HOW DO I SEARCH NORTH CAROLINA COURT RECORDS?
North Carolina court records are accessible to the public online, in person, or via mail requests. The State's Public Records Law guarantees every citizen's right to inspect or copy these court records from the custodians. To access North Carolina court records, the public
- Locate the courthouse where the case was filed and visit the Clerk of Court's office at the courthouse to request an inspection of paper copies
- Locate the contact details of the Clerk of Court where the case was filed and request copies of a case file by mail
- Visit the nearest courthouse anywhere in North Carolina to use the public computer terminal to search the statewide database of court records
To locate a local courthouse, use the location map or search tool on the North Carolina Judicial Branch website. To access the contact details of the Clerk of Court and other officials of a local court, first, select the county from the search result, and then select the contact directory from the next page.
Note the public access to all court case information is not an absolute right. Court records or case information sealed by court order or law, or deemed confidential are not made available to the public. Requests to copy available court records may incur a nominal fee depending on the volume.
HOW TO GET NORTH CAROLINA COURT RECORDS ONLINE FOR FREE?
Truly free court records do not exist, North Carolina Public Records Law permits custodians to charge a fee for the provisions of copies of such public records. However, electronic copies of court records are an inexpensive option to access case information of required court records.
As a service to the public, the North Carolina Judicial Branch offers a centralized portal to search available court records in all its courthouses across the state. To access this portal, visit any local courthouse in any county in the state to use the public, self-service terminals in the Clerk of Court's office. To use this terminal to search available case information, the user is required to provide any of the following:
- Defendant name,
- Case number
- Victim or witness name
To facilitate ease of use of the terminal, the Judicial Branch has provided a user's manual. Available court records include criminal cases, civil cases, special proceedings, and estates cases. Note, electronic copies may not suffice for legal requirements, and when certified copies of court records are required, visit or contact the Clerk of Court where the case was filed.
Court records are considered open to the public and are usually accessible through government sources, though they may also be accessed through third-party websites. These websites offer an easier method in most cases, as they are not limited by geographical area, or by limitations in search engine technology. They can often serve as a starting point when looking for a specific record, or multiple records. Interested parties must usually provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. This may not apply to records on juveniles.
- The assumed or known location of the person listed in the record. This will most often be a city, county, or state.
Because they are not government-sponsored, record availability on third party websites may vary when compared to government sources.
HOW DOES THE NORTH CAROLINA COURT SYSTEM WORK?
In line with Article IV of the State's Constitution, North Carolina practice a unified statewide and state-operated court system called the General Court of Justice. This comprises of three divisions: the Appellate Division, the Superior Court Division, and the District Court Division. The Appellate Division consists of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, with the Supreme Court the state's highest court. While the Superior Courts are the state's trial courts of general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases. In addition, the trial court system in North Carolina includes specialized courts/division like Business Court, Small Claims Court, and Recovery Courts. The North Carolina court system disposed some 3 million cases annually.
WHAT ARE NORTH CAROLINA TRIAL COURTS?
Trials to determine the facts of court cases in North Carolina are held in the Superior and District Court divisions of the state court system. The Superior Court division is made up of the Superior Court and the Business Court While the District Court division consists of the District Court and the Small Claims Court. The trial court system in North Carolina also includes a specialty court called the Recovery Courts to facilitate cases involving chemically dependent offenders. The Superior Court and the District Court are organized into districts for electoral and administrative purposes. Both courts generally sit for sessions in the county seat of each county.
HOW DOES THE NORTH CAROLINA SUPERIOR COURT WORK?
these are North Carolina's oldest courts and possess the general authority to hear all civil and criminal cases, though in practice handle cases beyond the jurisdiction of the District Courts. The specific jurisdiction of these court cover
- All felony cases
- Appeals of misdemeanors and infraction decisions from the District Court
- Civil disputes involving claims above $25,000
While criminal cases are held under a jury trial, for civil cases, the Superior Court judge decides the trial without a jury, unless otherwise requested by one of the parties. North Carolina Superior Courts are organized into five divisions and 48 districts. Superior Court judges are rotated among the districts within their division every six months. Administrative responsibilities at each district are handled by a senior resident Superior Court judge. The number of judges serving each judicial district is specified by the General Assembly depending on the volume of judicial assignments in the district.
HOW DOES THE BUSINESS COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA WORK?
Designed in line with a similar system in the State of Delaware, the North Carolina Business Court is a Superior Court of special jurisdiction. The Business Court handles cases involving complex and significant issues of corporate and commercial law. A case is designated a complex business case when it involves a large number of parties with diverse interests or it entails complex legal issues. Usually, such cases are so designated by the Chief Justice at the recommendation of a senior resident Superior Court judge, chief district court judge, or the presiding superior court judge. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court assigns cases of this nature to a special Superior Court judge who oversees the trial. The court sits in Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem
HOW DOES THE NORTH CAROLINA DISTRICT COURT WORK?
