Since 1971, North Carolina has had a unified court system, with each of its 100 counties having its own courthouse. Unlike some states, which have town, borough, or city courts, North Carolina courts are unified, county-wide, and follow the same structure across the entire state of North Carolina. While some of the less populated counties – for instance Orange and Chatham – are grouped into single Judicial Districts, counties such as Wake and Durham are each individual Judicial Districts.
Trial courts are divided into two divisions, Superior Court and District Court (which includes Traffic Court). District Court hears misdemeanor and infraction (traffic) cases. District Court typically operates more informally, and no record is kept by a stenographer. Any losing defendant may appeal his conviction to Superior Court for an entirely fresh hearing.
Felony cases are ultimately tried in Superior Court, where the defendant has a right to a jury trial to determine his guilt or innocence. If convicted, the defendant has the right to appeal to the Court of Appeals, a 15 member appellate court that sits in panels of three judges. The defendant must allege errors in his trial violating statute or constitutional law and that render the outcome. Most convictions end there.
But, if a Court of Appeals judges dissents or a fundamental constitutional issue is raised, the defendant may appeal the case to North Carolina’s highest judicial body, the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Federal courts will only intervene in a state criminal matter if a federal constitutional issue has been raised.
The Chetson Firm serves clients and defendants accused of felonies, misdemeanors, and traffic offenses and crimes in Wake County (Raleigh, Apex, Cary, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Morrisville, Clayton), Durham County, Orange County (Hillsborough, Carrboro), Johnston County (Smithfield), Harnett County (Lillington, Dunn, Erwin), Chatham County (Pittsboro), and surrounding communities of the Research Triangle.
For more information on each jurisdiction, select the county from the menu above. Or call toll free (919) 352-9411 anytime weekdays, evenings, weekends or holidays for a free phone consultation or to set up an appointment with a Cary, Apex, or Raleigh criminal attorney.