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How Does The North Carolina Superior Court Work?

The North Carolina Superior Court is the state’s trial court of general jurisdiction. The court hears:

  • Criminal cases such as felonies and misdemeanors
  • Civil cases involving more than $25,000

The North Carolina Superior Court hears all criminal felony cases and some misdemeanor cases. Specifically, the court hears appeals of misdemeanors and infraction cases first heard in the District Court. Civil lawsuits typically happen without a jury; however, the court may grant the request if the parties request a jury. Criminal cases usually involve jury trials. In criminal cases where the defendant enters a ‘not guilty’ plea, a 12-person jury decides the verdict.

There are five North Carolina Superior Court divisions spread across 48 districts in the state. The Superior Court also has a Business Forum that operates from four locations in North Carolina. The court hears cases involving complex commercial and corporate law issues. A special Superior Court judge presides over trials in Business Forums.

Superior Court elections hold in districts; residents vote for candidates who reside in each district. In North Carolina, a Superior Court judge must live in the district where the judge is elected. Superior Court judges serve eight-year terms. Furthermore, some special Superior Court judges are appointed by the North Carolina state governor and confirmed by the North Carolina General Assembly. The Supreme Court’s Chief Justice typically assigns special Superior Court judges to specific judicial districts. However, special judges are not required to live in the district. The difference between general and special Superior Court judges is that while general judges serve eight-year terms, special judges serve for only five years.

North Carolina Superior Court judges do not have permanent duty posts. State laws mandate a six-month rotation for each judge among the Superior Court division districts where the judge serves. This practice was adopted by law to reduce the chances of partiality, conflicts of interest, and other factors that could result from having a permanently stationed judge.

To qualify as Superior Court judges, candidates must be attorneys under the age of 72. North Carolina Superior Court judges may not maintain private law practices while serving the state. There are currently 104 resident Superior Court judges in North Carolina, with varying numbers in each district. In most districts, the judge with the highest number of service years is the senior resident Superior Court judge. Administrative duties, such as the scheduling and managing civil trial cases and the appointment of magistrates and other court officials, fall within the senior resident Superior Court judge’s purview.

Whenever there is a vacant judge position, the North Carolina General Assembly creates a new judgeship due to retirement, death, or removal. The North Carolina state governor then appoints a candidate to fill the vacancy. The appointed judge may serve the rest of the former judge’s term or until the next election.

If found to be physically or mentally incapacitated, the North Carolina General Assembly may vote to remove a Superior Court judge. Impeachment is another method of removal. Apart from the General Assembly, the North Carolina Supreme Court may also terminate or censure a Superior Court judge upon the recommendation of the Judicial Standards Commission.

Superior Court Clerks run in elections that residents vote in and serve four-year terms. Much like regular Superior Court judges, Court Clerks must be residents of the district or county where the court elected such persons. The Superior Court Clerk performs many administrative tasks that contribute to the administration of justice in the state. Examples of such duties include record-keeping, court fees collection, and disbursement.

Parties interested in obtaining Superior Court records may contact the Superior Court Clerk in the county where the case was heard or filed. Parties can also get superior court records online from third-party websites. Interested parties may also visit the Find my Courthouse tool on the North Carolina Judiciary Website.

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