Last in Line for Change: North Carolina’s Prosecution of Misdemeanor Offenses committed by Sixteen- and Seventeen-year-old Youth

March 24, 2015

By: Kai Toshumba

Two states, North Carolina being one, are stuck on sixteen while the other forty-eight states throughout the country treat sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds as youth in the juvenile justice system.[i] In North Carolina your ability to be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system for a misdemeanor offense stops at the age of fifteen. This means, any sixteen or seventeen-year-old juvenile that commits a misdemeanor offense is prosecuted in the adult criminal court system.[ii] The biggest difference between juvenile and adult records is that, juvenile records are sealed and do not follow a child once they become an adult. As the law stands, once a child turns sixteen the charge is on their record for life. Do you remember when you were sixteen? Would you want a record of your actions from that age looming over you for the rest of your adult life?

The adult court system focuses on crime and punishment while the juvenile justice system focuses on “punishment and treatment.” Most notably, the juvenile justice system holds youth and their parents accountable, unlike the adult system. The juvenile justice system has positive benefits for youth who commit misdemeanor offenses; youth who go through the juvenile system are less likely to return to the system than those dealt with in the adult system. Moreover, forty-eight percent of youths who have been arrested have a greater chance of receiving rehabilitating services tailored to keep young people on the right path compared to twenty-three percent in the adult system. These services include: frequent contact with a court attorney, assessments, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and counseling. This is a good thing folks, and contrary to popular belief, this is not a get out of jail free card; the juvenile justice system holds young people and their families accountable.

We should talk about race/ethnicity.

If you polled a minority community on the sentiments regarding the number of individuals of color who enter the juvenile or adult court system, most of the community would say the statistics are disproportionate and affect their community. How do disproportional arrest and conviction rates affect minority youth throughout the nation? The statistics are startling, but not surprising. Accordingly, “[in] states with the highest rates of disproportionate confinement of African-American children, those children are incarcerated at a rate that is between ‘twelve and twenty-five times’ that of white children.”[iii] Throughout the nation, “Latino youth are admitted to state facilities at higher rates than whites, even when charged with the same crimes.”[iv] And “Native American children are detained at two-and-a-half times the rate of white children.”[v]

Photo courtesy of ABC Television Network.

Photo courtesy of ABC Television Network.

The short and long term effect of these convictions on a juvenile’s record is profound and extends to all areas of their lives. Arrests, court hearings, and sentenced time impede a young person’s ability to have a chance at completing their education and being a productive member of society. According to the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission Juvenile Age Study, an individual’s arrest records, especially convictions and incarceration, reduce future earnings of offenders and decrease their overall likelihood of gainful employment. When national averages reveal that minority youth are being arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at higher rates than their white counterparts, North Carolinians must look critically at our juvenile system. North Carolina is last in line to change a system that allows misdemeanor offenses of sixteen and seventeen year-olds to be prosecuted as adults, and we should encourage expedient reform of a current legislative bill because frankly, time enough.

 Reform is on the Horizon.

The age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina was established in 1909, and has since remained unchanged. It took more than 100 years for the age of juvenile jurisdiction to even be considered, and on April 11, 2013, the “Raise the Age” Bill was introduced to the North Carolina General Assembly and in 2014, the NC House passed bipartisan legislation. Officially called the “Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act,” the bill is “an act to establish the juvenile jurisdiction advisory committee, to create a pilot civil citation process for juveniles, and to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who have committed misdemeanor offenses.” Since coming into the Senate’s possession in May 2014, the bill’s progress has been labeled as, “Held in Senate Clerk’s Office.” This is not a good thing, and means the bill has come to a standstill until the Senate decides to further discuss the provisions of the bill and vote to make it law.

Critics of expanding the juvenile jurisdiction say that this expansion will cost North Carolina too much money, but reports indicate otherwise. The Governor’s Crime Commission Juvenile Age Study found that an enhanced juvenile justice system can save North Carolina money. Analysis shows that, changing the age of juvenile jurisdiction can create a net benefit of $7.1 million. Accordingly, an enhanced juvenile system can have a positive impact in North Carolina by reducing the rate of recidivism, which is considered re-offending, and reducing the cost per arrest for juveniles. Other states have had success in reducing the amount of juveniles who are sent to secure placement by introducing incentives for local jurisdictions by developing detention alternatives, or eliminating secure placement for certain low-level offenders. Nationwide trends show results in favor of enhanced juvenile justice systems that prosecute sixteen and seventeen year-olds as juveniles which have positive affects the future of a youth. The negative social and economic effect that a tainted record has on a young individual can affect their ability to be positive and productive citizens for the rest of their lives.

