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The North Carolina Judicial System

As per the constitution of North Carolina, the judicial department is considered coequal to the state government along with the executive and legislative branches. NC court system also known as the General Court of Justice is the unified, state operated and statewide system.

Court Divisions

The NC General Court of Justice is made up of three divisions, namely the appellate division, the superior court division and the district court division

The Appellate Division

This division consists of the Supreme Court and the court of appeals. In case a party is not satisfied by the ruling of the trial division, they can get the result checked by either one of these courts or by both. This however happens in very limited circumstances.

The highest court of the state is the Supreme Court. It has a Chief Justice and 6 associate justices, who together decide on cases that are appealed from the lowers courts, including those from the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court does not have a jury and it does not participate in the investigation of facts. It mainly checks for errors committed within the legal procedures or within the interpretation of law in the Court of Appeals or the Trial Court. The decisions given by the appellate division are printed and distributed and can also be read at the website of the Judicial Department at this link

Due to the heavy case load in the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals was created as an intermediate appellate court to relieve the Supreme Court of few cases. The Court of Appeals has 15 judges, who constitute three panels to hear cases. One of the 15 is the Chief Judge, who is appointed by the Chief Justice of Supreme Court. Many of the sessions of the court are heard in Raleigh, but sometimes individual panels would be held in various other locations of in the state. Just like the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals will not engage in determining the facts of the case, but will only check the procedures and interpretation of the law, during the trial. The decisions given by this court are printed and made available along with its reports. The decisions are also made available online along with the decisions of Supreme Court.

The Superior Court Division

This division of Court holds trials to find the facts of the cases. The superior court has the general trial jurisdiction. The court is held a minimum of two times per month, in every county of the North Carolina. However, in some of the very busy counties many sessions would be held each week.

For administrative and electoral purposes the state is further divided into superior court districts. When it comes to the electoral purpose a superior court district would have less than a whole county, whereas when it comes to administrative purposes many electoral districts would become one district. Each of the superior court districts for administration has a senior judge who regulates the duties of the court.

District Court

Just like the Superior Court is divided into districts, the District Court is also divided into districts for administrative and electoral purposes. The court is held on the county seats of every county. When authorized by the General Assembly, it could also be held in other towns or cities. Most of counties in NC have just one seat of Court; however a few big ones may have many. Each of the administrative districts of district courts has a chief judge who regulates the administrative aspect of the court.

Court of the Magistrate

Being the district court officials under the authority of the Chief District Court Judge, Magistrates hold court for both criminal and civil matters. Since a magistrate does not preside over the division of trial in the General Court of Justice, in actuality there is no magistrate’s court. However when it comes to the civil aspect, magistrates will be required to preside over the Small Claims Court, as appointed by the judge of the Chief District Court. In a criminal case the magistrate would generally conduct the initial proceedings. They also have the authority to dispose certain cases by trial or by plea of guilty.