520.3Juvenile Disposition

Disposition Hearing
Last Updated: 01/22/19

Key Concepts

  • Disposition hearings can be informal, and the rules of evidence do not apply.
  • The judge must impose a disposition which both protects the public and meets the needs of the juvenile.
  • The court counselor will prepare a predisposition report which contains a detailed assessment of the juvenile’s history and needs to assist the court in fashioning an appropriate disposition.
  • As long as it has jurisdiction, the court can modify or vacate a disposition order in response to changed circumstances/needs, to correct an illegal sentence, or if the juvenile is found not suitable for a program ordered in the original disposition.

Predisposition Report

The court “shall proceed” to the disposition hearing as soon as the adjudication (or admission) is completed and the court has received the predisposition report prepared by the court counselor. See G.S. 7B-2413; G.S. 7B-2501. If no predisposition report has been prepared yet, the court may proceed to the disposition hearing anyway, if it makes a written finding that no report is necessary for this case. G.S. 7B-2413.

The predisposition report contains a “risk and needs” assessment, which provides a comprehensive evaluation of the juvenile’s social, medical, psychiatric, and educational history, along with any factors indicating a probability that he or she will commit another offense. Id. No predisposition report or risk/needs assessment can be conducted prior to adjudication without the written consent of the juvenile, the juvenile’s parent, guardian, or custodian, or the juvenile’s attorney. Additionally, the report may not be submitted to or considered by the judge before the completion of the adjudicatory hearing. Id. The juvenile and his or her parent/guardian must be given an opportunity to offer evidence in rebuttal to the predisposition report at the disposition hearing. Id.

Before the hearing, the juvenile and his or her attorney are usually entitled to review any predisposition report or risk/needs assessment which will be considered by the court at disposition; however, the court may elect not to disclose the report if it determines that disclosure would seriously harm the juvenile’s treatment or rehabilitation, or that it would violate a promise of confidentiality. The court may also order the juvenile’s attorney not to disclose certain parts of the report to the juvenile or his or her parent/guardian on the same basis of harm/confidentiality. See G.S. 7B-2413.

Practice Pointer

Copy for the state?
G.S. 7B-2413 does not specifically address providing a copy of the predisposition report to the state, but in practice the prosecutor will usually be provided with one shortly before court begins, or at the same time the court counselor provides it to the judge. 

Continuances

The court may continue a disposition hearing for up to 6 months in order to allow the juvenile’s family an opportunity to meet the needs of the juvenile through more adequate home supervision, placement in a school or agency, placement with a relative, or through some other plan approved by the court. See G.S. 7B-2501(d).

Alternatively, at least one appellate case has interpreted G.S. 7B-2406 (“Continuances”) as applying to disposition hearings, even though this statute is found in the chapter addressing adjudication hearings. See In re R.D.R., 175 N.C. App. 397 (2006) (citing the statute and holding that it was not an abuse of discretion for district court to continue disposition hearing until juvenile’s other pending charges were adjudicated). Under this statute, a hearing can be continued for “good cause” and “for as long as is reasonably required” to receive additional evidence, reports, assessments, or other information needed in the best interests of the juvenile, or for the parties to conduct additional discovery. See G.S. 7B-2406. Otherwise, a hearing may only be continued in “extraordinary circumstances” when necessary for the proper administration of justice or best interests of the juvenile. Id.

Secure Custody Pending Disposition/Placement

Once a juvenile has been adjudicated delinquent, the court may order him or her into secure custody pending disposition (or pending placement after disposition). See G.S. 7B-1903(c). The various criteria listed in G.S. 7B-1903(b) which must be found in order to justify secure custody pre-adjudication no longer apply. It should not be necessary for the court to make any additional factual findings or state the evidentiary basis to support its decision to continue secured custody, because the statutes explicitly authorize detaining a juvenile after adjudication without setting any further requirements. See G.S. 7B-1906(c); In re Z.T.W., 238 N.C. App. 365 (2014)In re R.D.R., 175 N.C. App. 397 (2006).

However, if the disposition hearing is continued (or if it takes additional time to complete the placement process), the court will still need to conduct periodic secure custody review hearings at least every 10 days, unless those hearings are waived. See G.S. 7B-1906(b); In re D.L.H., 198 N.C. App. 286 (2009)overruled on other grounds, 364 N.C. 214 (2010). For more information, see the related Juvenile entry on Secure Custody Hearings.

