North Carolina Courts
The court system in North Carolina is the judicial branch of the state. Along with the state's executive and legislative branches, the judicial branch ensures law and order within the state. Also called the General Court of Justice, the court system is instituted with equal status as the Executive and Legislative arms of the government. It has the responsibility of interpreting the Constitution and protecting the rights of North Carolinians. North Carolina runs a centralized statewide and state-operated court system, implying that state courts handle the bulk of court work in the state. The General Court of Justice has three divisions. These are the Appellate Division, the Superior Court Division, and the District Court Division.
The Appellate Division consists of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Both courts are situated in downtown Raleigh, and each has a clerk who serves as the court's administrative officer. The Supreme Court is North Carolina's highest court with seven justices, who usually serve for eight years in office. Rather than determine facts, this court considers questions of law in making decisions. One of the seven justices serves as the Chief Justice.
The Supreme Court of North Carolina hears appealed cases by parties dissatisfied with North Carolina lower courts, Court of Appeals inclusive. In its discretion, the Supreme Court may review Court of Appeals decisions in cases of significant public interest. Most cases appealed from the lower courts go to and end at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The major exception is capital murder appeals, where the death penalty was applied. Such an appeal is beyond the Court of Appeals and goes directly to the Supreme Court of North Carolina. It is an appellate court whose judges sit in panels of three to review cases from the lower courts. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has 15 judges whose terms in office are eight years. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appoints one of these 15 to act as the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. Parties in cases involving constitutional questions and proceedings in which there has been disagreement in the Court of Appeals have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals determines if there were prejudicial errors while hearing cases at the trial courts.
The Superior Court Division is a trial court division and consists of the North Carolina Superior Court. The Superior Court determines the facts of cases and has original jurisdiction on all felony cases and civil cases involving $25,000 or more. It also handles appeals from District Courts. The Superior Court has 109 Judges who are rotated among the 48 districts every six months to prevent conflict of interest. A judge decides a civil case without a jury unless one of the parties to such a case requests one. However, the North Carolina Constitution provides that a jury of 12 citizens agrees and makes decisions for defendants who plead not guilty to criminal charges.
The North Carolina District Court is also a trial court like the Superior Court. It hears cases concerning civil, juvenile, criminal, and magistrate matters. There are 256 judges of the District Court, all distributed across counties in North Carolina. They typically handle cases involving less than $25,000 claims.
There are also federal appellate courts with jurisdiction over federal cases in the state. These federal courts are authorized to hear appeals from of cases pertaining to federal law. All courts operate an administrative office that maintains North Carolina court records relevant to the state.
What is the Supreme Court of North Carolina?
The Supreme Court of North Carolina is the state's apex court and the highest appellate court. The decision of the Supreme Court on matters of state laws is final. Rather than determining facts in making decisions, supreme court judges review appeals by looking out for errors that occurred in trial courts. The Supreme Court of North Carolina has a Chief Justice and six other associates, and each of them serves for eight years in office. Appeals to the Supreme Court from the Court of Appeals are by rights in cases involving constitutional issues and those where there has been dissent in the Court of Appeals.
North Carolina Court of Appeals?
The North Carolina Court of Appeals has 15 judges. One of them is appointed by the Supreme Court Chief Justice to serve as the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. The court is an intermediate appellate court, and it reduces the amount of work that will ordinarily be handled by the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals has a clerk who doubles as the court's administrative officer. Most appeals from the lower courts go directly to the Court of Appeals, where they are reviewed by a panel of three judges. The decisions made by judges at this court are based on errors of law or legal procedure. The Court of Appeals does not admit new evidence or testimony during an appeal.
North Carolina Superior Court?
Established in 1777, the North Carolina Superior Court is a court with general trial jurisdiction. The court hears civil and criminal cases above $25,000. There are 109 judges of the North Carolina Superior Court spread across the five judicial divisions and 48 districts in the state. The Superior Court judges usually work on a rotational basis. Having a permanent judge in a location often leads to conflicts of interest and compromise. In a North Carolina Superior court, a jury of 12 citizens renders the verdict for defendants who plead not guilty to criminal charges. The Business Court of the superior court division handles cases involving complex issues of corporate and commercial law.