District Courts across the state are also organized into districts; 41 in all. However, these courts are not grouped into larger judicial divisions like the Superior Courts. Each of these judicial districts is served by two to seventeen judges depending on the population. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appoints one judge in each district as the Chief District Court judge. North Carolina District Courts' jurisdiction covers civil, criminal, juvenile, and magistrate matters to include:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Civil disputes with less than $25,000 in claims
- Misdemeanor and infractions
- Juvenile delinquency issues of children under age 16
- Juvenile undisciplined cases of children under age 18
- Juvenile abuse, neglect, and dependency issues of children under age 18
Criminal cases in District Courts are held without jury while a party may request a jury for civil cases. The magistrate division of the District Courts is charged with handling small claims matters and minor criminal issues including:
- Issuing arrest warrants
- Setting bail
- Accepting guilty pleas for minor misdemeanors and infractions
- Accepting waivers of trial for certain worthless check cases.
Magistrates handling cases at this division are appointed by the senior resident Superior Court judge for a two-year term. Note, Clerks of Superior Court hold original jurisdiction on probate and estates matters. The judicial duties of these Clerks include hearing other special proceedings such as adoptions, determinations of guardianship for incompetent adults, and partitions of land, and handles the administration of trusts. Similarly, the Clerks handle criminal matters like issuing of arrest and search warrants, conducting initial hearings, and taking waivers of trial and pleas of guilty to certain minor offenses.
HOW DOES THE NORTH CAROLINA SMALL CLAIMS COURT WORK?
The Small Claims Courts fall under the magisterial divisions of the District Court and deal with matters involving:
- Dispute claims for $10,000 or less
- Recovery of personal property and motor vehicle mechanics' liens
- Landlord eviction cases
Cases at the Small Claims Court are heard by a magistrate with no jury and litigants represent themselves. Litigants may appeal decisions of a Small Claims Court for a trial by jury before a judge in the District Court.
WHAT ARE NORTH CAROLINA RECOVERY COURTS?
Courts categorized under the Recovery Courts in North Carolina include Family Drug Treatment Court, Adult Drug Treatment Court, Youth Drug Treatment Court, DWI Treatment Court, Mental Health Court, and Veterans Treatment Court. These courts are organized to assist chemically dependent offenders with their court-ordered treatment plans. These treatment plans are individualized and include counseling, supervision, drug testing, sanctions, and incentives for meeting recovery goals.
WHAT ARE NORTH CAROLINA APPELLATE COURTS?
North Carolina General Court of Justice appellate division is composed of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Judges of both courts are elected to serve eight-year terms.Fifteen judges are serving the Court of Appeals while seven justices serve the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court serves as head of the Judicial Branch. Both courts sit for sessions in Raleigh.
The Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court with jurisdiction to hear appeals of trial courts' decisions in the state. In some cases, an appeal does not first come to the Court of Appeals, one of such exceptions is the appeal of a conviction for a misdemeanor or infraction in a District Court. Here the appeal goes first to the Superior Court and then subsequently to the Court of Appeal if the party is dissatisfied with the result. North Carolina's Court of Appeals also handles appeals from administrative agencies like the State Bar Association or Industrial Commission.
Each case appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals are handled by a panel of three judges, all of whom must agree for a decision/opinion. Where one of the judges dissented on the decision of the court, the party who is dissatisfied with the outcome has the right to further appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
Being the court of last resort in the state, the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction on decisions from other lower courts and some state agencies. While the Supreme Court retains a mandatory jurisdiction on appeals from the Court of Appeals where one of the judges dissented in the court's opinion, it exercises discretionary authority on other appeals from the Court of Appeals. Cases with questions on statutes of the constitutions of North Carolina or the United States are also mandatory for the Supreme Court.
A few cases are appealed directly to the Supreme Court without passing through the Court of Appeals. Some examples include the conviction of first-degree murder and appeals from the state's Utility Commission on cases of rates. There are also cases in which the Supreme Court may order a bypass of the Court of Appeals.
HOW MANY CASES DOES THE NORTH CAROLINA COURT SYSTEM HANDLE ANNUALLY?
Lawyers and litigants file some 2.5 million court cases in the North Carolina judicial system every year. For example, in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, a total of 2.77 million cases were filed and 3 million disposed. This data for the fiscal year of 2017-2018 stands at 2.55 million filed cases and 2.89 million disposed cases. In the most recent fiscal year on record, 2018-2019, North Carolina recorded a significant increase in the number of cases disposed. The court system disposed of a record total of3.77 million cases in the year.
A breakdown of the 2018-2019 fiscal year shows 2.25 million cases were filed at the District Court while 3.47 million cases were disposed of. At the Superior Court for that year, a total of 248,126 cases were filed while a total of 290,806 cases were disposed of. Appeals to the Court of Appeals in the 2018-2019 fiscal year stand at a total of 2,062 with 2,133 cases disposed of. Supreme Court of North Carolina accounted for 140 dockets of appeals and 588 dockets of petitions in that same year. While the Supreme Court disposed of 92 appeals and 494 petitions.
The total caseload for North Carolina Trial Courts, 2012-2019 Fiscal Years
Data Provided by North Carolina Judicial Branch
The total caseload for North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals,2008-2018 Fiscal Years
|Supreme Court||Court of Appeals|
Data Provided by North Carolina Judicial Branch