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click to go to Understanding Criminal Court section of our website
Understanding the Criminal Court System
Frequently Asked Questions


Below are many frequently asked questions concerning the court system.

No information contained in this section, or any other section, of our website is intended to be legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. The District Attorney does not represent individuals. The District Attorney represents the State of North Carolina in criminal matters. Click here for our website policies.
Click on a question to view the answer. After reading the answer, click back to top to return to the list of questions.


1) How many district attorneys are there?
2) What is the jurisdiction of the DA?
3) Is the DA my attorney? Do I need a lawyer?
4) Will the DA advise me regarding the possible effect a traffic ticket will have on my driver's license privileges or insurance points?
5) Where is the courthouse?
6) If I am subpoenaed, do I have to go to court?
7) What is plea bargaining? Why is it necessary?
8) I wish to file a complaint about my defense attorney. Should I contact you?
9) I have a defense attorney, but I want to talk to the DA myself. What should I do?
10) Why does the DA dismiss charges?
11) If the police have probable cause to arrest someone, why does the DA not always prosecute the case?
12) How many cases per year does your office handle?
13) How many courtrooms in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse are designated for criminal cases? What happens in each courtroom?
14) What is a bond hearing and when are they held?
15) What is District Court? What is Superior Court?
16) How can I look up a defendant's next court date and courtroom?
17) I am a victim of a crime, but I want to drop the charges; what can I do?
18) How should I report a crime?
19) I would like a potential crime investigated; whom should I contact?
20) To whom should I direct my question about jury duty?
21) I often hear the terms "chronic offender," "habitual offender," "repeat offender," and "habitual felon." What do these terms mean?
22) What is a public defender? What is a court-appointed attorney?
23) How do I get a copy of a police report?
24) How do I get my record expunged?
25) Can someone else appear for me on my court date?
26) Where can I get a criminal background check completed?
27) Where can I get information about traffic school?
28) Where is the probation department located?
29) Where do I go to sign up for deferred prosecution, CBI (cognitive behavior interventions), or drug education class?
30) What forms of payment are accepted when paying for a traffic ticket?
31)
Are judges appointed or elected?


Answers

1) How many District Attorneys are there?

There is one elected District Attorney (DA) for each prosecutorial district in North Carolina. The other prosecutors in each district are called Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) and they are hired by the DA. The number of ADAs varies by district.  The state legislature defines the prosecutorial districts and determines how many ADAs each DA may hire to work in his/her district.  For a list of all elected District Attorneys in North Carolina, visit the NC Conference of District Attorneys website.
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2) What is the jurisdiction of the DA?

The DA for the 26th Prosecutorial District prosecutes all criminal matters that occur within Mecklenburg County.  For more information about other districts in North Carolina, visit the NC Conference of District Attorneys website.  The DA’s Office in Mecklenburg County is the largest in North Carolina and prosecutes more cases than any other jurisdiction in the state.
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3) Is the DA my attorney? Do I need a lawyer?

The DA respresents the State of North Carolina in all criminal matters. The DA does not represent any individual/business. The DA cannot advise you as to whether you need a lawyer.
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4) Will the DA advise me regarding the possible effect a traffic ticket will have on my driver's license privileges or insurance points?

No. The DA is not allowed to do so; the DA represents the State of North Carolina as the prosecutor.  You may hire a defense attorney to assist you with your case.
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5) Where is the courthouse?

All courtrooms in Mecklenburg County, criminal and civil, are located at 832 E. 4th Street in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. Please see our Map/Directions page for more information.
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6) If I am subpoenaed, do I have to go to court?

Yes. Failing to do so could result in sanctions from a judge.back to top

7) What is plea bargaining? Why is it necessary?

There are not enough judges, clerks, or courtrooms to conduct a jury trial for the thousands of cases prosecuted each year in Mecklenburg County.  These practical demands plus the seriousness of the cases, the strengths or weaknesses of the cases, the victim's wishes, public safety, punishment, rehabilitation, deterrence and NC sentencing laws are all things that are considered by a prosecutor when deciding how to proceed. A plea agreement is always designed to balance these competing interests.  Consider that under the current circumstances, if all plea bargaining stopped today on all felonies or misdemeanor appeals (matters where a jury trial, not a bench trial, is required), and absolutely no new arrests were made by the police from today forward, it would take approximately 40 years for every case to be tried.
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8) I wish to file a complaint about my defense attorney. Should I contact you?