It is vital that North Carolinians encourage action from the legislature to evaluate what they have discovered through their own research, findings, and analysis that supports the expansion of the juvenile jurisdiction. Raising the age from fifteen to seventeen will allow more children the ability to refocus their lives through the programs the juvenile jurisdiction can offer and prevent an arrest record from impeding on their success as adults. A pivotal moment for North Carolina has been presented with the creation of the Raise the Age bill. It is essential that the legislature puts this bill back in motion to become law and ensure positive reform in the lives of children who encounter the justice system.

For more legislative information and to find your legislator visit and click on “Who Represents Me?” or call 919-733-7928.

[i] North Carolina, as well as New York, treat all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds as adults when they are charge with criminal offenses.

[ii] N.C.G.S. 7B-1604. (a).

[iii] Megan Annitto, Juvenile Justice on Appeal, 66 Univ. Miami L. Rev. 671 (2012).

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

Clinic Member Interning at NC Court of Appeals This Summer

March 20, 2015
Photo courtesy of NC Court of Appeals.

Photo courtesy of NC Court of Appeals.

Congrats to one of our very own, Adam Melrose, who just got a summer internship at the North Carolina Court of Appeals! Beginning in June, Adam will be exclusively working on researching and writing criminal appellate memos. Congrats, Adam!

A Dangerous Reality: The Law Used as a Tool for Destruction

October 31, 2014

By: Gabrielle Valentine

The Holocaust was “the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.”[1]  Many people are bewildered by the atrocities of the Holocaust, as they consider how so many people could join together to obey the orders of one dictator and eventually murder over six million people.  Although many perpetrators of this horrendous genocide were brought to justice at the Nuremburg Trials, where the Nazi leaders were tried for war crimes, the startling reality is that these war crimes were committed under the disguise of the law.

The people of the war-stricken, depression-battered Germany fell to the Nazi party’s illusory promises of peace and prosperity.  Appealing to and indoctrinating the minds of the Germans through propaganda and lies, the Nazis obtained the majority of the German parliament, and appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany in 1933.  Later that same year, the Nazis set fire to the German parliament building.  Hitler used this occurrence to declare a state of emergency and assume dictatorial power.  The Parliament now consisted of one party—the Nazi party, which merely rubber-stamped Hitler’s proposals.

Jews captured by German troops during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April-May 1943.

Jews captured by German troops during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April-May 1943.

The democracy of Germany was destroyed from within—by its government, in its courts, and through its exercise of the law.  Free, political debate no longer existed.  Trade unions no longer existed.  Freedom of speech no longer existed—in fact, speech against the Nazi regime meant concentration camps, torture, and death.  Freedom of the press no longer existed—books, newspapers, and magazines not consistent with Nazi ideology were burned in public.  Professionals not subscribing to the Nazi ideology were prohibited from practice.  Governments and leaders were able to commit heinous crimes for years, because any opposition was suppressed and stifled through the Nazi war machine.

The law in Germany was implemented as a tool of serious destruction, to strip away the very values of humanity.  As early as 1933, laws were passed to remove Jews from professions of government and legal service.  Very soon, the Nuremburg Laws stripped Jews of their citizenship.  Most public places were marked “No Jews Allowed” or “Only Germans.”  Jews were expelled from public facilities; Jewish children were expelled from public Aryan schools; and Jewish businesses were boycotted.  Jews were removed from numerous other professions, and Jews were forced to transfer their property to non-Jews, and quickly Jews were not allowed to own any businesses.[2]  Under the guise of the law, millions of precious human lives were targeted for annihilation.

A woman sits on a park bench marked “Only for Jews.” Austria, ca. March 1938. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Wiener Library Institute of Contemporary History.

A woman sits on a park bench marked “Only for Jews.” Austria, ca. March 1938. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Wiener Library Institute of Contemporary History.

According to the Nazi racial ideology, the Jews were a biologically inferior race seeking to take over the German nation and were polluting the “Master Aryan Race.”  Hitler not only persecuted Jews, but also homosexuals, Gypsies, Masons, and Jehovah Witnesses, all in order to “purify” the Aryan race.  The Nazis sought to eradicate the handicapped, “mentally retarded,” and “useless eaters” through euthanasia, also known as “mercy killing.”

Anti-Semitic conditions worsened until public violence against the Jews progressed to cold-blooded murder.  What began as racial targeting soon progressed to deportations and ghetto confinement.  In only a few short years, the persecution progressed to a massive planned extermination program through death in concentration camps and gas chambers.  Even when many of the Nazi war criminals were brought to justice at the Nuremberg Trials, most of them claimed innocence under the law, since they were “only following orders.”