Conducting the Disposition Hearing

The disposition hearing can be “informal” in nature, and the court is permitted to consider “any evidence,” including hearsay, that the court finds to be relevant, reliable, and necessary to determine the needs of the juvenile and the most appropriate disposition. See G.S. 7B-2501(a). The purpose of the hearing is to fashion the most appropriate disposition, both in terms of kind and duration, which achieves the dual statutory goals of protecting the public and meeting the needs and best interests of the juvenile. See G.S. 7B-2501(c). The juvenile and the juvenile’s parent/guardian must be given an opportunity to present evidence, if they choose, and to advise the court of the disposition which they believe will be in the best interest of the juvenile. See G.S. 7B-2501(b).

Practice Pointer

Let the court counselor know
If the prosecutor negotiates a plea in which the juvenile will be admitting to an offense that is a lower class (e.g., Serious instead of Violent) or otherwise results in a different disposition level under G.S. 7B-2508(f) (e.g., Level 2 instead of Level 3), the prosecutor should try to notify the court counselor before court. If the only available disposition option for the originally charged offense was Level 3 (Commitment to YDC), the court counselor probably will not be prepared to discuss any Level 2 disposition recommendations unless the prosecutor gives him or her a courtesy call about the changes ahead of time.

The disposition hearing, like the adjudicatory hearing, must be open to the public unless the court closes the hearing (or part of the hearing) for good cause, upon motion of a party, or on 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: (i) nature of the allegations; (ii) age and maturity of the juvenile; (iii) benefit to the juvenile of confidentiality; (iv) benefit to the public of an open hearing; and (v) the extent to which confidentiality will be compromised by an open hearing. No party has a right to “demand” a closed hearing. If the court closes a hearing or part of a hearing, it may allow the following people to be present: any victim, member of the victim’s family, law enforcement officer, witness, or other person directly involved in the hearing. Id. The court may not close any hearing or part of a hearing if the juvenile requests that it remain open. Id.

Disposition Order

The court must enter a written order that contains findings of fact and conclusions of law, and clearly specifies the disposition being imposed. See G.S. 7B-2512(a); see also AOC-J-461 (Juvenile Level 1 Disposition Order); AOC-J-475 (Juvenile Level 2 Disposition Order); AOC-J-462 (Juvenile Level 3 Commitment Order - Delinquent Offense Basis). The findings of fact in a disposition order must show that the trial court considered the five factors set out in G.S. 7B-2601(c). Failure to include proper findings which clearly show that the court considered all the factors may result in having the case reversed on appeal. See In re J.J., Jr., 216 N.C. App. 366 (2011); In re V.M., 211 N.C. App. 389 (2011); In re Ferrell, 162 N.C. App. 175 (2004).

The order also must include (and the judge must orally state in court) the disposition’s precise terms, including its kind and duration, who is responsible for carrying it out, and what person or agency has custody of the juvenile. See G.S. 7B-2506(1)c. for additional requirements that apply when the disposition places the juvenile in the custody of a county department of social services.

Modifying or Vacating a Disposition Order

A disposition order can be modified for several reasons. First, upon motion or petition of either the juvenile or the state and notice to the other party, the court may conduct a review hearing and modify or vacate a disposition order in light of changed circumstances or the needs of the juvenile. See G.S. 7B-2600(a); In re D.G., 191 N.C. App. 752 (2008) (affirming modification order to remove sex offender treatment requirement, based upon changed circumstances due to determination that juvenile was not eligible). Second, the court may reduce the nature or duration of a disposition on the grounds that it was either imposed in an illegal manner, or because it is unduly severe given the seriousness of the offense, culpability of the juvenile, or compared to dispositions given to other juveniles for similar offenses. See G.S. 7B-2600(b); In re A.F., 231 N.C. App. 348 (2013) (sentence was imposed in illegal manner where court incorrectly assessed two additional points when calculating delinquency history level). Third and finally, the court may modify a disposition if the Division of Juvenile Justice determines that a juvenile is “not suitable” for a program ordered in the original disposition, in which case the court must make an alternative disposition which is otherwise consistent with G.S. 7B-2508. See G.S. 7B-2601; In re Doe, 329 N.C. 743 (1991).

Pursuant to G.S. 7B-2600(c), the court retains jurisdiction to make the above-described modifications to its disposition order during the following periods:

  1. During the minority of the juvenile;
  2. Until the juvenile reaches the age of 19 years if the juvenile has been committed to the Division for the offenses specified;
  3. Until the juvenile reaches the age of 21 years if the juvenile has been committed to the Division for first-degree murder, first-degree forcible rape, or first-degree forcible sexual offense; or
  4. Until terminated by order of the court (but not later than the above time periods).
Portions of this entry were excerpted from the 2017 North Carolina Juvenile Defender Manual, Chapter 13, by David W. Andrews and John Rubin.