Were You Found Guilty of a Misdemeanor Crime in a District Court Trial in North Carolina?
The North Carolina Constitution states that all people have the right to a trial by a jury of their peers if tried for a crime. However, if you are charged with a misdemeanor in North Carolina and the case goes to trial, it is a bench trial, meaning that a single judge makes the decision of guilt or innocence. This bench trial takes place in District Court, which is the lower level of the two levels of county court. If you are found guilty in a bench trial in District Court, then you have the right to appeal your case to the higher level of the court, called Superior Court. By appealing, you are requesting a Trial De Novo in front of a jury of your peers.
What is a Trial De Novo?
Translated from Latin, it simply means “new trial.” In a court setting, it means that the verdict and accompanying sentences and penalties are set aside and you get a new trial as if the original had not occurred in District Court.
How To Appeal a Case to Superior Court
You have a very short window within which to file an appeal from District Court to Superior Court in North Carolina. You only have 10 days from the date the judgement is entered to appeal. Once that 10 day window has lapsed, you have lost your right to request a Trial De Novo. In Wake County, if you are at all thinking about an appeal, many attorneys would recommend filing the appeal and if you change your mind within a reasonable amount of time, the case can be remanded back down to District Court. This means that you are choosing to withdraw your appeal and instead accept the verdict and accompanying sentence from the District Court trial.
Why Would You Choose to Appeal a Case to Superior Court?
In a bench trial in District Court, a single judge is deciding your guilt or innocence. This is not a lay person, but rather a person that spends every day in the court room listening to people’s stories and interpreting the law. It is one person’s opinion on that given day. In a Superior Court trial, there is a jury of 12 people that must unanimously decide your guilt or innocence. These are people that likely have not been deeply involved in the court system before and don’t spend every day, day in and day out, listening to a different variation of the same story. A jury may be less biased than a single judge, but they may also be more biased, depending on the jury that gets picked. However, a jury trial can sometimes be advantageous in certain cases because if there is reasonable doubt, it is more difficult to get a unanimous verdict from 12 people that it is to get it from one person.
Your criminal defense attorney will be able to analyze the facts of your case to determine if it may be worthwhile to appeal your case to Superior Court, but in the end, the decision is yours as to whether you want to accept a District Court verdict or file an appeal.