When Can Children Be Tried as Adults in NC?

Most parents dread late night or early morning phone calls that inform them that their son or daughter has been arrested. The nightmare is much worse if the child is in custody for a felony or another serious crime. Typically, children go through North Carolina’s juvenile justice system. But that’s not always the case.

North Carolina’s two justice systems, juvenile and adult, serve different purposes. Juvenile courts use methods like community service, education, and supervision to keep the juvenile from re-offending. In contrast, the adult justice system serves only to punish offenders, at least for the most part.

In North Carolina, children between ages six and 17 can be considered juvenile delinquents and treated as such. See North Carolina Judicial Branch for information about juvenile delinquency.

In both juvenile and adult court, a Raleigh criminal defense attorney typically settles cases out of court. This resolution usually includes a lesser sentence and/or reduced charges.

When Can Minors be Charged as Adults?

Until recently, North Carolina was the only state in the Union where juveniles as young as 16 could be automatically prosecuted as adults. But lawmakers approved the “Raise the Age” law in 2017, which increased that minimum age from 16 to 18. North Carolina defines a juvenile who has committed a criminal offense as no older than 16. All juvenile prosecutions start in juvenile court. 

Under this new law, there are three ways a child can be prosecuted as an adult in North Carolina: mandatory waiver, discretionary waiver, and previous transfer.

  • Mandatory Waiver: A mandatory waiver refers to the ability of a juvenile court judge to waive jurisdiction over a case and refers it to a criminal jurisdiction instead. Juvenile courts must transfer jurisdiction to adult criminal courts if the defendant allegedly committed a Class A felony (first-degree murder).
  • Discretionary Waiver: Depending on the facts of the case, the defendant’s criminal record and some other factors, a juvenile court may transfer the case if the minor was at least 13 years old when s/he allegedly committed any felony offense. This provision gives juvenile court judges discretion to waive jurisdiction over individual cases involving minors to allow prosecution in adult criminal courts.
  • Previous Transfer: In North Carolina, some juveniles are automatically charged as adults for any crime they allegedly commit at age 18 or older. A 16- or 17-year old who commits a motor vehicle offense, such as a speeding violation, must be charged as an adult. Once a juvenile’s case is transferred to adult court, then subsequent offenses must be tried in adult court as well, regardless of the facts and circumstances.

Contact Our Raleigh Criminal Defense Attorneys Today

If your child has been charged with a serious criminal offense which could go to adult criminal court, the experienced legal team at Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh, Attorneys at Law, are ready to fight for your child’s rights, freedom, and future. As former prosecutors with over a half-century of combined experience, our Raleigh criminal defense attorneys have a complete understanding of both adult and juvenile courts, so we can provide knowledgeable and personalized legal solutions. To arrange a free consultation, fill out the form below or call us at (919) 845-6688.