Key Concepts

  • The court must impose a disposition which both meets the needs of the juvenile and promotes public safety, taking into account the seriousness of the offense, degree of culpability, resources available to help the juvenile, and other factors.
  • Some disposition options, such as continuing the case for evaluation and treatment, are available in every case regardless of disposition level.
  • The court must select an appropriate disposition from the options available in Level 1 (Community), Level 2 (Intermediate) or Level 3 (Commitment).

Disposition Goals and Criteria

When a juvenile has been found delinquent, the purpose of imposing a disposition is to:

  1. Meet the needs of the juvenile;
  2. Promote public safety;
  3. Emphasize accountability and responsibility of both the juvenile and his or her parent or guardian; and
  4. Provide appropriate consequences, treatment, training and rehabilitation to help the juvenile avoid re-offending and become a responsible and productive member of the community.

See G.S. 7B-2500. Within these statutory guidelines, the court is charged with selecting a disposition designed to protect the public and to meet the needs and best interests of the juvenile, based on the following factors:

  1. Seriousness of the offense;
  2. Need to hold the juvenile accountable
  3. Importance of protecting the public safety;
  4. Degree of culpability;
  5. Rehabilitative and treatment needs of the juvenile; and
  6. Appropriate community resources available to meet the juvenile’s needs.

Dispositions Available in Every Case

Certain disposition options are available to the court in every case, regardless of the offense class, delinquency history level, or dispositional level indicated by G.S. 7B-2508(f).

  1. Dismissal or Continuance

Per G.S. 7B-2501(d), at the dispositional hearing in any case, the court may:

  1. Dismiss the case; or
  2. Continue the case for up to 6 months to give the family an opportunity to meet the juvenile’s needs through: 
  1. More adequate supervision at home;
  2. Placement in a private or specialized school or agency;
  3. Placement with a relative; or
  4. Some other plan approved by the court.
Practice Pointer

Dismissal…after adjudication?
Yes, the court can dismiss the case at disposition, even after holding a full adjudication hearing in which the delinquency allegation was proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge may decide that dismissal is the most appropriate outcome given the minor nature of the offense, low risk to public safety, and the needs of the juvenile. For example, in the case of a juvenile who initially refused to admit to the misdemeanor larceny of a small item (necessitating an adjudication hearing), but has subsequently shown genuine remorse, made full restitution to the victim, and been adequately punished by his parents, the judge might conclude that the consequences the juvenile would face at school following disposition would be counter-productive to his rehabilitation (e.g., ineligibility for an extracurricular activity). 

It is unclear whether a dismissal at this late stage also counts as a dismissal of the “adjudication” itself, which may be important for future delinquency history point calculations. See In re A.J.M.-B., 212 N.C. App. 586 (2011) (case was dismissed at sentencing: “although the trial court dismissed the case of resisting a public officer, the adjudication order was not dismissed…”) (emphasis added).

  1. Evaluation and Treatment

Per G.S. 7B-2502, in every case the court may also order:

  1. Examination of the juvenile by an expert;
  2. Medical, surgical, psychiatric, psychological, or other evaluation or treatment for the juvenile (and may order a parent or the county to pay for it); and
  3. Testing of the juvenile for controlled substances or alcohol (required if the adjudication is for an offense that involves possession, use, sale, or delivery of alcohol or a controlled substance – optional in court’s discretion in other cases).

If there is evidence that the juvenile is mentally ill or developmentally disabled, the court must refer the juvenile to the local mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse services director (now, local management entity director) for an interdisciplinary evaluation and the mobilization of resources to meet the juvenile’s needs. See G.S. 7B-2502(c);  AOC-J-476 (Disposition Continuance – Examination Order). The court may never commit the juvenile directly to a “state hospital or mental retardation center,” except for purposes of an evaluation of the juvenile’s competence to proceed; a juvenile’s admission to a state hospital must be by consent of an authorized person or by way of an involuntary commitment proceeding. See G.S. 7B-2502(c).

Disposition Levels and Options

In addition to the evaluation, treatment, dismissal, and continuance options just described above, which are available at every disposition, the Juvenile Code lists twenty-four dispositional alternatives that are divided into three levels: Community (Level 1), Intermediate (Level 2), and Commitment (Level 3). G.S. 7B-2508. Two dispositional options (placement in a wilderness program and participation in a supervised day program) are categorized as both Level 1 and Level 2 dispositions; therefore, either of these may satisfy a requirement that the court order a Level 2 disposition, but they are also available when the court is limited to Level 1 dispositions. Id.

