Court Process

North Carolina has more than 400 criminal laws. Cases are heard in both District and Superior Courts. The most serious cases, the ones that often result in a prison sentence of at least one year or more, are felonies and they are usually heard in Superior Court.

Felonies include such things as breaking and entering, assault, sale or delivery of controlled substance, forgery, rape, incest, murder or embezzlement. Misdemeanor offenses are heard in District Court. A person convicted of a misdemeanor offense may receive a small amount of active jail time depending upon the person's prior criminal record.

If a person has been arrested and unable to post bond, he or she will be escorted to court by a uniformed law enforcement officer on the appropriate date. If a person is free on bail, he or she must be in court at the appointed time indicated on the release order. If a person has been served with a summons, he or she must report to the county courthouse at the designated time on the summons and find the courtroom in which the case will be heard. There will be a list of names outside the courtrooms. Find your name and enter that courtroom. If you cannot find your name on any of the lists, check with the clerk of courts office located in the courthouse.

Below is a flowchart of the Court Process. For more information on what to do once you have arrived at the courthouse, see the page on Frequently Asked Questions.

Offense - Crime is Committed.
Investigation - the collection of information, statements,
and evidence to determine who committed the crime.
(Continues throughout the process)
Arrest - the accused is charged with the crime and
taken into custody.
First Appearance
First Appearance - the defendant is informed of the
charges against him/her by a judge, is given an explanation
of his/her constitutional rights, and is appointed an attorney if
he/she cannot afford one.

Probable Cause and/or Grand Jury Indictment

Probable Cause and/or Grand Jury Indictment - (Felony Cases only) determines if a crime has been committed and if there is sufficient evidence to believe the defendant committed the crime.
Entry of Plea
Entry of Plea - guilty or not guilty.


Trial - if the defendant pleads not guilty there will be a trial before a presiding judge and a jury of 12 citizens who will hear and evaluate the evidence to determine the defendant's guilt or innocence.
Sentence - if the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty to the charges against him the judge will sentence him to prison for a certain length of time or the judge may suspend the sentence and place the defendant on probation.
Possible Appeal to a Higher Court
Possible Appeal to a Higher Court - an attempt to get a conviction overturned by finding errors in the law during the trial or an allegation by defendant that his attorney was incompetent in representing him/her.
Serve Sentence
Serve Sentence - the defendant is placed in the Department of Correction for his/her prison term or is placed on probation

Bond is set after the arrest and can be reviewed at any court hearing afterwards. Plea negotiations and guilty pleas may happen anytime before a jury verdict. These steps may vary from county to county.

If you feel you have reached this webpage in error, or would like to learn more about North Carolina District Attorneys, please visit the NC Conference of District Attorneys website. To report a problem with this, or any other District Attorney website please contact the webmaster.