Below is a list of frequently asked questions pertaining to the Criminal Justice System. We have tried to include a wide range of questions and answers to shed light on what can be a confusing process. If there is a question not included in our list and you feel it would help better the understanding of our Criminal Justice System, please feel free to contact us.
Q: What is a District Attorney?
A: In North Carolina, a District Attorney (DA) is the elected public official who represents the state in the prosecution of all criminal matters. The district attorney supervises a staff of assistant district attorneys (ADA), victim witness legal assistants (VWLA), investigators, and other administrative employees. A district attorney’s primary responsibility, with his or her assistants, is to prosecute all criminal cases filed in District and Superior Courts, prepare the criminal trial docket and advise local law enforcement.
Q: What is the difference between District Court and Superior Court?
A: District Courts, can be divided into four categories, civil, criminal, juvenile and magistrate. Civil cases such as divorce, custody, child support and cases involving less than $10,000 are heard in District Court, along with criminal cases involving misdemeanors and infractions. The trial of a criminal case in District Court is always without a jury. The District Court also hears juvenile cases involving children under the age of 16 who are delinquent and children under the age of 18 who are undisciplined, dependent, neglected or abused. Magistrates accept guilty pleas for minor misdemeanors, accept guilty pleas for traffic violations and accept waivers of trial for worthless-check cases. In civil cases, the magistrate is authorized to try small claims involving up to $5,000 including landlord eviction cases.
All felony criminal cases, civil cases involving more than $10,000 and misdemeanor and infraction appeals from District Court are tried in Superior Court. A jury of 12 hears the criminal cases. In the civil cases,juries are often waived.
Q: I have been charged with a minor offense, do I have to go to court?
A: For an explanation of tickets, citations and offenses payable by mail (waiveable offenses) please visit www.nccourts.org/Courts/Trial/Costs/Default.asp.
Q: What are my court costs?
A: For a list of current criminal court costs, civil court costs, estates court costs, miscellaneous fees and commissions and special proceedings court costs, please visit www.nccourts.org/Courts/Trial/Costs/Default.asp.
Q: Can the District Attorney’s office explain my charges, insurance points and/or driving license points?
A: No. The District Attorney’s office prosecutes criminal and traffic matters and is prohibited from giving legal advice to someone who is charged with either. You should consult a private attorney for legal advice.
Q: I received a traffic ticket but have lost it. What do I do now?
A: To determine your court date you may contact the clerk’s office for the county in which you received the ticket or search the court date locator. If you do not know from which county you received the ticket, you should contact the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Q: What does it mean if I get a subpoena?
A: A subpoena is a writ issued by the court that commands the presence of a witness to testify and/or produce certain documents under penalty for failure. If you receive a subpoena, you are required to abide by the conditions detailed within the subpoena.
Q: How long am I under subpoena?
A: You are required to abide by the conditions detailed within the subpoena until released by the court. If you are a victim or witness and receive a subpoena, you should contact your local district attorney’s office for more information.
Q: Can I change the court date of my case if I have a conflict?
A: If you are a victim or witness of a crime and have a conflict with the court date given, please contact the local district attorney’s office.
Q: How do I get compensated for any losses I have experienced as a result of a crime?
A: The Victims Compensation Service reimburses citizens who suffer medical expenses and lost wages as a result of being an innocent victim of a crime committed in North Carolina. Victims of rape, assault, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and drunk driving, as well as the families of homicide victims are eligible to apply for financial help.
State law allows the prosecutor to request restitution (repayment for the victim’s losses) as part of the sentence of any defendant who is found guilty of a crime. Reimbursable losses include out-of-pocket expenses, such as repair costs, medical bills and stolen property, which have not previously been covered.
Q: Can I choose the attorney that will be appointed to represent me?
A: If you are a victim of a crime, the District Attorney will assign himself/herself or an assistant district attorney to prosecute the case on behalf of you and the State.
If you are the defendant in a case, you should hire a private attorney of your choice to represent you in legal proceedings. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may have the option to obtain a court appointed attorney. Should you be convicted, you may have to reimburse the state for the cost of this attorney.
Q: How are sentences determined?
A: North Carolina operates under a policy of structured sentencing. This means that the judge must follow specific sentence guidelines based upon the crime committed and the defendant’s prior criminal record.
Q: How can I conduct a criminal record check?
A: Public terminals located at most Clerks of Superior Court’s offices are available to search criminal records. There are also a number of private services that will conduct these searches for a fee.
Q: What do I do if I am a victim of or have witnessed a crime?
A: Contact your local law enforcement agency and report the crime as quickly as possible.