In the Matter of E.M., __ N.C.App. __ (January 15, 2019)

Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: The juvenile was initially placed on probation as a Level 2 disposition following an admission to conspiracy to criminal common law robbery. He subsequently admitted to violating his probation by being suspended from school and leaving home without permission for three days. Substantial evidence was provided at the hearing on the motion for review regarding the juvenile’s long history of mental health issues, including inpatient, outpatient, and intensive in-home services. Additionally, several risk and needs assessments documented mental health treatment needs. The trial court entered a Level 3 disposition and committed the juvenile to a YDC while also ordering custody of the juvenile to the Department of Social Services.  The juvenile appealed on the following three issues: 1) entering a disposition without referral to the area mental health services director, 2) finding that the juvenile had been involved in criminal activity while on probation when no competent evidence supported that finding and 3) transferring legal custody to the Department of Social Services.
  • Opinion: When evidence of mental health issues arise, referral of the juvenile to the area mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse services director for appropriate action is mandatory. G.S. 7B-2502(c). “Evidence of mental illness compels further inquiry by the trial court prior to entry of any final disposition.” Slip Op. at 6, quoting In re Mosser, 99 N.C.App. 523 at 529 (1990). While a substantial amount of evidence regarding the juvenile’s mental illness was presented here, any amount of evidence that a juvenile is mentally ill triggers the statutory duty of the trial court to refer the juvenile to the area mental health services director per G.S. 7B-2502(c). This requirement was not rendered unnecessary by a significant history of mental health services prior to disposition or the ability of the trial court to order mental health services during commitment. Instead, the statute envisions involvement of the area mental health services director in the disposition and tasks the area mental health services director with arranging an interdisciplinary evaluation of the juvenile and mobilizing resources to meet the juvenile’s needs. The disposition is vacated because the trial court did not follow this procedure. The court did not therefore consider the second and third grounds for appeal. However, the decision does note that the juvenile’s custody shall remain with the Department of Social Services.
Disposition Order
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