In re T.K. Show Court’s Indecision on Importance of Statutory Requirements by Jonathon Woodruff

Last month, the NC Court of Appeals in In the Matter of T.K. declined to extend the holding from In re D.S., 364 N.C. 184 (2010), in favor of a new holding placing some jurisdictional responsibility on Juvenile Court Counselors.


The principal issue in In re D.S. was the timing with which a delinquency petition was filed. An SRO filed two separate complaints based on the same set of facts. The first petition charged the juvenile’s conduct as a simple assault and was filed on the same day that the event occurred. The second petition charged the juvenile with sexual battery and was filed approximately 26 days later, 11 days beyond statutory requirements. The Juvenile Code requires that Juvenile Court Counselors shall complete the evaluation of a complaint within 15 days of receipt of the complaint, with a 15 day extension at the discretion of the Chief Juvenile Court Counselor (see N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1703(a)). On appeal, it was argued that it was error for the court to have adjudicated the juvenile for the second petition, because it arose from the same set of facts as the first and therefore was in essence the same petition. The fact that the second petition was filed beyond the statutory limit meant that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The juvenile claimed that the Juvenile Court Counselor should have investigated the initial complaint further and included sexual battery if it was appropriate.

The Court disagreed, explaining that the language of the statute intended for each separate complaint, as in the actual document that is alleging delinquency, to be considered by itself without reference to earlier complaints. The second petition was therefore filed within the statutory limit and was adjudicated properly. The Court went on to say that it is not the role of the Juvenile Court Counselor to conduct extensive investigations of the like which were suggested by the juvenile on appeal. Specifically, a Juvenile Court Counselor’s primary responsibility upon receiving a complaint is to determine whether they are strictly required to or prohibited from filing a petition based on the complaint. If neither of those apply, the Counselor is then to conduct an evaluation to decide whether or not a petition should be filed. The Court stated that the Counselor is neither expressly permitted nor obligated to investigate anything beyond the allegations in the complaint to find any and every offense that may apply. Additionally, the Counselor is expressly forbidden from conducting field investigations for the purpose of substantiating claims and providing supplementary evidence during the intake process. Therefore, the Court concludes, the Juvenile Court Counselor in this case did exactly what was supposed to be done. The Court also states that there is no basis for a finding that the statutory time limits have any bearing on jurisdiction anyway.


This holding would seem to be in contrast with the more recent holding of In the Matter of T.K. Here the court held that a Juvenile Court Counselor’s failure to sign a petition and to mark it “Approved for Filing,” as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1703(b), was an error that cost the court any jurisdiction over the matter. Due to a lack of precedent on this issue, the court looked at Abuse/Neglect/Dependency cases to determine the matter. There is a consistent line of cases on this issue; the lack of signatures and verification on petitions in Abuse, Neglect, and Dependency court will result in a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals ruled accordingly in T.K. and held that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction in the case due to the lack of a Juvenile Court Counselor’s signature.

The difference between these two cases seems trivial. In one the court held that a statutory requirement had nothing to do with jurisdiction, and in the second the court held that jurisdiction turned on compliance with a different statutory requirement. For practitioners, it would be wise to always make sure that the statutory requirements are followed to the letter, and to preserve such issues for appeal if they are not. Do not let a lengthy amount of practice in this area blind you to discrepancies that can result in overturned adjudications.

Time to Apply for the Juvenile Delinquency Specialization Exams

Legal Specialization │ Apply now through June 30th for board certification in juvenile delinquency law.  The 2017 exam is scheduled in both Charlotte and Raleigh If you are a prosecutor, public defender or public service lawyer, you may qualify for an NC LEAF scholarship to cover the specialization application fee. Contact Denise Mullen at 919-719-9255 or for more information or access an application HERE.

You can also obtain more information about the standards for specialization and the program itself, please check here.


Registration is Now Open for the 2017 Parent Attorney and Juvenile Defender Conferences

We are excited to announce that registration for the 2017 Parent Attorney and Juvenile Defender Conferences is now open and available at (Parent Attorney Conference) and (Juvenile Defender Conference). Both conferences, cosponsored by the School of Government and the Office of Indigent Defense Services, offer approximately six hours of CLE credit and feature speakers from across the state. The agendas are posted on the conference webpages, shown above.