So, how is what happened during the Holocaust relevant to us today in the 21st century? Most students in schools across our nation are taught very little, if anything, about the Holocaust.  Further, men and women throughout America and the world are denying that the Holocaust ever happened, even in the face of volumes of evidence and eyewitnesses that attest to this truth. The Holocaust is only one of many murderous genocides of the 21st century.  Throughout the world, racial discrimination, hatred, and murder are still dangerous forces of destruction against humanity.  We have a responsibility to stand firmly against evil and to not allow such hatred as prevailed in the Holocaust to ever prevail again.

Display of Holocaust denial at a demonstration in Tehran, Iran. 2006. United Press International

Display of Holocaust denial at a demonstration in Tehran, Iran. 2006. United Press International

Stacks of German documents collected by war crimes investigators as evidence. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

Stacks of German documents collected by war crimes investigators as evidence. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

Martin Niemoller, a protestant pastor who narrowly escaped execution during the Holocaust, famously wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.[3]

May these words be an everlasting remembrance to us that we should never turn our eyes from injustice as did the “bystanders” during the Holocaust.  Whether guardians of the law through the legal profession or baggers of groceries at the local store, we as Americans must stand boldly to safeguard justice and humanity, and ensure that the law is never used as a tool for dangerous destruction.  We must always stand up for what we know is right and never forget the power of one lie spread through the propaganda of a power-thirsty, racist dictator.  For if we forget the past, we are condemned to repeat it.


[2] See United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Examples of Anti-Semitic Legislation, 1933–1939 for a description of the laws that deprived the Jews of various rights.


Income Inequality, Advocating for Change, and an Interview with Tyrel Oates

October 22, 2014

If you like this blog article, check out the interview Tyrel Oates did for the Legal Dose, the Civil Rights Clinic’s podcast:

Civil Rights Clinic

By Carla Vestal

Have you ever felt that you were being treated unfairly by your supervisor or maybe one of your professors?  Have you thought about telling the person who held a superior position over you exactly how you felt?  For many of us the answer is “Yes.”  You play the scenario out in your head during your commute or while sitting in class, and for some reason you never follow through with it.  Maybe it is because you do not want to seem unprofessional, or because you are scared of getting reprimanded or even fired.  For whatever reason, you never speak up for yourself.

Meet Mr. Tyrel Oates.  He is a Wells Fargo branch employee in Portland, Oregon, who decided to speak out about a problem plaguing America but few know little about: income inequality.  He not only spoke up for himself, he sent an email to the…

View original post 1,360 more words

Baby Formula: How Theft-Rings Impact an Entire Generation

October 6, 2014

Civil Rights Clinic

By: M. Claire Donnelly

Think you can still walk into a store and grab a can of baby formula for your child?  Televisions, laptops, and phones are not the only popular items disappearing from retail shelves.  Over the past few years, baby formula theft has become an increasing problem nationwide.  Now, many stores have baby formula behind the counter or with anti-theft devices attached to it.  According to one newspaper: “stores are worrying less about teens stealing CDs than about … [organized theft of] millions of dollars of baby formula…”  Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Walgreens report losing millions due to theft of this product.  The Food Marketing Institute reported that baby formula was the fourth most-often-shoplifted good as early as 2004.  These thefts have caused many issues to arise in how mothers can get a simple can of baby formula to nourish their child.  Thus, not…

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Domestic Violence and the NFL

September 22, 2014
The NFL has been facing intense criticism in the media following recently uncovered video footage of NFL player Ray Rice hitting his then-girlfriend.  The public is not happy with how the NFL originally handled the allegations of abuse when they arose last February.  Due to this overwhelming negative publicity, NFL teams have been tightening their policies regarding domestic abuse, many of them retrospectively.
One such NFL team is the Carolina Panthers.  WFAE reported Thursday that Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy will not play until his domestic violence appeal has been resolved.  A judge found Hardy guilty of two counts of domestic violence in July and he is now awaiting a jury trial.  Charlotte School of Law Professor Christopher Woodyard offered his legal expertise to WFAE in reporting the story.
Listen in to WFAE’s account of the Greg Hardy story here:

Civil Rights Clinic Takes Windy City by Storm

May 17, 2014

By: Brittany Moore

This year, the Association of American Law Schools held their annual Clinical Legal Education Conference in Chicago, IL. The Conference took place from April 27 – April 30 with 703 clinical legal educators from all across the nation representing virtually every law school in attendance. The theme this year was “Becoming a Better Clinician.” On April 30th, the last day of the conference, the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) presented three awards: Outstanding Advocate for Clinical Teachers, Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project, and Outstanding Student Award.

