in the Supreme Court on 28 May 2019
pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a
divided panel of the Court of Appeals, 818 S.E.2d 324 ( N.C.
Ct. App. 2018), vacating adjudication and disposition orders
entered on 27 February 2017 by Judge Susan M. Dotson-Smith in
District Court, Buncombe County. Heard in the Supreme Court
on 28 May 2019 in session in the State Capitol Building in
the City of Raleigh.
H. Stein, Attorney General, by Janelle E. Varley, Assistant
Attorney General, for the State-appellant.
Gerding, Appellate Defender, by Heidi E. Reiner, Assistant
Appellate Defender, for juvenile-appellee.
juvenile delinquency case concerns the sufficiency of
evidence required to survive a juvenile's motion to
dismiss a petition alleging disorderly conduct. In light of
the relatively low threshold of evidence needed to send such
a matter to the finder of fact, we conclude that the district
court here did not err in denying the juvenile's motion
to dismiss that charge. Accordingly, we reverse the decision
of the Court of Appeals with respect to this issue.
Background and Procedural History
November 2016, two juvenile petitions were filed in the
District Court, Buncombe County, alleging that the juvenile
T.T.E. was delinquent because of his commission of the
offenses of (1) disorderly conduct and (2) resisting a public
officer. The disorderly conduct petition alleged that the
juvenile, a junior at Clyde A. Erwin High School (EHS),
"did intentionally cause a public disturbance at [EHS],
Buncombe County NC, by engaging in violent conduct. This
conduct consisted of throwing a chair toward another student
in the school's cafeteria." The petition regarding
the allegation of resisting a public officer stated that the
juvenile was delinquent as a result of "[f]leeing the
scene of a disorderly conduct incident, resisting the
officer's attempts to escort him to the office, having to
be handcuffed to be safe, and cursing at the officer."
adjudication hearing that was conducted on 20 and 23 February
2017, the State called two witnesses. Deputy Mickey Ray of
the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office was the school
resource officer at EHS on the date of the juvenile's
allegedly delinquent behavior. Deputy Ray testified that on
the date of the incident giving rise to the juvenile
petition, he was in the cafeteria during "Warrior
period," a time slot during the school day when students
can receive tutoring and "get to just come out and relax
a little bit, maybe hang out in the cafeteria, or hang out on
other parts of the campus, just to get a little break from
everything else." Deputy Ray stated that he saw the
juvenile "pick up a chair and throw it across the
cafeteria" before the juvenile ran out of the room.
Deputy Ray pursued the juvenile for twenty-five to thirty
yards, and once Deputy Ray caught up to the student, the
officer grabbed the juvenile while still behind him. In
response to Deputy Ray's instruction to "come back
with me," the juvenile "resisted," saying,
"No. No. No."
Ray brought the juvenile to the school lobby and searched
him, at which point "all the other kids started trying
to get involved." According to the officer's
testimony, the juvenile was cursing at Deputy Ray, who
decided to put handcuffs on the juvenile. Other students also
began to yell at the officer, and Deputy Ray felt the need to
handcuff and later to arrest one of the students who had
tried to involve himself in the situation with the juvenile.
When asked, "Based on . . . how the other students
reacted" to the juvenile's act of throwing the chair
and then resisting Deputy Ray's attempt to stop and
question him, whether the incident "in any way
disrupt[ed] or disturb[ed] the process of the school,"
specifically with regard to students' efforts to go to
classes, Deputy Ray responded, "Yes, sir.
further examination at trial, Deputy Ray provided additional
details about the school cafeteria incident. He related that
the juvenile "chucked" the chair underhandly, but
he was unable to say whether the juvenile had thrown the
chair "at" anyone in particular; however, the
juvenile told Deputy Ray that he had thrown the chair at the
juvenile's brother-another EHS student-in the course of
"playing or something." Regarding his perception of
the juvenile's intent behind the act of throwing the
chair, Deputy Ray was asked the following question at trial
and responded as follows:
Q. Did it appear to you that, based on what you saw with the
chair throwing incident, that [juvenile] was playing, or did
it seem like something that was a little more violent?
A. I couldn't really tell, because just like I told you
at the beginning, it's just something I ain't never
seen before in my 10 years of working as an SR [school
resource officer] in the city schools and the county schools.
That's the first time I've seen something like that.
cross-examination, Deputy Ray testified that he did not see
any students have to duck or otherwise maneuver to avoid the
chair thrown by the juvenile. Deputy Ray also tempered the
testimony that he offered on direct examination by stating
that he could not definitively say whether the juvenile's
actions were actually disruptive to other students as they
went to class.
addition to Deputy Ray's account, the district court also
heard testimony from the State's witness Tate McQueen, a
history teacher and soccer coach at EHS. McQueen did not see
the chair-throwing incident in the cafeteria but did observe
Deputy Ray pursuing the juvenile after the occurrence.