The Parent Attorney Conference provides training for attorneys, who represent parents in abuse,

neglect, dependency, and termination of parental rights proceedings. This year’s conference will focus on looking ahead to address areas in which the parent attorney can enhance the practice.  In addition to a case law update, the conference will include sessions on the admissibility of digital evidence, changing visitation to family time, parent’s rights after removal, who speaks for a child’s best interest and implicit bias.


The Juvenile Defender Conference provides training for attorneys who represent children in delinquency proceedings. This year’s conference will focus on the practical application of detention hearings, motions to suppress and capacity to proceed. It will also include a case law update and a session on using scientific literature to advance In re Gault.


Participants: The Parent Attorney and Juvenile Defender Conferences are open to public defenders, appellate defenders, and other parent and juvenile defenders who handle a significant number of court-appointed cases.

Location, Dates, and Times: These conferences will be held Thursday, August 10 and Friday, August 11, respectively, at the School of Government on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Sign-in is 8:00 to 8:30 a.m. each day.

Registration: To register, as well as to find directions, hotel information, and other program information (including our cancellation and refund policy), visit:

If you would like to attend both conferences, you must register for each separately. The registration deadline for both conferences is 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 27.  There is no onsite registration.

Fee: Thanks to support from IDS, there is no fee for IDS state employees. The registration fee for private assigned counsel is $160, which includes all materials, parking, breaks, and lunch.

Hotel Information:

A block of rooms has been set aside on Wednesday, August 9 and Thursday, August 10, 2017, at the Holiday Inn Express of Chapel Hill/Durham at a reduced nightly rate of $80 plus tax, which includes a hot breakfast and high speed wireless internet access. The Holiday Inn Express is located at 6119 Farrington Road in Chapel Hill. When reserving online, go to and use the group code PJC (all caps). To make a reservation by phone, call the hotel directly at 919.489.7555 and provide the name and dates of the program. These rooms are being held on a first-come, first-served basis. You are responsible for making your own hotel reservation. The reservation deadline for the block rate is July 18, 2017.

 Credit: Each program will offer approximately six hours of continuing legal education (CLE) credit.  The Parent Attorney Conference qualifies for NC State Bar family law specialization credit and the Juvenile Defender Conference qualifies for NC State Bar criminal law specialization credit.

Additional Information: We look forward to seeing you in August.  If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact me, Tanya Jisa—Program Manager—at / 919.843.8981.  If you have questions about the course content please contact Austine Long – Program Attorney – at / 919.962.9594.

#RaisetheAge Provision in the Budget



By now you may have heard that the House and Senate have agreed in principle on a budget proposal, to be voted on by both chambers likely this week and presented to the Governor.  The bill includes a compromise between the chambers on raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction.  Though not finalized, the provision would have crimes (except motor vehicle offenses) for anyone under 18 begin jurisdiction in delinquency court, with a new procedure that would expedite transfer (after a finding of probable cause or by indictment) for 16- and 17-year-olds charged with A-G offenses.  16- and 17-year-old juveniles charged with H and I felonies would be subject to the current process of discretionary transfer, and 16- and 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors would be processed in delinquency court.  The section specifically referring to juvenile jurisdiction can be read here, and the full language of the bill can be found here.

Our office is analyzing the details of the proposal.  We will provide our analysis for your consideration once the budget becomes law.

Thanks to everyone for their support of this issue over the years!

James E. Williams Jr. Discusses Race and the Justice System in N.C. in N&O Op-Ed

On June 9th, The News & Observer published an op-ed by James E. Williams Jr., who served as a public defender for Chatham and Orange counties since 1990 and recently retired.

