Local News

Should there be easier access to juvenile court records?

Posted December 21, 2008
Updated March 9, 2009

— Whether to allow public access to court records for juveniles if they are later prosecuted in the adult-court system is a growing concern.

Last year, juveniles across North Carolina were charged in 41 first-degree murders, 31 cases of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, 345 instances of robbery with a dangerous weapons and 1,964 breaking-and-entering offenses.

Probation Jail Prison Juvenile court records at center of debate

Generally, a juvenile case involves a person who is under the age of 16. The North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice says that keeping the files private gives juveniles a fresh start in adulthood, whether it be to join the military, go to college or get a job.

Prosecutors say they have to have a way through that wall of privacy.

“We desperately need some type of an automatic notification that  a juvenile record exists once you get arrested as an adult,” Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.

Prosecutors and judges have access to juveniles' felonies, but Willoughby said it is time consuming to pull the paper files for all cases.

“They can't expect people to spend 30 minutes or an hour on each one – when there may be nothing there. They wouldn't have time to do their jobs,” Willoughby said.

Because the records are only accessible during business hours, magistrates who set bond after arrests can't always see records either.

Laurence Lovette Jr. – a Durham man charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato in January and University of North Carolina senior Eve Carson in March – spent time in a facility for juvenile offenders, one of those known as youth development centers

He was arrested later and had been released from jail on adult probation Jan. 16, two days before Mahato was found dead in his apartment a few blocks south of Duke's campus.

In the first two months Lovette, now 17, spent on adult probation, he was arrested on charges of first-degree burglary, felony larceny of a motor vehicle, larceny after breaking and entering, possession of a stolen vehicle and resisting an officer.

He was out on bond when he was arrested March 13 in Carson's death.

Because of sealed juvenile records, prosecutors and judges likely didn't see Lovette's record when he was arrested three times in three months before his arrest for Carson's murder. After that arrest, he was charged with other unsolved crimes from Cary to Greensboro, including Mahato's murder.

If there was an alert system, perhaps Lovette would not have bonded out so easily after those initial arrests.

To better understand the juvenile system that Lovette was a part of, WRAL News talked to someone spending time at the Edgecombe Youth Development Center.

“I regret it,” Alvin said of his crime.

Alvin, whose last name WRAL agreed not to use because his case is still in the juvenile courts, was arrested for breaking and entering at age 12, assault on a police officer at age 17.

“If I knew then what I know now, I probably could have walked away from that police officer and told him to have a nice day, but I was stubborn because I had an attitude problem,” Alvin said.

With juvenile crime rates remaining flat over the last seven years, the state said its focus is shifting to reform. Edgecombe is one of four new facilities where the focus is on counseling, rather than confinement.

Alvin is working to turn his life around while at the Edgecombe facility. Since he was already in the juvenile system, his assault charge at the age of 17 had the option of being classified as a juvenile delinquency case.

Alvin said he plans to get his GED and hopes to join the Army.

For cases like Lovette's, the question remains: Should there be easy access to juvenile records when the offender gets arrested as an adult?

Juvenile public defender Eric Zogry said the law isn't always practical, but there is concern over what easier access could lead to.

Mental health evaluations that may or may not be relevant are also in juvenile files. What information and how it should be handled is a complicated question that has yet to be answered.

Probation Director Robert Guy told WRAL News Monday that this is the most dangerous juvenile population he has seen in 31 years. He also said he wants more access to files for his officers.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • sweetydmh Dec 23, 2008

    No-juvenile courts records should be kept sealed. Period.

  • Slip Kid Dec 23, 2008

    The age limits are outdated and the separation of juve vs. adult records were put in place to protect the reputations of the parents, NOT the 'kids'. It's elemental, the system should allow the introduction of juve records anytime a violent crime is committed. The concept of innocence by age is irrational. A history of violence since age 12 or 13 IS critical to violent crimes at 17 or 18. You cannot pretend the juve record doesn't exist. Just one symptom of much larger problems in our justice system.

  • 2beachy4u Dec 23, 2008

    What it boils down to is this....if you want to be treated like an adult and then perform crimes as an adult would, then you should be punished as an adult and these court records should be public. Maybe embarassment of this will prevent future crimes from happening.

  • fkhaywood Dec 23, 2008

    It is obvious that the present system is broke and outdated. Anyone given probation should be electronically monitored with a GPS type unit that law enforcement, probation, and the judicicial system can use to monitor the whereabouts of any probatiiner.
    Juvenile records need to be easily accessible to all of the above people.
    The present system is more of an honor system than anything else. It only works when the probationer complies. Insufficient follow up exists in the system.

  • NE Raleigh Dec 23, 2008

    I believe their records should be public. Do to the fact that a large percentage of them will be adult criminals.

  • smilenc Dec 23, 2008

    They want to act like adults treat them like adults.

  • wcnc Dec 23, 2008

    " It especially galls me to see a 17 year old in adult jail for being a minor in possession of alcohol."

    I don't know that underage drinking is a jail-able offense.....

    "a conviction at 15 for graffiti shouldn't keep someone from getting a job at 40"

    15 is still considered a juvenile. Unless the crime is violent or the offender has a long juvenile record, most crimes committed at 14-15 and 364 days will be handled in juvenile court.

    These days, the teens are VERY violent. If they choose to be a criminal, they have to do the adult time. Most teens know that juvenile probation and incarceration are just about a joke, so they don't care- they have made their choice.

  • bigpinkstork Dec 23, 2008

    Currently, people 16 and up are treated as adults in the NC system. They can't vote, drink, or sign a contract, but they can be locked up as adults. It especially galls me to see a 17 year old in adult jail for being a minor in possession of alcohol. If the individual's crime is that he/she was caught drinking while still deemed a child, how then can he/she be charged as an adult? Adult status needs to apply across the board, not just at the state's whim. Bring the drinking age back to 18, and charge everyone under 18 as a juvenile. Once those standards have been established, make juvenile records available to prosecutors, but not to the general public. If someone continues to offend in adulthood, it's appropriate that the past behavior be brought up. However, a conviction at 15 for graffiti shouldn't keep someone from getting a job at 40--the general public doesn't need that information.

  • pleshy Dec 23, 2008

    Like I said, if you want to hold kids accountable as adults, then they should hold all the rights and privileges of adults. If we are assuming that some children are capable of thinking like adults for the purposes of criminal law, then we must assume that others are capable of thinking and acting like adults in all other areas - voting, drinking, driving, the draft, etc. You cannot have it both ways.

  • Hasbeen Dec 23, 2008

    Pleshy - Here here! A voice of reason. bs101fly and most others, cmon, if you want to know who and what your neighbors and their children are all about, open your eyes, open your doors and you can find out exactly what most folks are up to. Do we need to hide behind the internet to investigate the business of children who live 50 feet away? Sick, suspicious, paranoid, arrogant society is what we have. Most commenters here, as usual, speak from the most fragile of glass houses.
    One day your impulsive child, influenced by friends or whatever may do something stupid, not fully aware of the "Adult" nature of his actions. The article does mention the discussion about being 16 or younger. As a parent, he would, be accountable in my home, but, I will do all I can to protect his and my privacy from the nosey-bodies voyeurs of our society