North Carolina Criminal Court Records
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What are North Carolina Criminal Court Records?
North Carolina criminal court records refer to all documented information generated during criminal court proceedings. These records typically include sworn affidavits, witness testimonies, deposition tapes, trial transcripts, plaintiff and/or defendant information and records of court actions, motions filed and judgments. These records are maintained by the North Carolina judicial system, which also provides interested members of the public with access to them in accordance with the North Carolina Public Records Act.
Understanding the North Carolina Criminal Court System
The North Carolina state court system can be grouped into two divisions, the Appellate Division and the Trial Division. The appellate division comprises of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals while the trial division comprises of Superior, District, Business, Small Claims and Recovery Courts. Basically, the North Carolina state court system can be broken down as follows:
This court consists of a chief justice and six associate justices who review appeals brought before them with the aim of determining whether an error might have occurred either at trial or in the judicial interpretation of the law by the other courts. This court is considered the state’s highest court and thus has the final decision on all matters involving state law.
Court of Appeals
This is the state's intermediate appellate court and is responsible for reviewing trial court proceedings with the aim of determining whether errors of law or legal procedure might have occurred. Cases are typically heard by a panel of 3 judges. This court hears appeals from the superior and district courts with the exception of cases in which the death penalty was imposed, such appeals are sent directly to the supreme court.
The superior courts comprise 5 divisions which are further divided into 48 districts across the state of North Carolina. These courts typically have general jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases and usually handle all felony criminal cases as well as civil cases involving more than $25,000. In addition to these, the superior courts also handle misdemeanor and infraction appeals from the district courts.
These courts are divided into 41 districts and can be located in each North Carolina county seat as well as any other city and/or town specifically authorized by the state general assembly. District courts typically handle civil cases involving less than $25,000, child custody and child support matters, divorce cases, juvenile cases, misdemeanors and non-jury infractions.
The business court was specifically created for the sole purpose of handling cases involving complex and significant issues of corporate as well as commercial law in the state of North Carolina. Cases are usually assigned by the chief justice of the supreme court to a special superior court judge, and all matters are resolved through a trial. This court has its locations in Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem.
Small Claims Court
This court handles cases involving the enforcement of liens filed by mechanics for service and storage of motor vehicles, recovery of personal property, claims for $10,000 or less and summary ejectments. When cases have been determined to meet the small claims criteria, they are usually assigned by the chief district court judge to a magistrate who hears these cases with no jury. Litigants usually represent themselves and judgments may be appealed for a trial by jury before a judge in district court.
Recovery courts are specialized courts that handle chemically dependent individuals in adult criminal court, juvenile, abuse, neglect, and dependency cases. The court does this by offering programs that include individualized treatment plans designed to assist these offenders with their mandatory court-ordered treatments. These courts also serve veterans and people with mental health issues.
What’s included in a North Carolina Criminal Court Record?
Court records in the state of North Carolina have similar features and comprise of similar information. The total amount of information readily available in these records may vary depending on the type of court where the case was handled as well as the type of case. However, criminal court records typically include the following information:
- Case details
- Personal information on the defendant and/or the plaintiff
- Criminal charge(s) details
- Actions taken on the case
In addition to these, criminal court records also include the name of the judge(s), any legal counsel, hearing dates, hearing times, hearing type, court location, motions, briefs and pleadings.
Obtaining North Carolina Criminal Court Records
In accordance with the North Carolina public records laws, members of the public who wish to inspect and/or obtain copies of criminal court records may do by any of the following means:
- Inspecting and/or obtaining records in-person
- Sending mail-in requests to the appropriate record custodian
- Accessing records online
- Utilizing a third-party aggregate site
How Do I Access North Carolina Criminal Court Records in Person?
This is the primary method of inspecting/accessing court records in the state of North Carolina and is recommended for interested parties who wish to obtain full case information which may not be otherwise gotten by other methods due to online restrictions. Parties who wish to obtain criminal court records in person may do so through the following steps:
Identify The Right Court
Criminal cases in the state of North Carolina are typically handled by the superior and district courts. As mentioned above, these courts are divided into districts across the state and in most cases, the county superior and district courts are domiciled in the same courthouse. However, interested parties who wish to access criminal court records still have to identify the right court where the case in question was filed/heard. To aid in this task, North Carolina maintains a directory that provides contact details for all the courthouses in the state as well as their locations.
