North Carolina recognizes how vital the criminal court system is for defendants and their families, victims and their loved ones, jurors, and court personnel. During the coronavirus pandemic, the state, like every state across the country, has struggled with balancing the needs of the criminal courts with its citizens’ safety.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than half of North Carolina’s county courthouses have been partially or fully closed at one point or another. Because of a recent surge in COVID-19 cases and community spread of the virus, which is expected to peak this winter, on December 14, 2020, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court announced that all North Carolina courts would be postponing non-essential, in-person court proceedings for thirty days.
As such, any defendant who has a criminal case scheduled for early January likely had (or will have) their case continued until a later date. Those whose cases are continued or postponed should receive a letter in the mail with their new court date.
County Specific Operations
Each county in the state follows the Chief Justice’s directives and orders but has its own particular guidelines and procedures. The North Carolina courts website contains the most up-to-date information on specific county court closings and procedures.
While each county is different, the following is the status of operations at the Wake County criminal district courts and superior courts. This should provide some general guidance on the status of court closures in the state, but you should check with your specific court before relying on this information.
In Wake County, the following is in place until at least MID-JANUARY:
- Clerk, court offices, and courts are open with limited services.
- Online services are available for handling certain court business, such as court and ticket payments.
- Criminal district and superior courts will generally only be hearing scheduled felony, misdemeanor, and probation violation cases where the defendant is in custody. They will also hear domestic violence first appearances and emergency matters.
- All non-domestic violence first appearances will be conducted remotely by video.
- All other cases with defendants not in custody will be continued.
- Traffic courts are closed and cases will be continued.
- The grand jury will proceed as scheduled.
North Carolina’s criminal courts are adapting to COVID-19 as best they can. While not all cases can be heard, generally, those where a defendant is in custody take priority over all others as the courts adapt to the new rules set forth by the state.
With all of these court closings, many defendants are left confused about their case’s status. Defendants with any questions should contact an attorney for the status of their particular case to find out whether their proceeding has been continued, changed to a remote proceeding, or will be conducted in-person as scheduled.