North Carolina District Court?
The North Carolina District Court has 256 judges distributed among the 41 districts across the state. District courts are mostly situated in the county seat of each county in North Carolina. Cases heard by the District Court are those with claims of $25,000 or less. The court hears civil, non-injury misdemeanors, and juvenile cases. Civil cases tried in this court include child support, divorce, and child custody. Criminal cases appealed from the District Court go to the Superior Court for trial de novo, while civil and juvenile cases move to the Court of Appeals. The Magistrates are under the supervisory authority of the Chief District Court Judge. They try small claims cases under $10,000 and a few matters in criminal cases.
What are Appeals and Court Limits in North Carolina?
An appeal in North Carolina is a process that allows a party who lost a legal case in a trial or lower court's decision to seek a review at a higher court. Trial courts may misunderstand the facts of cases based on testimonies or evidence presented and may lead to appeals. There are various reasons for which North Carolina residents file appeals. Ideally, any ruling by a trial court should be supported by the findings of fact. Parties in a legal dispute may have strong reasons to file an appeal if the Trial Court decision is based on a factual matter that was not backed by testimony or evidence. It is customary for judges to permit some testimony or not and either admit or deny specific evidence during a trial. Trial Court judges may commit errors on the admissibility of testimony and evidence and may affect their rulings. There are also instances where Trial Court judges may not have the right understanding of North Carolina statutes and then make decisions based on a wrong application of the law. Appellants must, however, file their appeals on compelling grounds.
The majority of appealed cases in North Carolina are heard at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. However, the Supreme Court of North Carolina reviews certain types of appeals. Cases appealed at the Court of Appeals are not retried. The judges only examine the errors being challenged and then make their rulings. A party who files a notice of appeal with the Trial Court must also serve the notice on the other party in the case. Such cases are then transferred to the Court of Appeals. After a case review by Court of Appeals judges, they may either reverse the earlier decision of the Trial Court or order a new trial if they observe an error in judgment.
How Do I Find My Case Number in North Carolina?
A case number is an identification number assigned to a legal proceeding once filed in court. It helps to distinguish a case from others and has some unique features. A case number typically reveals the filing judicial officer's identity, the year it was filed, and the office that registered it. Individuals who wish to find their case numbers in North Carolina must do so by visiting the office of the clerk of the Superior Court in the county where such cases were filed. Information such as the names of parties involved in the case, case type, filing judicial officer, filing date start, and filing date end will help facilitate a quick search. However, a nominal search fee may apply, and interested persons must be willing to pay.
Does North Carolina Hold Remote Trials?
The North Carolina Court system, just like any other in the United States, have been impacted by the outbreak of coronavirus. North Carolina, however, responded by holding remote trials via WebEx teleconferencing application to keep court employees and residents safe amid the pandemic. Residents can file cases by mail, and many court processes have been taken out of the courtroom. Filed lawsuits are also being heard remotely using audio and video conferencing. Local rules, rules of criminal and civil procedure, and all applicable laws apply in remote trials. The court determines which proceedings to convene remotely and the rules guiding those trials.
Persons interested in participating in remote hearings in North Carolina will need computers (with camera) or smartphones installed with the WebEx meeting application and reliable internet connections. Typically, the court will notify participants via email invitations containing the meeting (trial) details. In remote hearings, the involved parties must send all exhibits to the court via email not less than 48 hours before such proceedings. The court admits witnesses to hearings when it is time for them to testify. They must take their leave from such meetings after completing their testimony unless the court allows them to remain there.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Resident Superior Court Judges must design strategies for resuming jury trials in their districts, which must be approved by notable public officials. The plans must include:
- A plan for conducting hearings with social distancing at court locations for all involved
- A plan to ensure the availability of face coverings to court staff, jurors, and other participants
- A daily screening plan of all participants for COVID-19 infection
- A proof that court facility or proposed alternate location (large halls or auditoriums) complies with the Chief justice's directive in response to COVID-19 outbreak
- A detailed plan for social distancing in executing voir dire