NC COA: In the Matter of E.M.

Juvenile Delinquency, COA 18-685, Jan. 15, 2019, In the Matter of E.M., Mecklenburg County

Holding: The trial court must order a mental evaluation of a minor, and thus has no discretion, if evidence is presented that the juvenile is mentally ill or developmentally disabled during a juvenile hearing. 

A minor child (“Minor”) appealed from an order placing him in a youth development center and transferring legal custody to the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services Division.

The Minor pled guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery in a hearing in 2017 which culminated in a level 2 (two) disposition and probation for 12 (twelve) months. The Minor subsequently violated his probation and admitted so in a January 2018 hearing. At the January 2018 hearing, the trial court entered a level 3 (three) disposition and committed the Minor to a Youth Development Center for six months and that his legal custody be vested with the Department of Social Services.

While the record was full of evidence to support the revocation of the minor’s probation, the evidence at trial also included a significant amount of records/testimony that the Minor was mentally ill. Evidence included: Conduct Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Unspecified Depressive Disorder, and Cannabis Use Disorder. The COA reasoned that the due to the “plethora” of evidence demonstrating that the Minor was mentally ill, a trial court has a statutory duty to “refer the juvenile to the area mental health…services director for appropriate action” pursuant to N.C. Gen Stat 7B-2502(c).

Practice Tip: If evidence is presented to the effect that the juvenile is mentally ill or is developmentally disabled, the court has no discretion and has to refer the juvenile to a mental health director for appropriate action.