Adjudication
If the court does not find the allegations in the petition have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the court will dismiss the petition with prejudice; if the juvenile is in secure or nonsecure custody, he or she must be released. See G.S. 7B-2411.
If the allegations are proved beyond a reasonable doubt (or if the juvenile enters an admission), the court must enter a written adjudication order specifying that the court finds the allegations were proved beyond a reasonable doubt and identifying (at a minimum) the offense adjudicated, its offense classification, the date of offense, and the date of adjudication. See G.S. 7B-2411; In re C.B., 187 N.C. App. 803 (2007); In re Eades, 143 N.C. App. 712 (2001); AOC-J-460 (Juvenile Adjudication Order). The court will then move on to the juvenile analogue of sentencing, which is referred to as Disposition.