No. Any complaints about any attorneys should be directed to the North Carolina State Bar.
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9) I have a defense attorney, but I want to talk to the DA myself. What should I do?

The DA cannot communicate with a defendant represented by counsel. Please discuss the matter with your attorney.
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10) Why does the DA dismiss charges?

There are many reasons why the DA may decide or be compelled to dismiss a charge. Some of those reasons are listed below:

-victim or witness cannot be located at time of trial
-victim or witness recants or identifies a different person than the person charged as the perpetrator
-pursuant to an agreement to plead guilty to other charges, sometimes in another case
-failure of law enforcement to comply with the law during the course of the investigation or the time leading up to trial (violations of the United States or North Carolina constitutions or federal or state statutes)
-a change in the law (for example, the United States Supreme Court makes a ruling on a case that affects many pending criminal cases; their ruling may be that the procedure followed by law enforcement, while thought lawful at the time of arrest or investigation, is unconstitutional; such a ruling would require the DA to dismiss any cases that hinged on this now unconstitutional conduct)
-evidence lost or mistakenly destroyed by law enforcement between the time of investigation and the trial
-police officer moves, resigns, retires, is fired, or for any other reason cannot be located or is no longer a credible witness
-victim or witness uncooperative
-crime lab results show that the defendant is innocent, or at least fail to provide necessary evidence to convict the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt (example:  defendant is charged with possessing cocaine; crime lab analysts test the substance months after the arrest is made and discover that the substance that the defendant possessed was NOT cocaine or any other illegal substance)
-federal prosecutors will not authorize a writ that is required to bring the defendant into the state courtroom (example: the defendant is in pre-trial federal custody in the Mecklenburg County Jail and also has pending criminal matters in state court; if the federal prosecutor will not authorize the writ, the sheriff is not permitted to bring the defendant to the Mecklenburg County Courthouse to face his/her state charges); the case may become too old or a judge may not grant further continuances as the state awaits the defendant's release from federal custody
-some cases may be "dismissed with leave" when permitted by statute; for instance, if a defendant fails to appear for court and an order for arrest (OFA) is issued, a case may be dimissed with leave; the OFA remains outstanding and if the defendant is ever located by law enforcement, the DA can reinstate the charges against the defendant
-there is not enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime, see FAQ #11 for more information about two very different legal standards: probable cause v. beyond a reasonable doubt
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11) If the police have probable cause to arrest someone, why does the DA not always prosecute the case?

The standard of proof to convict someone of a crime is beyond a reasonable doubt, not probable cause.  Probable cause is a much lesser standard that is required for a mere arrest.  The police investigate the case and provide the results to the DA.  The DA must then determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.  The prosecutor's role in the criminal justice system is different from that of the police. For a better understanding of the standard "beyond a reasonable doubt," below we have provided one of the instructions the judge gives a jury before they begin deliberation:
"The defendant has entered a plea of "not guilty." The fact that the defendant has been charged is no evidence of guilt. Under our system of justice, when a defendant pleads "not guilty," the defendant is not required to prove the defendant’s innocence; the defendant is presumed to be innocent. The State must prove to you that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
A reasonable doubt is a doubt based on reason and common sense, arising out of some or all of the evidence that has been presented, or lack or insufficiency of the evidence, as the case may be. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that fully satisfies or entirely convinces you of the defendant's guilt."


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12) How many cases per year does your office handle?

-Approximately 225,000 misdemeanor charges or infractions.
-Over 10,000 felony charges.
-An additional 4,000+ misdemeanor charges in superior court that are either a) on appeal from district court to the superior court for trial de novo or b) related to a felony incident.
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13) How many courtrooms in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse are designated for criminal cases? What happens in each courtroom?

