North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
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November 8, 1977

Subject:

Courts; Juvenile Jurisdiction of the District Court

Requested By:

The Honorable Larry Thomas Black District Court Judge 26th Judicial District

Questions:

(1)
Does the juvenile jurisdiction of the district court extend to a minor alleged to be delinquent who was under sixteen years of age at the time of the commission of the criminal offense but who attains the age of sixteen prior to any judicial hearing?
(2)
If the juvenile jurisdiction of the district court does extend to such a minor, may the court commit the child, if adjudicated delinquent, to the Department of Human Resources, Division of Youth Services for institutional confinement, and if so, for how long?
(3)
If the juvenile jurisdiction of the district court does extend to such a minor, may the court place the child, if adjudicated delinquent, on juvenile probation or should the child be placed on adult probation?
(4)
If the child, adjudicated delinquent, violates the terms of his probation, what alternatives are available to the court?

Conclusion:

(1)
The juvenile jurisdiction of the district court does extend to a minor alleged to be delinquent who was under sixteen years of age at the time of the commission of the criminal offense but who attains the age of sixteen prior to any judicial hearing.
(2)
Such a minor if adjudicated delinquent, may be committed to the Department of Human Resources, Division of Youth Services for institutional confinement "for a definite term or an indefinite term, not to extend beyond the eighteenth birthday of the child, as the Department (of Human Resources) or its administrative personnel may find to be in the best interest of the child."
(3)
The court does have the discretion to place such a minor, adjudicated delinquent, on juvenile probation. Adult probation, however, is not an alternative available to the court.
(4)
If such a minor, adjudicated delinquent, violates the terms of his probation, the court may commit him to the Department of Human Resources, Division of Youth Services, for institutional confinement.

Under North Carolina law the District Court Division of the General Court of Justice has exclusive, original jurisdiction over any case involving a child who, inter alia, is alleged to be delinquent. G.S. 7A-279. A "delinquent child" is defined as a child "who has not reached his sixteenth birthday" and "who has committed any criminal offense under State law or under an ordinance of local government, including violations of the motor vehicles laws or a child who has violated the conditions of his probation under this article." G.S. 7A-278(1) and (2); Chapter 929 of the 1975 Session Laws as amended by Chapter 291 of the 1977 Session Laws.

The threshold question to be addressed in this instance relates to the juvenile jurisdiction of the district court over a minor, alleged to be delinquent pursuant to G.S. 7A-278(2) in a verified petition filed with the Clerk of Superior Court, who was under sixteen years of age at the time of the commission of the criminal offense giving rise to the petition but who attains the age of sixteen prior to any judicial hearing on the petition. North Carolina falls into the category of states in which the jurisdiction of the juvenile court (i.e., the district court in this State) over a delinquent child is to be determined by his age at the time of the commission of an offense or delinquent act as opposed to his age at the time of the legal proceedings against him. 89 ALR 2d 506, 522-526 (1963 and Supps. 1968, 1977); State v. Coble, 181 N.C. 554, 107 S.E. 132 (1921); 51 N.C.L. Rev. 195, 228, ftnt. 174 (1972). The following statement from State v. Coble, supra, is in our opinion dispositive of the threshold question:

"The jurisdiction of the juvenile court is not to be ousted or denied by reason of the fact the defendant has now reached the age of sixteen, for it is clear that his age at the time of the commission of the offense, rather than at the time of trial, is to determine his guilt or liability and the tribunal which shall take cognizance of his case. Furthermore, he is not to be tried as a criminal but as a juvenile delinquent; and, under the express provisions of the statute, the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, having once attached, continues for the purposes of correction and reformation during the minority of the defendant."

We are aware of the opposite conclusion reached by the distinguished committee to revise the Rules of Procedure Applicable to Children in the District Court. See Rules of Procedure Applicable to Children in the District Court, 2d Ed., p. 53, Footnote 3, Administrative Office of the Courts, State of North Carolina (1977). However, in our judgment and in the judgment of the Institute of Government, the conclusion of the revision committee is not supported by prevailing precedent.

With respect to the disposition alternatives available to the district court in such a case, the provisions of G.S. 7A-286(5) in conjunction with the provisions of G.S. 134A-18, et seq., clearly authorize the District Court Judge to commit the child to the Department of Human Resources, Division of Youth Services for institutional confinement. As to the length of that confinement, the following language from G.S. 7A-286(5) should be noted:

"Said commitment shall be for a definite term or an indefinite term, not to extend beyond the eighteenth birthday of the child, as the Department or its administrative personnel may find to be in the best interest of the child." (Emphasis supplied) See also G.S. 134A-30.

Since the juvenile jurisdiction of the district court, "having once attached, continues for the purposes of correction and reformation during the minority of the defendant" (State v. Coble, supra and G.S. 7A-286), there is little doubt as to the authority of the court under G.S. 7A-286(4)b. to place such a child on juvenile probation. There is no authority, on the other hand, to place such a child on adult probation.

Finally, if the child violates the terms of his probation, the court may commit him to the Department of Human Resources, Division of Youth Services, for institutional confinement under the alternative provided for in G.S. 7A-286(5). See G.S. 110-22.

Rufus L. Edmisten Attorney General

William Woodward Webb Assistant Attorney General