Question and Answer

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.

If you would like to speak with someone about a court date and/or a specific court case in Bladen, Brunswick or Columbus County, please contact us.

Q: Can the District Attorney's Office explain my charges, insurance points, and driving license points?
A: No. You must consult a private attorney for legal advice. The District Attorney is prohibited by the rules of the State Bar from giving you legal advice as to your charges. For insurance issues, see http://www.ncdoi.com.

Q: Can I choose the attorney that will be appointed to represent me?
A: No. If you obtain a court appointed attorney, they are assigned on a rotating basis. You can hire the private attorney of your choice.

Q: They did not advise me of my rights. Can I get the case dismissed?
A: No. Law Enforcement Officers do not have to advise you of your rights unless an in custodial interrogation is taking place.

Q: If the witness does not show up, will the case be dismissed?
A: It depends. Some cases can be tried without the victim appearing. Sometimes the case may be continued if the witnesses do not appear.

Q: If I do not show up to court, will the case be dismissed?
A: No. If you are a defendant, it is a crime for you to not show up in court. If you are a witness and do not show up, a judge may sanction you.

Q: Can I accept the money for a worthless check warrant I have taken out?
A: We have a Bad Check Program in this District. Please contact that office before accepting money after a warrant is issued.

Q: What do various court terms mean?
A: See our terminology page.

Q: Can I continue my case to any day I want?
A: No. Law Enforcement Officers have specific court days.

Q: Why can't the DA's Office give me legal advice?
A: The Rules of the State Bar prohibit it. The District Attorney's Office prosecutes all criminal actions in the Thirteenth District. Giving legal advice to defendants could be a conflict of interest and have the appearance of impropriety.

Q: What is the Defensive Driving School?
A: The Defensive Driving School is a driving school that traffic offenders can attend for certain violations. Successful completion of Driving School can lead to reduced charges. You cannot go to any defensive driving school other than the one operated in the County you received a citation: Bladen County must go to Bladen Community College, Brunswick County must go to Brunswick Community College, and Columbus County must got to Southeastern Community College. (See Defensive Driving School for more information.)

Q: When are the Assistant District Attorneys that work in District Court in the office so I can talk to them?
A: Most of their time is spent in the courtroom. Generally, District Court runs from 9:30 to 5:00 p.m. It is a good idea to call for an appointment.

Q: How long am I under subpoena?
A: You are under subpoena until discharged, which could be for more than a day.

Q: What is a screener?
A: An Assistant District Attorney reviews felony cases to determine if they should be disposed of in District Court or whether they should go to Superior Court.

Q: What is the AOC?
A: The Administrative Office of the Courts was created when the courts were unified in 1963. The primary functions of the AOC include providing support to court officials statewide, administering the budget for the entire judicial branch of government, and providing public information about the court system.

Q: Where can I find North Carolina Law, particularly statutes?
A: If you have access to the Internet, the General Assembly's home page will provide this information for you. (http://www.ncga.state.nc.us); Most Universities have a government section in the library that has the statutes, as do most libraries.

Q: What is the difference between District Court and Superior Court?
A: District courts are the entry level trial court, and the proper division for civil cases involving less than $10, 000, all juvenile matters, and criminal cases involving infractions or misdemeanors. If the parties involved in the case do not object, District court can conduct civil jury trials, or hear civil matters with more than $10, 000 in controversy. However, Superior Court is the proper division for civil cases involving more that $10, 000, as well as all felony criminal cases. Both courts have jurisdiction over cases regardless of the amount of money in controversy.

Q: How can I conduct a criminal record check?
A: Go to the office of the local Clerk of Superior Court. They will provide information that will allow you to conduct these types of searches.

Q: Why don't people who steal get more serious punishment?
A: The punishment a defendant receives is largely determined by rules called "structure sentencing". Generally, people who steal do not qualify for sufficient jail time.

Q: How are sentences determined?
A: North Carolina operates under a policy of structured sentencing. Generally, a person's sentence depends upon the person's prior number and type of convictions. A grid and chart is used to determine the record level based upon the number of points a person has.; Crimes are classified as type of offense and these are shown on the punishment chart. A punishment chart is located at www.aoc.state.nc.us/spac.

If the punishment block shows an A, the judge must impose an active sentence. If the punishment block shows an I/A, a judge may impose an active sentence, but is not required to do so. Individuals sentenced for a felony received a maximum sentence in months and a minimum sentence in months. Generally, the person will serve 85% of the maximum sentence for a felony.

Prior convictions for Class 2 and Class 3 misdemeanors do not count, nor do prior misdemeanor traffic offenses when sentencing for felonies. For example, if a person is convicted in District Court for carrying a concealed weapon, first degree trespass, resisting arrest, and possession of marijuana, since none of these are Class 1 misdemeanors the person would have no prior points in calculating the person's record for a felony offense.

If an offender was convicted of more than one offense in a single Superior Court during one calendar week, only the offense carrying the highest number of points is counted. For example, if a person is convicted of one armed robbery and twenty breaking and enterings in one week of Superior Court, only the armed robbery will count toward points for sentencing for misdemeanors and felonies.

If an offender is convicted of more than one offense during a single session of District Court, only the single most serious conviction is counted for sentencing for misdemeanors and felonies. For example, if a person were convicted of assault on a female and fifty counts of misdemeanor breaking and entering, the person would only receive points for the assault on a female conviction.

Judges may impose consecutive sentences for felonies.

For Class A1, Class 1, or Class 2 misdemeanors a judge cannot impose consecutive sentence that exceed twice the length of the longest term of imprisonment authorized for the most serious misdemeanor offense. For example, if a person is convicted of assault on a female, five counts of assault on an officer, and twenty counts of trespass, the judge could only impose a sentence that should be the maximum for assault on a female and one count of assault on an officer.

For Class 3 misdemeanors, the judge cannot impose consecutive sentences regardless of the number.

A person may only be convicted of being a habitual felon if they committed a felony and are convicted, after that committed another felony and are convicted, after that committed another felony and are convicted, and after that committed another felony and are convicted. If a person is charged with fifteen felonies and pleas to them at one time then they have only one prior conviction for the purposes of being an habitual felon.