The following courtrooms generally operate Monday through Friday 49 weeks of the year.  State holidays and judges’ schedules often dictate days that court is not in session.  The brief descriptions indicate what usually occurs in these courtrooms; there are exceptions.  (“D” = District Court and “S” = Superior Court)
1130 D misdemeanor/traffic administrative court
1150 D in the morning, probable cause hearings and bond hearings for felonies; in the afternoon, first appearances for misdemeanors and felonies
4130 D misdemeanor domestic violence court (trials and pleas)
4150 D misdemeanor trials and pleas
4170 D misdemeanor trials and pleas
4310 D misdemeanor trials and pleas
4330 D misdemeanor trials and pleas
5370 S felony jury trials
5150 S felony jury trials
5130 S felony jury trials (only during weeks that the state government grants the DA’s request to assign an extra judge to Mecklenburg County to preside over this courtroom)
5170 S felony probation violations, misdemeanor appeals jury trials, motions for appropriate relief (varies weekly)
5350 S felony administrative court (pleas)
8330 D juvenile trials and pleas
8350 D juvenile trials and pleas
8370 D juvenile trials and pleas
8390 D juvenile trials and pleas
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14) What is a bond hearing and when are they held?

Defendants are entitled by NC law to have a bond set except in capital cases (it is left to the judge's discretion as to whether a bond is set in capital cases). Defendants are entitled to make a motion to modify their bond. Depending on case-specific circumstances, a defendant may have bond set or modified before one, two, or all three of these three judicial officials at some point: a magistrate, a district court judge, a superior court judge. Pursuant to North Carolina General Statute 15A-534, a judicial official must impose one of the following conditions in determining conditions of pretrial release: 
1. release the defendant on his written promise to appear
2. release the defendant upon his execution of an unsecured appearance bond in an amount specified by the judicial official
3. place the defendant in the custody of a designated person or organization agreeing to supervise him
4. require the execution of an appearance bond in a specified amount secured by a cash deposit of the full amount of the bond, by a mortgage pursuant to N.C.G.S. 58-74-5, or by at least one solvent surety
5. house arrest with electronic monitoring
Further, the statute says that the judicial official must impose one of the first three conditions above UNLESS he/she determines that such release will not reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant as required, will pose a danger of injury to any person, or is likely to result in destruction of evidence, subornation of perjury, or intimidation of potential witnesses. See N.C.G.S. 15a-534(c) for a list of things the judicial official must take into account when determining which condition to impose.
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15) What is District Court? What is Superior Court?

For a look at the structure of the NC court system, click here.back to top

16) How can I look up a defendant's next court date and courtroom?

You may visit the AOC's webpage.
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17) I am the victim of a crime, but I want to drop the charges; what should I do?

Once a person has been charged with a crime, only the DA can dismiss the charges. The victim cannot drop or dismiss charges. The victim may contact the DA's Office to discuss the matter. If it is a domestic violence case, see our page for victims of domestic violence for more information.
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18) How should I report a crime?

All crimes should be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency.  For links to many local law enforcement agencies (or local offices of federal agencies), please visit our Links page.
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19) I would like a potential crime investigated; whom should I contact?

In North Carolina, all criminal investigations are conducted by a law enforcement agency.  The District Attorney does not conduct or supervise investigations.  For a listing of many law enforcement agencies that may be responsible for investigating a crime which occurred in Mecklenburg County, please consult our Links page.
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20) To whom should I direct my question about jury duty?

Please direct all jury questions to the Jury Coordinator at the Trial Court Administrator’s Office:  704-686-0195.  You may also wish to visit the AOC’s webpage about jury service in Mecklenburg County.
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21) I often hear the terms "chronic offender," "habitual offender," "repeat offender," and "habitual felon." What do these terms mean?

The only one of these terms that has any legal significance is "habitual felon." The other terms are used informally and may not reveal any valuable information about a defendant. NC law allows a prosecutor to seek an habitual felon indictment against a defendant only when the defendant has three prior felony convictions and commits a new, fourth felony. Further, there can be no overlap between the commission and conviction for each offense. That is, the defendant must commit felony #1, then be convicted of it. After being convicted, he must commit felony #2. After being convicted of felony #2, he must commit felony #3. After being convicted of felony #3, he must then commit felony #4 (the new/present felony). Further, state law provides that only one felony committed before his 18th birthday may be counted toward his habitual felon status. Other nuances apply occasionally and can be found in the North Carolina General Statutes. If a defendant is convicted of the new/fourth offense and is found by the jury to be a habitual felon, the defendant's sentence is substantially increased (the defendant is punished as a Class C felon). NOTE: In 2011 the state legislature changed the habitual felon law; beginning for offenses committed on December 1, 2011, habitual felons are sentenced four classes higher than their current felony, never to exceed a Class C punishment; this will result in shorter sentences for many habitual felons. See our NC Sentencing webpage for more information. If a defendant does not fit this precise category as a habitual felon, they are sentenced just as anyone else under structured sentencing. Below are two examples, one is a habitual felon under NC law, the other is not. These examples may serve to illustrate how the law may not provide the results that one expects.

