Below is a general outline of how a traffic or criminal case proceeds through the court system in Wake County. Take note when reviewing the misdemeanor case stages that for some misdemeanor offenses the officer can choose to either write a citation or make an arrest; this would obviously alter the earlier stages of the process.
- Traffic ticket issued; the ticket has the first court date written or typed on it.
- First court date is in courtroom 101 (an administrative courtroom, no trials are held). Room 101 is on the first floor and goes from 8:45AM until 3:30PM each day. You can show up whenever you want in that window of time. The offender speaks to an ADA (or more likely the offender's lawyer speaks to ADA); various things may occur, including a plea offer being made by the ADA
- If any plea offer is not accepted by the offender in courtroom 101, the case is scheduled for trial in a different courtroom for another day when the officer who wrote the ticket will be present and a trial will take place before a District Court judge.
- Arrest/Citation Issued
- If arrested you are either released from custody or you post a bond.
- First appearance in 101 (the judge addresses the appointment of counsel and possibly bond); trial date set for another courtroom on another day when the officers/witnesses will be present. Generally your lawyer can appear on your behalf if your misdemeanor is set in room 101.
- First appearance NOT set in 101(the judge addresses the appointment of counsel and possibly bond); trial date set for another courtroom on another day when the officers/witnesses will be present. You must be in court for this hearing
- Guilty or Not Guilty plea
- If guilty, defendant sentenced. If not guilty, trial takes place - usually on the same day - but depends on number of cases scheduled for trial that day
- Trial takes place in front of a District Court judge (no jury trials in District Court for criminal cases)
- If found guilty after a trial, judge sentences defendant
- Defendant may appeal the conviction to Superior Court where he/she is entitled to a trial de novo (meaning a new trial where the conviction by the District Court judge does not come into evidence); the trial is in front of a jury of 12 who will determine guilt (instead of a judge)
- If unanimous verdict of 12 jurors that defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, judge sentences defendant
- If unanimous verdict of 12 jurors that defendant is not guilty, defendant is released from custody, if he is in custody, and he cannot be tried again
- If 12 jurors cannot agree, hung jury and mistrial is declared. State can re-try the case if appropriate given resources available and other cases pending trial