Juvenile Prosecution In NC

New York recently passed legislation that modified its juvenile laws, and NC is now the only state remaining that generally treats all 16 and 17-year-old persons as adults when charged with a criminal offense.  Juvenile court has jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed prior to a child’s 16th birthday; after age 16, the minor is charged in adult court pursuant to N.C.G.S. Ann. § 7B-1501(7).  Although NC recently passed legislation affecting these laws, that legislation will not come into effect until 2019.

Please read further for a discussion of general issues regarding prosecuting minors in NC.

General Age Requirements

If a minor is age 16 or 17 and has been accused of a criminal offense, he can be prosecuted as an adult.

Juveniles who are 13 to 15 years old may be prosecuted as adults if the offenses they are alleged to have committed would be felonies. A District Court judge will make the decision whether to keep a child this young in the juvenile system, or to allow prosecution in adult Superior Court.

A child age 6 to 15 who is accused of an offense that would be an adult crime under state law or local ordinance is not held to the full adult penalty of the law. That child will be classified as a delinquent juvenile if the charges are borne out.

A child age 6 to 17 who is accused of certain acts called “status offenses” will be classified as an undisciplined juvenile if the charges are borne out.  Status offenses are acts that are illegal only because the person committing them is underage.  For example, a 16-year-old who uses a tobacco product would be guilty of a status offense.

Juvenile Court Jurisdiction, Generally

  • Juvenile court has jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed prior to a child’s 16th birthday; after age 16, the youth is charged in adult court.  N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7B-1501(7).
  • Juvenile court can retain jurisdiction over youth who have committed felony offenses until age 19 or age 21, depending on the offense, provided that the offense alleged to have been committed occurred before the youth turned 16. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7B-1602.


North Carolina has two ways that juveniles can be prosecuted as adults:

  • Discretionary and Mandatory Waiver: after motion and hearing, court has option to transfer jurisdiction if juvenile committed felony offense and was at least 13 years old. If the alleged felony constituted a Class A felony, transfer is mandatory.  N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7B-2200.
  • Once an Adult, Always an Adult: “A juvenile who is transferred to and convicted in superior court shall be prosecuted as an adult for any criminal offense the juvenile commits after the superior court conviction.”  N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7B-1604


Detention Provisions

When and how the court may decide to detain a child or otherwise place restrictions on the child’s freedom is defined by statute and court rules. In North Carolina, a detention hearing must occur within five calendar days from the time the child is detained if the child is held in secure custody, and seven calendar days if the youth is held in non-secure custody. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7B-1906. Provisions for the detention of juveniles are found in N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 7B-1900, 7B-1903, 7B1905, and 7B-1906.


If you need legal assistance for a criminal matter involving a minor, please contact King Law Offices, PLLC, for a free consultation at 828-286-3332.  Please be advised that this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not to be considered or substituted as legal advice.  This article is based on North Carolina laws in effect at the time of posting.