In his article, “Amid district challenges N.C. Supreme Court faces another test on race”,  Williams begins by addressing how the N.C. state legislature attempted to diminish the impact of African-American votes in 2015, and how the N.C. Supreme Court did nothing to correct this wrong, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the actions of the legislature unconstitutional.  Williams says that presently the N.C. court will be tested in their handling of the issue of racial bias in jury selection, now that new evidence suggests that four death row inmates in the state may have been sentenced in trials where prosecutors acted unethically and illegally.  This evidence shows that district attorneys intentionally removed qualified black jurors and utilized strategies to avoid having black judges hear the cases of these men.  Williams also points out the state’s failure to refute claims of broad systematic discrimination against Black jurors since the introduction of the Racial Justice Act.

In his closing, Williams, who is also the founder of the N.C. Public Defenders’ Committee on Racial Equity and serves on the board of the N.C. Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, writes, “The question before the N.C. Supreme Court now is a fundamental one: Will we finally live up to our credo, ‘all men are created equal,’ and make sure that African-Americans have the right to fully participate in our democracy? Or will we turn a blind eye to another case of obvious discrimination, and force the U.S. Supreme Court to step in once again?”

You can read the full article here.

Deadline Extended for NC Racial Equity Network Applications

Applications for the second class of the NC Racial Equity Network (NC REN) are now due June 22, 2017. NC REN is group of North Carolina indigent defense attorneys dedicated to addressing issues of racial equity through a combination of individual case work, support and mentoring of fellow indigent defenders, and collaborative efforts with community members, court actors, and criminal justice officials. Those who are selected to take part in the Network will attend a series of trainings, at no charge and with travel reimbursement and CLE credits provided, based on the manual, Raising Issues of Race in North Carolina Criminal Cases, and will receive a free copy of the manual as well as consultations on their cases that involve issues of race.

North Carolina attorneys who handle criminal cases on behalf of indigent clients are eligible to apply. Members of NC REN will be selected through a competitive application process described in the Racial Equity Network Application. On the fence about applying? Consider this testimonial from one of the NC REN attorneys in our inaugural cohort:

“I was fortunate to be able to attend the NC REN trainings over the last two years and found them extremely beneficial and rewarding. Assistant Public Defender Yolanda Fair in the Buncombe office also attended the trainings. [NC REN] provided invaluable information about jury selection issues, motions to suppress, money bail, cross racial identification, open police data, sentencing issues, plus much more. The program has helped me broaden my toolbox in regards to raising important issues of race in the courtroom and helped me to become more comfortable raising issues of race. Participating in NC REN has helped me be a better advocate for my clients. It also empowered Yolanda and I to help gather the support of stakeholders in Buncombe County to come together for a great implicit bias training that was recently held here in Buncombe County with the help of the UNC School of Government and the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation. I highly recommend the training[.]”

-LeAnn Melton, Buncombe County Chief Public Defender

Please direct any questions regarding the NC REN program or application process to Emily Coward, NC REN Project Attorney, at

“In the Matter of T.K.: Does a Student’s Use of Profanity in the Hallway Constitute Disorderly Conduct at School” by Professor LaToya Powell

Yesterday, Professor LaToya Powell  posted a new entry on the UNC School of Government’s “On the Civil Side” blog further detailing In the Matter of T.K. and what elements are needed to determine disorderly conduct.  Professor Powell evaluates how disorderly conduct is defined by the law and how previous case law relates to the situation described in T.K.  Please take a moment to read this informative piece.

Two weeks ago we also updated our “Case Summaries” section with the latest opinion from the Court of Appeals, summarizing In re T.K.  Please find this information on our site here.

disoderly dunham

2017 Parent Attorney & Juvenile Defender Conference Announcement


Save the date!  The 2017 Parent Attorney & Juvenile Defender Conference will be held in Chapel Hill starting  Thursday, Aug. 10, to Friday, Aug. 11. Registration for this conference will begin in late June.

The Parent Attorney Conference provides training for attorneys who represent parents in abuse, neglect, dependency, and termination of parental rights proceedings.  The Juvenile Defender Conference provides training for attorneys who represent children in delinquency proceedings.  Each conference typically offers 6 hours of CLE, including one hour of ethics, and features instructors from around the state.

Please mark your calendars and plan to join us!  We will post more details for this training as they arise.