McQueen followed Deputy Ray in order to provide assistance as
the situation unfolded. At trial, McQueen offered his
description of what he observed:
When I rounded the corner from the main foyer to the language
arts, or foreign language hall, I observed Officer Ray with a
student. At that time, the student was pulling away from
Officer Ray. I did not see the moment in which they first
came in contact. I observed Officer Ray telling the student
to come with him. The student was pulling away.
And as the student and Officer Ray were coming back into the
main foyer towards the office, we had a significant safety
issue with students gravitating towards that situation.
Officer Ray was trying to deal with one student, and there
were, I would say, three, four, upwards of five students that
were now engaging in this process. Others were stopping
instead of going to class. Once that release bell rings, they
have about five minutes to get to class. If you've been
to Erwin, you know how expansive our building is, so if they
are not moving, they are going to be late for class. They
will be late for instruction. At that time, I turned as a
buffer for Officer Ray. I was parroting what he was saying,
which is "Go to class," while also trying to get
the student to calm down and stop. There was a lot of
profanity that was being directed at Officer Ray from
[juvenile], and there were others. My involvement at that
point was to plead with the student to please stop, and to be
calm, and that he was making it worse. "Just stop and
breathe. You are making it worse."
At this point, another student reaches in and physically
grabs [juvenile] to pull him. Officer Ray is turning to tell
students to go to class. The student that has made contact
with [juvenile] to pull him is refusing to go to class and
comply. At that point, Officer Ray took a hand and grabbed
that student and had both students, essentially, held. They
slid down the wall maybe two feet, maybe three, to the
conference room. They went in. I went in behind them, so I
observed that part of the process.
juvenile did not testify or present any evidence. Through
counsel, the juvenile moved to dismiss both petitions on the
basis that the State had presented insufficient evidence to
support an adjudication of delinquency.
district court denied the motion to dismiss and found as fact
that "[j]uvenile threw a chair in the cafeteria where
students and teacher[s] were present and ran away
[illegible]. Juvenile refused to cooperate with officer when
asked and became belligerent. Juvenile delayed the
investigation and caused a scene instead of
cooperating." The district court adjudicated the
juvenile to be delinquent for disorderly conduct and for
resisting a public officer. On 27 February 2017, the district
court entered an order imposing a Level 1 disposition. The
juvenile gave notice of appeal.
Court of Appeals, the juvenile argued that his petition for
disorderly conduct under N.C. G.S. § 14-288.4 was
defective because it did not specify the subsection of the
statute that he had allegedly violated. The juvenile also
challenged on appeal the district court's denial of his
motion to dismiss both petitions due to insufficiency of the
evidence. The entire Court of Appeals panel agreed that the
evidence was insufficient to support the juvenile's
adjudication of delinquency for resisting a public officer,
and the court therefore vacated the adjudication and
disposition for this charge. In re T.T.E., 818
S.E.2d 324, 328-29 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2018). However, the
Court of Appeals panel divided regarding the sufficiency of
the evidence to support the disorderly conduct adjudication.
The majority agreed with the juvenile that
[t]he evidence was not sufficient to show that the juvenile
fought, engaged in violent conduct, or created an imminent
risk of fighting or other violence. Although there were other
students in the cafeteria-a very large room- when the
juvenile threw a chair, no other person was nearby, nor did
the chair hit a table or another chair or anything else.
Juvenile then ran out of the cafeteria. This is not
"violent conduct or . . . conduct creating the threat of
imminent fighting or other violence." No one was hurt or
threatened during the event and juvenile did not escalate the
situation by yelling, throwing other things, raising fists,
or other such conduct that along with the throwing of the
chair could be construed to indicate escalating violent
behavior. Throwing a single chair with no other person nearby
and without attempting to hit another person and without
hitting even any other item in the cafeteria is not
disorderly conduct as defined by North Carolina General
Statute § 14-288.4(a)(1).