Defendant A:
committed armed robbery 3/1/95 (convicted 10/11/95)
committed felony breaking or entering 2/15/00 (convicted 1/5/01)
committed felony breaking or entering 3/19/03 ( convicted 4/2/04)
Defendant A commits a new felony. Defendant A is eligible to be prosecuted as a habitual felon.

Defendant B:
committed armed robbery 3/1/95 (convicted 10/11/95)
committed reckless driving 12/20/99 (convicted 2/3/00)
committed felony breaking or entering 2/19/00 (convicted 11/1/00)
committed felony breaking or entering 2/25/00 (convicted 11/1/00)
committed felony breaking or entering 2/29/00 (convicted 11/1/00)
committed felony breaking or entering 3/2/00 (convicted 11/1/00)
committed felony breaking or entering 3/5/00 (convicted 11/1/00)
committed felony breaking or entering 3/7/00 (convicted 11/1/00)
committed resisting a public officer 4/4/03 (convicted 5/31/03)
committed assault on a female 6/9/03 (convicted 8/1/03)
committed communicating threats and resist a public officer 2/7/04 (convicted 4/19/04)
committed misdemeanor breaking or entering 11/11/04 (convicted 1/22/05)
committed assault on a female 8/2/05 (convicted 10/10/05)
committed assault on a government official 11/11/06 (convicted 1/14/07)
committed unauthorized use of a motor vehicle 5/6/07 (convicted 9/3/07)
Defendant B commits a new felony. Defendant B is NOT eligible to be prosecuted as a habitual felon. Defendant B has been convicted of more felonies (and misdemeanors as well) than Defendant A, but only Defendant A falls within the guidelines of the statute. Defendant B committed six felonies in less than a 20-day period. He was convicted of all 6 felonies after his apprehension, but this counts as one felony conviction toward habitual status.
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22) What is a public defender? What is a court-appointed attorney?

A public defender is a lawyer who works for the Public Defender's Office (PD's Office) in a particular judicial district. Attorneys in the PD's Office represent people charged with crimes who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. [See NC Indigent Defense Services website.] The court must appoint the public defender to represent you. If the court appoints a public defender to represent you, your case may ultimately be assigned to a private court-appointed attorney who does not work in the PD's Office, but will do the same thing as the public defender. These court-appointed attorneys are necessary because the PD's Office is not able to handle every case (there may not be enough attorneys employed at the PD's Office to handle every case or there may be a conflict of interest, such as when there are co-defendants charged with a crime).
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23) How do I get a copy of a police report?

You should contact the police agency that created the report to obtain a copy.
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24) How do I get my record expunged?

The DA's Office cannot advise you on how to proceed with this matter. You may contact the Clerk of Court (to get any forms that may be required) in room 2132 at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse or you may wish to consult a private attorney.
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25) Can someone else appear for me on my court date?

For some minor offenses, an attorney can appear in your place. The DA's Office cannot advise you as to whether this applies in your case. Please consult your attorney.
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26) Where can I get a criminal background check completed?

You must see the Clerk of Court in room 2132 of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. A fee is charged for this service; consult the clerk's office for payment details: 704-686-0420.
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27) Where can I get information about traffic school?

Their telephone number is 704-644-4201 and their website is www.safetync.org.
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28) Where is the probation department located?

You should contact your probation officer for the precise location of his/her office. Probation officers in Mecklenburg County are located in more than one building. You may call the probation department at 704-563-4125.
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29) Where do I go to sign up for deferred prosecution, CBI (cognitive behavior interventions), or drug education class?

You should report to the 2nd floor of 800 E. 4th Street, Charlotte, NC, 28202.
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30) What forms of payment are accepted when paying for a traffic ticket?

Contact the Clerk of Court for payment details. The cashier is located on the 1st floor of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse and can be reached by telephone at 704-686-0450.
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31) Are judges appointed or elected?

Judges are elected in North Carolina, with a few exceptions.  Superior Court judges travel to multiple judicial districts in NC to hold court.  District Court judges preside only in the jurisdiction in which they were elected.  The North Carolina legislature determines how many judicial positions will be created and funded for each district.
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