Gather Case Information
Parties who wish to access criminal court records are required to provide any relevant information necessary to facilitate record searches. This information usually includes the name of the defendant, the victim’s or the witness’s name, the date the original charge(s) was filed as well as the case file number of the record. However, it should be noted that various courts may require other specific information before providing access to these records.
Visit the Court Record Custodian
Criminal court records for the state of North Carolina are maintained by each county’s clerk of court. After the interested party has identified the right court, a request to inspect and/or copy the court records can be made in person at the office of the clerk of court. These offices have public, self-service terminals which can be accessed to inspect these records.
Provide Identification and Required Fees
In-person inspection of court records is usually free of charge, however parties who wish to obtain copies of these records will be required to provide a form of identification, usually a government-issued photo ID and pay a fee. This fee is usually calculated by the type of record being copied and the number of copies required, and may vary depending on the court.
How Do I Find North Carolina Criminal Court Records by Mail?
Members of the public who wish to obtain records of criminal court cases via mail must first establish that this option is available at the court where the records are domiciled. This can be done by locating the courthouse and contacting the clerk of court through the information provided in the directory. Requirements for obtaining these records via mail may vary by court, but they generally include a written request sent to the court where the record is located. This request should contain details of the criminal court case and details of the requestor and should be sent along with payment (usually money orders or checks made out to the court) to cover search fees and/or the copies of records required, as well as a self-addressed envelope.
Interested parties are advised to contact the courts where the records are domiciled for any additional requirements.
How to Find North Carolina Criminal Court Records Online?
While most jurisdictions in the state of North Carolina don’t provide online access to criminal court records, the state judicial system maintains a District and Superior Court Search database that allows interested parties to search for upcoming criminal and infraction cases. Information that can be gotten from this database includes the defendants’ name and date of birth, the county, court type, court date, courtroom, case number, citation number and arraigned offense(s).
In addition to the above, publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
Are all North Carolina Criminal Court Records Public?
In accordance with North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 132, public records, of which criminal court records are included, can be inspected and/or obtained by members of the public. However, some of these records are protected and can only be accessed by eligible parties. Some of these protected public records include:
- Juvenile records
- Case records under the supervision of juvenile court counselors
- Reports to the court on the capacity of a defendant to proceed
- Pre-sentencing reports
- Criminal records checks for the Judicial Department
- Attorney-client privileged information
How do I find North Carolina Public Records for Free?
The state of North Carolina provides online resources which allow access to certain court records free of charge. In addition to this, interested parties can also access these records in person for free by utilizing the self-service terminals located at the office of any clerk of court or by contacting any other record custodian in the state.
Can I Access Sealed North Carolina Criminal Court Records?
In accordance with North Carolina state law, sealed criminal court records are accessible only by eligible interested parties, usually authorized members of a law enforcement agency or officers of the court. However, members of the public who wish to access sealed criminal court records may do so by obtaining a court order authorizing the unsealing of the record.
Are all Juvenile Criminal Court Records open to the Public?
Records of all juvenile court proceedings in the state of North Carolina are confidential and can only be accessed by authorized parties which include the juvenile, the juvenile’s parents or guardians, the juvenile’s attorney, juvenile court counselors, probation officers and prosecutors. However, juvenile court hearings are open to the public.
What Records are Automatically Sealed by North Carolina Statute?
The state of North Carolina does not automatically seal any public records, however some of these records are protected and as such, the state judicial branch is statutorily required not to produce them to members of the public who don’t have adequate authorization. Some of these records include:
- Judicial Standards Commission investigations
- Court records involving abortions on/by unemancipated minors
- Criminal records checks for the Judicial Department
- Dispute Resolution Commission records on mediators
- All juvenile records
- NCAOC records of expunctions, where the charge(s) was dismissed or the accused was found not guilty
- Court records in commitment proceedings
- Pre-sentencing reports
- Reports to the court on the capacity of the defendant to proceed
- Social Security Numbers and Identifying Information.
Identifying Information here refer to passport numbers, checking or savings account numbers, drivers’ license numbers (an exception is made for law enforcement records), taxpayer-identification numbers, credit or debit card numbers, fingerprints and biometric data.
Are Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?
Trial Transcripts are generally public records and copies of these records may be obtained by contacting the court where the case was heard. It should be noted that payment of a fee may be required before these copies of these records may be obtained.
In North Carolina, transcripts are usually prepared at the request of an interested party and are typically prepared for appeals by a court reporter. However, if during the court proceedings no court reporter was present, interested parties can request for any copies of audio recordings taken by the court clerk, if these recordings are available. Permission must be given by the court before recordings of confidential court proceedings can be obtained.