About the Courts

The judicial power of the state is outlined in Article IV of the North Carolina Constitution. North Carolina runs a statewide court system, so while some employees of the court may serve in their local jurisdictions, they are all state employees. The court system is also state funded, and the state incurs all expenses except for facilities and security. The General Court of Justice is composed of three divisions: an Appellate Division, a Superior Court Division, and a District Court Division.

Appellate Court Division

The Appellate Court Division is made up of the Court of Appeals and the NC Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals has 15 judges and sits in rotating panels of three. The Supreme Court has a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. Both Appeals Court judges and Supreme Court judges are elected to eight year terms

The Court of Appeals hears cases appealed from Superior and District Courts and decides cases on questions of law ranging from parking tickets to murder. The Court mostly reviews cases decided by trial courts to determine if there are legal errors in the trial. The Court of Appeals has no jury.

The NC Supreme Court hears cases appealed from the Court of Appeals and some cases that bypass the Court of Appeals, such as death sentence cases, which must be heard by the NC Supreme Court. The Court does not hear cases to determine fact, and does not have a jury.

NC Superior Court Division

North Carolina Superior Courts are courts at the trial level in North Carolina. 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.

The superior courts are split into eight divisions and 50 districts. Generally, superior court judges rotate among the districts within their division every six months. The rotation system is intended to avoid any favoritism that might result from having a permanent judge in a district. A superior court sits in the county seat of each county.

District Court Division

District Court is a trial court with 41 districts. Elections of one or more judges to four-year terms are held in each district. Trial Courts, or District Courts, can be divided into four categories, civil, criminal, juvenile and magistrate. Like the Superior Court, District Court sits in the county seat of each county. It may also sit in certain other cities and towns specifically authorized by the General Assembly.

District Court hears civil cases such as divorce, custody, child support and cases involving less than $25,000, as well as 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 and for traffic violations, and accept waivers of trial for worthless-check cases, among other things.

In civil cases, the magistrate is authorized to try small claims involving up to $10,000, including landlord eviction cases.

Clerks of Court

Clerks of Court are elected in every county for for a four-year term. The clerk is responsible for all clerical and record-keeping functions of the Superior Court and District Court. However, the clerk also has numerous judicial functions: The clerk is judge of probate and handles the probate of wills and the administration of estates. The clerk also hears a variety of special proceedings such as adoptions, incompetency determinations and partitions of land; is empowered to issue arrest and search warrants; and exercises the same powers as a magistrate with respect to taking pleas of guilty to minor littering, traffic, wildlife, boating, marine fisheries, alcoholic beverage, state park recreation and worthless-check offenses.

 

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