  1. Level 1 Dispositions

Level 1 (“Community”) dispositions are available in every case in which a juvenile has been adjudicated delinquent. See G.S. 7B-2506(1) – (13), (16); G.S. 7B-2508(c); AOC-J-461 (Juvenile Level 1 Disposition Order). Specific factors discussed below determine whether the court must select a disposition from Level 2 or Level 3, but even when that is the case the court may also impose Level 1 disposition options. Therefore, upon adjudication in any case, the court may:

  1. After finding that the juvenile needs more adequate care or supervision or needs placement:
    1. Order supervision of the juvenile in his own home, subject to conditions placed on the juvenile or the parent; or
    2. Order placement of the juvenile in the custody of a parent, a relative, DSS, or another suitable person. DSS must be given notice and an opportunity to be heard before the court places a juvenile in DSS custody.
  2. Excuse the juvenile from compulsory school attendance when suitable alternative plans can be arranged.
  3. Order the juvenile to cooperate, for up to 12 months, with a:
    1. Community-based program;
    2. An intensive substance abuse treatment program; or
    3. A residential or nonresidential treatment program.
  4. Order the juvenile to pay restitution of up to $500. The court must make findings to support the restitution amount, and find that payment is in juvenile’s best interest and the juvenile has ability to pay – the burden is on the juvenile to show inability to pay. See In re Z.A.K., 189 N.C. App. 354, 362 (2008)In re Schrimpsher, 143 N.C. App. 461 (2001).
  5. Impose a fine (not to exceed the maximum fine permitted for an adult who commits the same offense).
  6. Order the juvenile to perform up to 100 hours of community service.
  7. Order the juvenile to participate in victim?offender reconciliation program.
  8. Place the juvenile on probation.Order that the juvenile not have a driver’s license.
  9. Impose a curfew.
  10. Order juvenile not to associate with particular people or be specific places.
  11. Order intermittent detention for up to five 24-hour periods specified by the court.
  12. Order the juvenile to cooperate with placement in a wilderness program.
  13. Order the juvenile to cooperate with a supervised day program.

Level 2 Dispositions

When a Level 2 (“Intermediate”) disposition is required or available, pursuant to G.S. 7B-2506(13) through 7B-2506(23) and G.S. 7B-2508(d) (see also AOC-J-475, Juvenile Level 2 Disposition Order), the court may order the following:

  1. Order the juvenile to cooperate with placement in a wilderness program.
  2. Order the juvenile to cooperate with a supervised day program.
  3. Order the juvenile to cooperate with placement in:
    1. A residential treatment facility;
    2. An intensive nonresidential treatment program;
    3. An intensive substance abuse program; or
    4. A group home other than a state-operated multipurpose group home.
  4. Place the juvenile on intensive probation.
  5. Order the juvenile to participate in a regimented training program.
  6. Order the juvenile to submit to house arrest.
  7. Suspend a more severe disposition that could be ordered, on the condition that the juvenile meet certain conditions agreed to by the juvenile.
  8. Order intermittent detention for up to fourteen specified 24?hour periods.
  9. Place the juvenile in a state-operated residential multipurpose group home.
  10. Require the juvenile to pay more than five hundred dollars ($500.00) restitution. The court must make findings to support the restitution amount, and find that payment is in juvenile’s best interest and the juvenile has ability to pay – the burden is on the juvenile to show inability to pay. See In re Z.A.K., 189 N.C. App. 354, 362 (2008)In re Schrimpsher, 143 N.C. App. 461 (2001).
  11. Order the juvenile to perform up to 200 hours of community service.

Level 3 Disposition:

The only Level 3 disposition is commitment of the juvenile to the custody of the Division of Juvenile Justice for placement in a youth development center (formerly called “training school”) for a period of at least six months. See G.S. 7B-2506(24); G.S. 7B-2508(e); G.S. 7B-2513; AOC-J-462 (Juvenile Level 3 Commitment Order - Delinquent Offense Basis) The commitment must be ordered for at least six months, but after the Division’s assessment of the juvenile at a youth development center, the Division will determine the total period of custody (subject to statutory limitations), or it may ask the court to approve a plan for providing commitment services at a different location.

Virtually every commitment ordered as a disposition must: 

  1. Be for an indefinite period of time, but a minimum of six months;
  2. Specify an absolute maximum length of commitment (age 18, 19, or 21); and
  3. Specify the time before which the juvenile must be given notice and an opportunity for a hearing on any proposal by the Division of Juvenile Justice to extend the juvenile’s commitment beyond:
    1. The maximum time an adult could face for the same offense; or\
    2. The juvenile’s 18thbirthday, if extended commitment is an option in the case.

The only provision for a definite commitment is G.S. 7B-2513(b), which allows the court to order commitment for a definite term of at least 6 months and not more than 2 years, but only when the juvenile:

  1. Is age 14 or older;
  2. Has been adjudicated delinquent previously for two or more felony offenses; and
  3. Has been committed previously to a youth development center.
Portions of this entry were excerpted from the 2017 North Carolina Juvenile Defender Manual, Chapter 13, by David W. Andrews and John Rubin.