Q: How are sentences determined?
A: North Carolina operates under a policy of structured sentencing. Generally, a person's sentence depends upon the person's prior number and type of convictions. A grid and chart is used to determine the record level based upon the number of points a person has. Crimes are classified as type of offense and these are shown on the punishment chart. A punishment chart is located at www.aoc.state.nc.us/spac. If the punishment block shows an A, the judge must impose an active sentence. If the punishment block shows an I/A, a judge may impose an active sentence, but is not required to do so. Individuals sentenced for a felony receive a maximum sentence in months and a minimum sentence in months. Generally, the person will serve 85% of the maximum sentence for a felony.
- Prior convictions for Class 2 and Class 3 misdemeanors do not count, nor do prior misdemeanor traffic offenses when sentencing for felonies. For example, if a person is convicted in District Court for carrying a concealed weapon, first degree trespass, resisting arrest, and possession of marijuana, since none of these are Class 1 Misdemeanors the person would have no prior points in calculating the person's record for a felony offense.
- If an offender was convicted of more than one offense in a single Superior Court during one calendar week, only the offense carrying the highest number of points is counted. For example, if a person is convicted of one armed robbery and twenty breaking and enterings in one week of Superior Court, only the armed robbery will count toward points for sentencing for misdemeanors and felonies.
- If an offender is convicted of more than one offense during a single session of District Court, only the single most serious conviction is counted for sentencing for misdemeanors and felonies. For example, if a person is convicted of assault on a female and fifty county of misdemeanor breaking and entering, the person would only receive points for the assault on a female conviction.
- Judges may impose consecutive sentences for felonies.
- For Class A1, Class 1, or Class 2 misdemeanors a judge cannot impose consecutive sentences that exceed twice the length of the longest term of imprisonment authorized for the most serious misdemeanor offense. For example, if a person is convicted of assault on a female, five counts of assault on an officer, and twenty counts of trespass, the judge could only impose a sentence that would be the maximum for assault on a female and one count of assault on an officer.
- For Class 3 misdemeanors the judge cannot impose consecutive sentences regardless of the number.
- A person may only be convicted of being a habitual felon if they committed a felony and are convicted, after that committed another felony and are convicted, after that committed another felony and are convicted, and after that committed another felony and are convicted.If a person is charged with fifteen felonies and pleads to them at one time then they have only one prior conviction for the purposes of being a habitual felon.
Q: Can I choose the attorney that will be appointed to represent me?
A: No. If you obtain a court appointed attorney they are assigned on a rotating basis and the fee they are authorized by the court becomes a lien on your property. You can hire the private attorney of your choice.
Q: If the witness does not show up will the case be dismissed?
A: It depends. Some cases can be tried without the victim appearing. Sometimes the case may be continued if the witnesses do not appear. The presiding judge may review the file and sanctions may be imposed.
Q: If I do not show up for court will the case be dismissed?
A: No. If you are a defendant it is a crime for you to not show up in court. If you are a witness and do not show up a judge may put you in jail.
Q: They did not advise me of my rights. Can I get the case dismissed?
A: No. Law enforcement officers do not have to advise you of your rights unless there is an incustodial interrogation taking place.
Q: Can I accept the money for a worthless check warrant I have taken out?
A: No. Once the warrant is issued the case must be resolved in court.
Q: Can I continue my case to any day I want?
A: No. Law enforcement officers have specific court days.
Q: Why can't the DA’s Office give me legal advice?
A: The District Attorney's Office prosecutes all criminal actions. The District Attorney cannot prosecute and defend the same action.
Q: How long am I under subpoena?
A: You are under subpoena until discharged.
Q: What is the AOC?
A: The Administrative Office of the Courts was created when the courts were unified in 1963. The primary functions of the AOC include providing support to court officials statewide, administering the budget for the entire judicial branch of government, and providing public information about the court system.
Q: Where can I find North Carolina Law, particularly statutes?
A: The General Assembly's home page will provide this information for you. Your may also contact your local law school or the North Carolina Supreme Court Library or law library located in Raleigh. Most Universities have a "government" section in the library that has the statutes, as do most libraries. Finally, many local courts have a limited library that may have some information.
Q: What is the difference between District Court and Superior Court?
A: District courts are the entry level trial court, and the proper division for civil cases involving less than $10,000, all juvenile matters, and criminal cases involving infractions or misdemeanors. If the parties involved in the case do not object, District Court can conduct civil jury trials, or hear civil matters with more than $10,000 in controversy. However, Superior Court is the proper division for civil cases involving more than $10,000, as well as all felony criminal cases. Both courts have jurisdiction over cases regardless of the amount of money in controversy.
Q: How can I conduct a criminal record check?
A: Public terminals at the offices of most Clerks of Superior Court (in each county) are available and will allow you to conduct these types of searches.
Q: What kind of document do I need to file, or when to file, or where to file, in a particular case?
A: The Administrative Office of the Courts cannot give legal advice to the public. You should contact an attorney. If you need an attorney referral, you can contact the North Carolina Bar Association Lawyer Referral at 1-800-662-7660. Or, you may contact the local legal services office. To find the local legal services office in your area, contact Legal Services of North Carolina (LSNC) at 1-919-856-2564.
Q: Where can I find information on legal rights for the developmentally disabled?
A: Information on the legal rights for the developmentally disabled can be found by calling Carolina Legal Assistance at 919-856-2195.