State v. Garrett, 2021-NCCOA-591

Reversed and Remanded

Facts: The defendant was charged with two class H felonies (felonious breaking or entering and larceny after breaking or entering) in October of 2016, when he was 16 years of age and before raise the age was implemented. The charges were under the exclusive jurisdiction of the criminal law under the statutory scheme in place at the time of the offense. Raise the age was passed in 2017 and took effect beginning with offenses committed on December 1, 2019. The expansion of juvenile jurisdiction was not retroactive. This case was set for trial in late 2017 and the defendant failed to appear. The defendant was arrested in 2019 and his case proceeded. The trial court granted a pretrial motion to dismiss, finding that the defendant’s constitutional rights to equal protection, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and due process were violated by prosecution as an adult.


 The defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated by trying the juvenile as an adult for the reasons described below.

Equal Protection

The alleged equal protection violation was based on treating the same group of people differently at a different time (youth alleged to have committed class H felonies at age 16 prior to raise the age were automatically prosecuted as adults and, under raise the age, the same youth begin under juvenile jurisdiction and the case may be moved to superior court for trial as an adult). This is not a violation of equal protection rights because no classification was created between different groups of people.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Trying the defendant as an adult does not implicate the substantive limits on what can be made criminal as protected by the Eighth Amendment. Those limits have only been invoked in relation to the status of addiction to drugs or alcohol. In addition, the prosecution of juveniles as adults involves the procedure taken regarding a criminal offense alleged against a juvenile and not the substance of what is made criminal. Trying the defendant as an adult does not criminalize a status. It punishes criminal behavior pursuant to the procedure in place at the time of the offense. There is no claim under the Eighth Amendment.

Due Process

There is no fundamental right in being tried as a juvenile in criminal cases. The decision in Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966), is not controlling or instructive in this matter because the statutory structure in Kent was distinct from the statutory structure in this matter. There was not a protected interest at issue in this matter and procedural due process protections were not implicated. A rational basis test must be used to analyze substantive due process in this case as a fundamental right is not at issue. “The decision to prosecute and sentence juveniles under the statutory scheme in place at the time they commit their offense is rationally related to the State’s legitimate interest in having clear criminal statutes that are enforced consistently with their contemporaneous statutory scheme. Prosecuting Defendant as an adult within the jurisdiction of the Superior Court was not a violation of substantive or procedural due process based simply upon the findings of fact regarding an impending change in how juveniles are prosecuted under the law and Kent, which held that a violation of due process occurred when a juvenile’s statutory right to the juvenile court having exclusive jurisdiction was violated without any hearing, findings, or reasoning.” ¶ 29.

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