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click to go to Understanding Criminal Court section of our website
Understanding the Criminal Court System
Stages of a Case

Below is a general outline of how a traffic or criminal case proceeds through the court system in Mecklenburg County. Each case is different and there may be a slight variation based on type of charge or the timing of the case (if the local rules change, current/old cases would be processed one way and new cases another). For more about local rules see our note at the end of this page. Take note when reviewing the misdemeanor case stages that for some misdemeanor offenses the officer can choose to either write a citation or make an arrest; this would obviously alter the earlier stages of the process.

Traffic Case

Traffic ticket issued; the ticket has the first court date written or typed on it

First court date is in courtroom 1130 (an administrative courtroom, no trials are held). Offender speaks to ADA or offender's lawyer speaks to ADA; various things may occur, including a plea offer being made by the ADA

If any plea offer is not accepted by the offender in courtroom 1130, the case is scheduled for trial in a different courtroom for another day when the officer who wrote the ticket will be present and a trial will take place before a district court judge

Misdemeanor Case

Arrest

First appearance in 1150 (address counsel and possibly bond); trial date set for another courtroom on another day when the officers/witnesses will be present

Guilty or Not Guilty plea

If guilty, defendant sentenced. If not guilty, trial takes place - usually on the same day - but depends on number of cases scheduled for trial that day

Trial takes place in front of a district court judge (no jury trials in district court for criminal cases)

If found guilty after a trial, judge sentences defendant

Defendant may appeal the conviction to Superior Court where he/she is entitled to a trial de novo (meaning a new trial where the conviction by the district court judge does not come into evidence); the trial is in front of a jury of 12 who will determine guilt (instead of a judge)
--- If unanimous verdict of 12 jurors that defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, judge sentences defendant
--- If unanimous verdict of 12 jurors that defendant is not guilty, defendant is released from custody, if he is in custody, and he cannot be tried again
--- If 12 jurors cannot agree, hung jury and mistrial is declared. State can re-try the case if appropriate given resources available and other cases pending trial


Felony Case

Arrest

First Appearance

District Court bond hearing

District Court probable cause hearing

Formal indictment presented to grand jury

[One Superior Court bond hearing could take place anytime from this point through the trial stage.]

Superior Court "Scheduling Conference" in administrative court (per local rules; terms may differ)
--- The Scheduling Conference does not take place in open court; this meeting occurs between the Trial Court Administrator, Assistant District Attorney, and Defense Counsel

Superior Court "Arraignment" in administrative court (per local rules)

If pleads guilty, judge sentences defendant

If pleads not guilty, case scheduled for a "Pre-Trial Readiness Conference" in administrative court

Pre-trial motions are filed and argued
(some pre-trial motions, such as a motion to suppress evidence, if granted by the judge, may require the State to dismiss the charge because there is no longer evidence that will be admisible at trial to prove the defendant's guilt)

Trial
(may be scheduled for multiple trial dockets since there is one trial docket per week in a courtroom and only 1-3 jury trials from the docket can usually be conducted each week depending on complexity of case; further, in some more complex cases, a trial may take weeks or months to complete)
--- If unanimous verdict of 12 jurors that defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, judge sentences defendant
--- If unanimous verdict of 12 jurors that defendant is not guilty, defendant is released from custody, if he is in custody, and he cannot be tried again
--- If 12 jurors cannot agree, it is referred to as a "hung jury" and a mistrial is usually declared by the judge. State can re-try the case if appropriate given resources available and other cases pending trial


 

 

 

 

 

"Local rules" take into account the local customs and practices that have developed over the years in the courts of each county.  These Rules are tailored to each Judicial District and are in addition to the Criminal Procedure Statutes enacted by the NC legislature.  The Senior Resident Superior Court Judge in each Judicial District has the authority to enact Local Rules by entering an Administrative Order.  The Local Rules referred to on this page are rules that apply to criminal cases in Mecklenburg County Superior Court.  These Rules help manage the high volume of cases passing throughout the court by outlining specific steps that must be taken by all parties involved as well as the timeframe in which these steps should occur.  The Rules are designed to limit needless time in front of a judge at some early stages in the process thereby increasing the time available for cases that need a judge's attention and allowing them to be heard sooner.  New Local Rules for felony case processing are presently being implemented in Mecklenburg County.  These New Rules will be phased in slowly based on case type and date of offense in order to prevent confusion and intermingling with cases already underway.

 


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