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In re E.M.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

January 15, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: E.M.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 13 November 2018.

          Appeal by juvenile from order entered 30 January 2018 by Judge Louis A. Trosch in Mecklenburg County No. 17 JB 396 District Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Marie H. Evitt, for the State.

          Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Hannah H. Love, for juvenile.

          ZACHARY, JUDGE.

         Evan Miller[1] appeals from an order committing him to placement in a youth development center and transferring his legal custody to the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Services Division. The trial court was presented with evidence that Evan was mentally ill and failed to refer him to the area mental health services director for appropriate action as prescribed by statute. As a result, we vacate the trial court's order and remand for further action.

         Background

         On 20 July 2017, the State filed petitions against Evan Miller for common-law robbery and being an undisciplined juvenile. The State filed two more petitions against Evan on 6 September 2017 alleging common-law robbery and conspiracy to commit common-law robbery. Evan admitted to the offense of conspiracy to commit common-law robbery in exchange for dismissal of all other charges at a delinquency hearing on 23 October 2017 in Mecklenburg County District Court before the Honorable David H. Strickland. Judge Strickland entered a Level 2 disposition and placed Evan on probation for 12 months. The conditions of Evan's probation were to: (1) "Remain on good behavior and not violate any . . . law"; (2) "Not violate any reasonable and lawful rules of the juvenile's parent, guardian, or custodian"; and (3) "Attend school each and every day, all classes, not have any unexcused tardies, and not be suspended or excluded from school."

         A motion for hearing was filed on 14 November 2017 alleging that Evan violated his probation by being suspended from school, together with leaving his home without permission and being away for up to three days. The motion for review was continued until January 2018. The Honorable Louis A. Trosch heard the motion for review on 26 January 2018. At the hearing, Evan admitted the probation violations. That same day, Judge Trosch entered a Level 3 disposition and committed Evan to a Youth Development Center for a minimum period of six months, and continuing until his eighteenth birthday at the maximum. Judge Trosch also ordered that the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Services Division assume custody of Evan. Evan filed timely notice of appeal on 2 February 2018.

         Discussion

         Evan argues on appeal that the trial court erred by: (1) entering a disposition against Evan without referring him to the area mental health services director for appropriate action after being presented with evidence that Evan was mentally ill; (2) making a finding that Evan had been involved in criminal activity while on probation when no competent evidence supported that finding; and (3) transferring Evan's legal custody to the Department of Social Services. After review, we conclude that the trial court failed to refer Evan to the area mental health services director, as prescribed by statute, after being presented with evidence that Evan was mentally ill.

         The Juvenile Code governs management of cases involving undisciplined and delinquent juveniles. See N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-1500 to 7B-2706 (2017). The purpose of these procedures is to, inter alia, "deter delinquency and crime, including patterns of repeat offending . . . [b]y providing appropriate rehabilitative services to juveniles." Id. § 7B-1500(2)(b). Disposition of cases involving juveniles should "[p]rovide the appropriate consequences, treatment, training, and rehabilitation to assist the juvenile toward becoming a nonoffending, responsible, and productive member of the community." Id. § 7B-2500(3). When a juvenile comes before a trial court, "the court may order that the juvenile be examined by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other qualified expert as may be needed for the court to determine the needs of the juvenile." Id. § 7B-2502(a) (emphasis added). However, when evidence of mental health issues arise, the authority to order the evaluation of a juvenile by certain medical professionals is no longer discretionary, but is required:

If the court believes, or if there is evidence presented to the effect that the juvenile is mentally ill or is developmentally disabled, the court shall refer the juvenile to the area mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse services director for appropriate action. . . . The area mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse director shall be responsible for arranging an ...

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