New N.C. law rolls back privacy protections for juveniles accused of serious crimes

Under the legislation, names, photos and alleged offenses of juveniles can be distributed by law enforcement agencies while a suspect is at large

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By Colleen Hammond
The News & Observer (Raleigh)

RALEIGH, N.C. — Privacy protections for juveniles accused of serious crimes in North Carolina have been rolled back after two Orange County teens were killed last year.

House Bill 186, a section of which is known as “Lyric and Devin’s Law” was signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper on Thursday.

The new legislation is named after Lyric Woods and Devin Clark, two teenagers who were allegedly shot and killed by another teen in Orange County last September. It will allow law enforcement agencies to release previously protected information about juveniles facing criminal charges.

Under “Lyric and Devin’s Law” names, photos, alleged offenses and statements about the perceived level of threat of juveniles can be distributed by law enforcement agencies while a suspect is at large.

Previous laws only allowed for this information to be released once charges had been elevated from juvenile court to superior court.

However, there are limits to the law.

This information can only be distributed about juveniles accused of Class A-F felonies and only after a juvenile petition, the equivalent of an adult arrest warrant, has been filed against them.

The photos, names and statements must then be removed from police social media and websites once the juvenile is taken into custody.

However, the removal of images only applies to law enforcement and government agencies. Images of juvenile suspects could legally and easily spread across social media or news media outlets.

Although The News & Observer does not typically publish mugshots or images of suspects, exceptions occasionally are made for suspects on the run who pose a serious threat to public safety.

The deaths of Devin Clark and Lyric Woods

On Sept. 17, family members of 14-year-old Lyric Woods reported her missing to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

The freshman at Cedar Ridge High School had been last seen by her stepfather around 11 p.m. on Sept. 16.

The following day, 18-year-old Devin Clark, a friend of Woods and a senior at Eastern Alamance High School, was reported missing by his father. He was also last seen around 11 p.m. on the 16th, according to his missing person’s report.

On Sept. 18, the bodies of Woods and Clark were found near Buckhorn Road by ATV riders. Both teens had been shot multiple times.

Hours before she went missing, Woods went to get ice cream with her grandfather Stan Dean. Last September, he told The News & Observer that the two had discussed her promising future as a travel volleyball player.

Clark was a wide receiver for the Eastern Alamance football team, according to a statement from the Alamance-Burlington School System.

The two teens were friends, according to social media posts made by family and friends after their deaths.

Could the new law have helped in the case?

On Sept. 20, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office filed a juvenile petition to charge a teen with two counts of first-degree murder. At the time, the suspect could not be publicly identified because of his age.

The suspect in the case, 17-year-old Issiah Ross, eluded authorities for more than two weeks before he was captured in Delaware on Oct. 5.

Eddie Caldwell, the executive vice president of the NC Sheriff’s Association, a law enforcement lobbying group, said he believes the previous privacy protections delayed Ross’s arrest.

“The new law will allow us to show our community that we are doing our jobs,” Caldwell said in a statement,

Once Ross’s charges were elevated from juvenile to superior court through the efforts of Orange County District Attorney Jeff Neiman, Ross was publicly identified in a press conference.

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