Id. at 327-28 (citing and quoting N.C. G.S. §
14-288.4(a)(1)). The Court of Appeals consequently vacated
the juvenile's adjudication of delinquency on the charge
of disorderly conduct as well as the disposition that the
district court had entered upon that delinquency
adjudication. Id. at 328. In light of this outcome,
the majority did not address the juvenile's contention
that there was a fatal defect in the disorderly conduct
dissenting judge disagreed with the majority regarding the
sufficiency of the evidence on the charge of disorderly
conduct, opining that
viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to the
State, the safety resource officer's testimony that
juvenile threw a chair, which the juvenile admitted he was
throwing at another student, his brother, provided
substantial evidence of violent conduct, from which the trial
court could reasonably determine that juvenile's act of
throwing a chair at another student amounted to violent
Id. at 330 (Arrowood, J., concurring in part and
dissenting in part). Regarding the alleged defect in the
disorderly conduct petition, the dissenting judge further
The petition at issue alleged juvenile violated N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 14-288.4 when he "did intentionally cause a
public disturbance at Clyde A. Erwin High School, Buncombe
County NC, by engaging in violent conduct. This conduct
consisted of throwing a chair toward another student in the
school's cafeteria." Because this language closely
tracks the statutory language of N.C. Gen. Stat. §
14-288.4(a)(1), "[d]isorderly conduct is a public
disturbance intentionally caused by any person who . . .
[e]ngages in fighting or other violent conduct or in conduct
creating the threat of imminent fighting or other violence[,
]" and the petition lists the offense as N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 14-288.4, I would hold that, based on the totality of
the circumstances, the petition averred the charge with
sufficient specificity that juvenile was clearly apprised of
the conduct for which he was charged. See State v.
Simpson, 235 N.C.App. 398, 402-403, 763 S.E.2d 1, 4-5
(2014) (holding an indictment was not fatally defective even
though it did not list which subsection of a statute the
defendant was charged with violating because it was clear
from the indictment which subsection was charged). Therefore,
the petition was not fatally defective, and the trial court
had jurisdiction to enter the adjudication and disposition
orders against juvenile.
Id. at 329-30.
State filed a motion for temporary stay and a petition for
writ of supersedeas on 1 August 2018. This Court
allowed the motion to stay on 2 August. On 21 August 2018,
the State filed its notice of appeal in this Court based upon
the dissent in the lower appellate court. We allowed the
State's petition for writ of supersedeas on 4
initial matter, we briefly address the question of whether
the delinquency petition charging disorderly conduct
sufficiently alleged a violation of N.C. G.S. §
14-288.4. "[A] petition in a juvenile action serves
essentially the same function as an indictment in a felony
prosecution and is subject to the same requirement that it
aver every element of a criminal offense, with sufficient
specificity that the accused is clearly apprised of the
conduct for which he is being charged." In re
Griffin, 162 N.C.App. 487, 493, 592 S.E.2d 12, 16
(2004); see also In re Burrus, 275 N.C. 517, 530,
169 S.E.2d 879, 887 (1969) ("Notice must be given in
juvenile proceedings which would be deemed constitutionally
adequate in a civil or criminal proceeding; that is, notice
must be given the juvenile and his parents sufficiently in
advance of scheduled court proceedings to afford them
reasonable opportunity to prepare, and the notice must set
forth the alleged misconduct with particularity."
(citation omitted)), aff'd sub nom. McKeiver v.
Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528 (1971) (plurality opinion).
As the dissenting opinion in the present case correctly
noted, the petition here closely tracked the language of N.C.
G.S. § 14-288.4. This Court has long held that
the "true and safe rule" for prosecutors in drawing
indictments is to follow strictly the precise wording of the
statute because a departure therefrom unnecessarily raises
doubt as to the sufficiency of the allegations to vest the
trial court with jurisdiction to try the offense.
Nevertheless, it is not the function of an indictment to bind
the hands of the State with technical rules of pleading;
rather, its purposes are to identify clearly the crime being
charged, thereby putting the accused on reasonable notice to
defend against it and prepare for trial, and to protect the
accused from being jeopardized by the State more than once
for the same crime. Thus, . . . an indictment shall not be
quashed "by reason of any informality or
refinement" if it accurately expresses the criminal
charge in "plain, intelligible, and explicit"
language sufficient to permit the court to render judgment
State v. Sturdivant, 304 N.C. 293, 310-11, 283
S.E.2d 719, 731 (1981) (footnote and citations omitted).
Here, the State followed the articulated "true and safe
rule" by substantially employing the terminology of N.C.
G.S. § 14-288.4 in the delinquency petition that
initiated the disorderly conduct action. Because the petition
averred the offense of disorderly conduct with sufficient
specificity to clearly apprise the juvenile here of the
offense with which he was charged, the district court was
properly cloaked with subject-matter jurisdiction over this
the jurisdictional issue having been addressed, we turn to
the substantive issue regarding the sufficiency of the
evidence presented by the State at trial ...