Magistrates have limited authority to file juvenile petitions and enter custody orders related to delinquent and undisciplined juveniles. Specifically, a magistrate may “draw and verify the petition and accept it for filing,” in “emergency situations” when the clerk’s office is closed and “a petition is required in order to obtain a secure or nonsecure custody order.” G.S. 7B-1804. Recently, I was invited to discuss this statutory provision with magistrates at their annual fall conference. I had assumed that most magistrates rarely, if ever, file juvenile delinquency or undisciplined petitions and expected to finish the presentation early with few questions. To my surprise, I discovered that magistrates in some counties are routinely being asked to file after hours juvenile petitions and enter secure custody orders, and they had lots of questions. Since I ran out of time trying to answer them all, I decided to write this blog post.
When a magistrate has heard evidence in a case and makes a decision based on that evidence, the formal document reflecting that decision is a judgment of the court. Form judgments for each kind of small claims case are provided by the AOC (designated as CVM forms), and they provide a valuable guide to the finding and conclusions required for a proper judgment. While the AOC forms are convenient, the law does not require their use, and some counties routinely utilize different forms. The AOC forms do reflect thoughtful decisions about what should be included in a judgment, however, and a small claims magistrate is advised to investigate further before deciding to routinely deviate from or ignore some portion of the judgment form.