When Can a Juvenile Be Charged as an Adult in North Carolina?

Written by Jonathan Breeden

May 19, 2017

If your child was recently taken into custody or accused of committing a crime, you are probably very anxious to learn whether they will be treated like a minor or an adult by the courts. In such a difficult situation, your concerns are certainly valid, because the difference between the juvenile and adult criminal court systems in North Carolina can be staggering. The juvenile system focuses on ways to help your child and family through community programs, education, and treatment – though it can also lead to a lengthy stay at a juvenile detention facility. On the other hand, the adult court system will be more difficult to navigate and can lead to harsher consequences like prison. A juvenile record can also be sealed to enable your son or daughter to move forward with life. An adult conviction will be public and could have life-long repercussions.

To learn about what may happen in your child’s case and what you can do to protect them, contact a North Carolina juvenile defense lawyer from Breeden Law Office as soon as possible.

Call attorney Jonathan Breeden (919) 661-4970 today to schedule a consultation.

Age Restrictions for Juvenile Court

In North Carolina, there is a minimum and maximum age for when a child can go through the juvenile court system. The minimum age at which a child can be adjudicated as delinquent is six years old, while the maximum age is 17. Until recently, 16- and 17-year-olds were automatically tried in adult court when accused of a crime. However, now under the Juvenile Reinvestment Act, those who are 16 and 17 will be charged as juveniles unless they commit a violent offense. According to the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice, nearly 97 percent of crimes committed by 16- and 17-year-olds are non-violent misdemeanors.

When a Juvenile can be Charged as an Adult

Most teenagers, 17 years old and younger, automatically go through the juvenile court system when accused of an offense. However, the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over your child is not exclusive. There are circumstances when they may be tried as an adult despite not yet being 18.

The three ways in which your child can be sent to the adult court system are:

  • A discretionary waiver: Upon a motion to do so, a juvenile court can transfer jurisdiction to the adult court if the youth was at least 13 years old at the time of the alleged criminal conduct and accused of committing what would be a felony offense if the youth were an adult.
  • A mandatory waiver: Upon a motion to do so, a juvenile court must transfer jurisdiction to the adult court if the youth was at least 13 years old at the time of the alleged offense and is accused of committing a crime that would be a violent felony if they were an adult.
  • A previous transfer: Once a juvenile has had a case transferred to the adult criminal courts, then they will always be prosecuted as an adult in the future.

Defending Against a Motion to Transfer

If the court or prosecutor has asked for your child’s case to be transferred to the adult court system, your child has the right to defend against this request. Under the law, the court must have a finding of probable cause at a hearing before a discretionary or mandatory waiver can be ordered. By working with an experienced juvenile defense attorney, your child may be able to argue there is not enough evidence of their committing the offense to transfer them to the higher court system.

Contact a North Carolina Juvenile Defense Lawyer for Help

If you are terrified that your son or daughter is going to be tried as an adult despite only being a naïve and inexperienced teenager, contact Breeden Law Office today at (919) 661-4970. We understand that young people are going to make mistakes. They do not deserve to have criminal records for the rest of their lives for having poor judgment in high school. Instead, they need help getting back onto the right path through education and guidance.

To learn more about your child’s rights and legal options, call us today or contact us online to schedule a consultation.


Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden