A prayer for judgment continued or PJC is unique to North Carolina, and is a type of disposition that is frequently used in misdemeanor cases in North Carolina courts. Many people think that a PJC is a good thing to get, but over the years the value of a PJC has been chipped away such that these days a PJC may only be valuable in certain traffic cases where insurance points or license suspension is at stake.
First, what is a PJC? A PJC is a request to the court by a defendant upon his plea of guilty (or responsible in infraction cases) to not enter a judgment upon payment of standard court costs. A PJC may be temporary – the defendant may be permitted to return to court at a later date and if the defendant has completed certain obligations, such as paying restitution – the defendant may have the PJC permanently entered.
Or a PJC may be permanent and judgment may never be entered. What’s the status of a permanent PJC?
In certain traffic cases, where the person has not had more than one PJC in an experience period (of three years), a PJC can prevent the DMV from either suspending a license or charging additional insurance points against the driver. A PJC is not available for DWI cases, but is available, in the judge’s sole discretion, for most other traffic offenses. Therefore, a PJC can have significant value in terms of saving someone money.
But what about non-traffic misdemeanors? Does a PJC have any other benefits? If a judge grants a PJC in a misdemeanor case without any additional conditions, the person can leave court (upon payment of costs) and the person will not be given any additional fines or punishment.
But a PJC will count as a conviction in almost all other respects. For instance, if someone receives a PJC for an assault on a female charge, that person will be treated by federal courts as having been convicted of an assault on a female charge and that person would potentially be subject to Violence Against Women Act’s requirement that someone convicted of such an offense be prohibited from owning or possessing firearms or ammunition.
In addition, a PJC will count as a conviction for sentencing points. North Carolina uses a structured sentencing system where past convictions are used to compute a prior conviction level for the person currently facing a new criminal sentence.
In State v. Graham 149 NCApp 215 (2002), the NC Court of Appeals wrote:
In his final argument, defendant contends that it was error for the trial court to count his district court prayer for judgmentcontinued in a prior case as a countable prior conviction for felony sentencing under Level 2. We disagree.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.11(7) (1999) provides that “[a] person has a prior conviction when, on the date a criminal judgment is entered, the person being sentenced has been previously convicted of a crime.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1331(b) (1999) provides that “[f]or the purpose of imposing sentence, a person has been convicted when he has been adjudged guilty or has entered a plea of guilty or no contest.”
In State v. Hatcher, 136 N.C. App. 524, 524 S.E.2d 815 (2000), our Court held that the defendant was convicted of a prior offense when he entered a plea of no contest and for which prayer for judgment was continued, even though no final judgment had been entered, for purposes of assignment of a prior record level for sentencing. Since our Court has “interpreted N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1331(b) to mean that formal entry of judgment is not required in order to have a conviction,” we hold that the trial court did not err in its assessment of prior record points in determining the prior record level for sentencing defendant. Id., 136 N.C. App. at 527, 524 S.E.2d at 817.
Finally, a PJC may not be appealed for a trial de novo. In order to appeal a conviction, judgment must be entered. So if you’ve received a PJC, then you must pray judgment first in order to then appeal the case.