The North Carolina Judicial Branch, which provides a robust online directory of Help Topics that cover a wide range of legal questions and issues, is available here. Helpful information for Crime Victims in particular, including information on reporting a crime, victims’ rights, attending court, and restitution, can be found here. More general information about criminal cases and understanding the legal process can be found here.
The pages above are excellent resources to answer many of the questions that victims, witnesses, and defendants will have about the North Carolina criminal justice system. To supplement that information and assist the public in understanding what can sometimes be a confusing process, the Conference has created this list of frequently asked questions that are often posed directly to our office. If there is a question that is not answered by either the resources above or the list below, and if it would be helpful for understanding the justice system or court process, feel free to Contact Us and we will do our best to answer if permitted.
If you have questions concerning a specific District Attorney’s office or would like to speak with someone about a court date and/or a particular court case, you should contact that District Attorney’s office directly as we will not be able to assist you.
What does the District Attorney do?
The District Attorney’s primary responsibilities, along with his or her assistants and staff, are to prosecute all criminal cases filed in District and Superior Courts, represent the State in Juvenile proceedings, prepare the criminal trial docket, and advise local law enforcement. The District Attorney is devoted to carrying out these duties full-time and does not engage in any other practice of law. For more information, or to contact your local District Attorney’s office, please visit this page to Find Your District Attorney.
What is the difference between District Court and Superior Court?
Juvenile matters and less serious criminal offenses such as misdemeanors and infractions are usually prosecuted in District Court, while more serious offenses such as felonies are usually prosecuted in Superior Court. Trials in District Court are always held before a judge, while trials in Superior Court are usually held before a jury. For more information, see the Judicial Branch help page here, or refer to the Conference page on the Court Process.
Can I choose the prosecutor that will be appointed to represent me?
Unlike a civil case where one person files a claim against another person, in a criminal case the State of North Carolina itself is the party, rather than the victim. Therefore, the District Attorney for the county where the case is being prosecuted is responsible for assigning a prosecutor to handle the case on behalf of the State. However, crime victims have important rights regarding how the case is handled, including the right to reasonably confer with the prosecutor and be kept informed about court dates and other developments. For more information, see the Victims’ Rights page here.
If you are the defendant in a case, you may hire the 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 be required to reimburse the state for the cost of this attorney.
What are my court costs?
For an explanation and list of current criminal court costs, please visit the Judicial Branch help page here.
Can the District Attorney’s office explain my charges, insurance points and/or driving license points?
No. The District Attorney’s office represents the State in the prosecution of traffic, juvenile, and criminal matters, and is prohibited by ethical rules from giving legal advice to someone who is charged with an offense. You should consult a private attorney for legal advice.
I received a traffic ticket but have lost it. What do I do now?
Anyone can search for a court date using the defendant’s name, officer’s name, county, case number, or other case details using the Judicial Branch court date locator.
What does it mean if I get a subpoena?
A subpoena is a writ issued by an officer of the court that commands the presence of a witness to testify, produce documents, or both, under penalty for failure to comply. If you receive a subpoena, you are required to abide by the conditions detailed within the subpoena, and as set out by law. If you are a victim or witness for the State in a case and you have questions about complying with a subpoena, contact your local district attorney’s office for more information. Defendants and other parties with questions about complying with a subpoena should consult an attorney.
How long am I under subpoena?
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 from the State, contact your local district attorney’s office for more information.
Can I change the court date of my case if I have a conflict?
If you are the victim of a crime or a witness for the State and have a conflict with the court date given, please contact the local district attorney’s office. Defendants and other parties should consult with an attorney or refer to the Judicial Branch help page on “Going to Court” available here.
How do I get compensated for any losses I have experienced as a result of a crime?
Resources are available to reimburse those who suffer medical expenses and lost wages as a result of being an innocent victim of a crime in North Carolina. Victims of rape, assault, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, drunk driving, and the families of homicide victims are eligible to apply for financial help. For more information, please see this page on Victim Compensation, or speak with the prosecutor handling your case.
State law also 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 may include out-of-pocket expenses, such as repair costs, medical bills, and stolen property, which have not previously been covered. More information on restitution is available here.
Can I choose the attorney that will be appointed to represent me?
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.
How will the defendant’s sentences be determined?
North Carolina operates under a policy called “structured sentencing.” This means that the judge must follow specific sentencing guidelines based upon the crime committed and the defendant’s prior criminal record and impose a sentence within a particular range that is set by statute. Depending on the offense level and criminal history, a defendant may be subject to a fine, probation, an active sentence, or a combination of those punishment options.
In general, more serious offenses and a more extensive prior criminal history will subject a defendant to greater punishment, while less serious offenses and a limited criminal history will subject a defendant to lesser punishment. Sentencing can be complex, and it depends greatly upon the facts of each case. Victims are encouraged to contact the prosecutor handling the case with any questions they have about the sentence a particular defendant will receive.
How can I conduct a criminal record check?
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. More information is available at the Judicial Branch help page here.
What do I do if I am a victim of or have witnessed a crime?
Please contact your local law enforcement agency and report the crime as quickly as possible. If it is an emergency, call 911 immediately.
I have been charged with a minor offense, do I have to go to court?
For an explanation of tickets, citations, and offenses payable by mail (waivable offenses) please visit the Judicial Branch help page here.