Professor Carol Turowski, Director of Clinical Legal Education at Charlotte Law, and Professor Rocky Cabagnot, Community Economic Development (CED) Clinic Professor, nominated the Clinic for the Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project Award for work done on the Ban The Box (BTB) project.  On April 24, 2014, CLEA announced the recipient, and the award goes to… Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic (Clinic)! Two former Clinic students, Isaac Sturgill and Cleat Walters, along with Professor Jason Huber and current clinic student Brittany Moore flew to Chicago to accept the award.  Also in attendance were Professor Emma Best, Entrepreneurship Clinical Professor, and Fernando Nuñez, Immigration Clinic Professor.

BTB began as a grassroots movement in California to remove the question from job applications asking applicants “have you been convicted of a crime?” BTB first came to Charlotte in the fall of 2009 and after four-and-a-half years of work, nine generations of clinic students, and hundreds of community supporters, the box was banned in Charlotte on March 1, 2014. [1]

Ms. Anju Gupta, co-chair of CLEA awards committee, listed other nominees and we were in awe at the other projects nominated for this award. Some of the other nominees included:

  • University of Arkansas’s Criminal Defense Clinic, for its work on the Juvenile Mandatory Life without Parole Project;
  • Harvard Law School’s Student Predatory Lending Project;
  • Loyola Law Clinic’s Community Justice section, for its litigation and advocacy work surrounding FEMA;
  • Univ. of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law’s Immigration Clinic for its work on the Martinez decision in the Fourth Circuit;
  • Pace Law School’s Environmental Litigation Clinic for its work on the Catskills litigation;
  • American University, Washington College of Law’s Immigrant Justice Clinic for its “Taken for a Ride” report
  • Seattle University’s Foreclosure Mediation Outreach Project; and
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for its Immigration Detention Conditions Project.[2]

The Clinic is truly humbled to have been considered among these other nominees, who also are very deserving of this award. The commonality between all of the nominees is the desire, drive, and zealous effort to provide assistance and resources to those in our respective communities who need it the most.

Cleat Walters, Jason Huber, Brittany Moore, and Isaac Sturgill accepted the CLEA award on behalf of the CSL Civil Rights Clinic.

Cleat Walters, Jason Huber, Brittany Moore, and Isaac Sturgill accepted the CLEA award on behalf of the CSL Civil Rights Clinic.

Reflecting over my past year participating in the Clinic, and law school generally, I can honestly say this is the most humbling and rewarding experience. Clinical Educators at the conference sought us out to congratulate the Clinic and the local organizations that were instrumental in the success of BTB in Charlotte. Additionally, people came up to us on the street to applaud BTB. One woman came to me and said, “Congratulations,” but what she said next left me speechless. I told her thank you and how humbled we are to have this honor bestowed upon us, to which she replied, “No, I should be thanking you guys.” As much of an honor as this award is, BTB and the Clinic, generally, are still focused on the success of those in our community who face barriers without advocates to stand beside them. It is the mission of the Clinic to provide resources and zealous advocacy to those in our community who would not otherwise have a voice; this will continue to be our driving force.

I have been counting down the days until graduation since August of last year, but this honor makes graduation very bittersweet. I will truly miss the high caliber professors I have had the privilege of learning from over the past three years and some of the most wonderful colleagues I have had the privilege of working with. To those who will soon experience what a rewarding, humbling, and demanding experience anyone of the well respected clinics Charlotte Law has to offer, just keep in mind the ultimate goal is to fight for others and uplift fellow members of the community; in the end all of your hard work, tears, anxiety, restlessness, fury, and frustration will pay off in the end when your client(s) goals are finally achieved.

In conclusion, the Clinic is very honored to have this distinction bestowed upon us, but we would like to extend and share this award with all of those in the community who were instrumental in the success of BTB. Those who deserve to be recognized for their hard work are: Erik Ortega of the Center for Community Transitions and the Center as a whole, Councilwoman Lawanna Mayfield, All of Us or None, Changed Choices, Pasta Provisions, Democracy NC, Action NC, Charlotte Community Justice Coalition, and the hundreds of Charlotteans who provided continuous support. Finally, City Manager Ron Carlee and the City of Charlotte, thank you for Banning the Box, you have made a difference in this community and have proven we are all in this together.


[1] For more information about BTB, please visit

[2] Past Recipients can be found at

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