North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced several directives Friday affecting the operation of the North Carolina court system aimed at protecting public safety during the outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus.
In an order entered today, the Chief Justice has directed that local courts postpone most cases in district and superior court for at least 30 days. While the work of the courts must continue and courthouses remain open, the first priority of the court system must be the health and safety of the public and of the employees who serve them.
“We must be proactive in taking steps to prioritize the health and safety of our fellow North Carolinians while also maintaining the integrity of our judicial system,” said Beasley. “Today’s order will allow us to drastically reduce the exposure caused by crowded sessions of court, which often bring hundreds of people at a time into our courthouses.”
First District Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry R. Tillett has issued follow-up guidance. Superior Court cases in the First District have been rescheduled to the first term in each county that falls after April 16.
Cases may be rescheduled to an alternate date, including dates prior to April 16, upon request by either party, order of the Superior Court, and proper notice.
Tillett said counsel should contact the court for any appropriate relief in accordance with the Chief Justice’s Order entered on this date including request for bond hearings or in cases of preliminary hearings on probation of incarcerated persons.
Clerks of courts are also advised by Tillett to apprise the court of all cases of defendants who have not been advised of their rights of counsel, do not have counsel and are in custody.
Although the superior courts and district courts remain open, effective Monday, March 16, superior court and district court proceedings will be rescheduled for at least 30 days, with some exceptions.
The exceptions outlined by the Chief Justice included:
the proceeding will be conducted remotely;
the proceeding is necessary to preserve the right to due process of law (e.g., a first appearance or bond hearing,
the appointment of counsel for an indigent defendant, a probation hearing, a probable cause hearing, etc.);
the proceeding is for the purpose of obtaining emergency relief (e.g., a domestic violence protection order, temporary restraining order, juvenile custody order, judicial consent to juvenile medical treatment order, civil commitment order, etc.); or
the senior resident superior court judge, chief business court judge, or chief district court judge determines that
the proceeding can be conducted under conditions that protect the health and safety of all participants.
This emergency directive does not apply to any proceeding in which a jury has already been empaneled or to any grand juries already empaneled. It also does not prohibit a judge or other judicial officer from exercising any in chambers or ex parte jurisdiction conferred by law upon that judge or judicial officer, as provided by law.
Additionally, the superior courts and district courts are encouraged to liberally grant additional accommodations to parties, witnesses, attorneys, and others with business before the courts who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
All counties will post a notice at all court facilities directing any person who has likely been exposed to COVID-19 to not enter the courthouse. Any person who has likely been exposed and has business before the courts should contact the clerk of superior court’s office by telephone or other remote means for further instruction.
As the courts work to postpone thousands of cases, court officials will notify parties and their attorneys of new hearing and trial dates.
The Judicial Branch will be providing continuous updated information and answers to frequently asked questions on our website, NCcourts.gov. The public is encouraged to visit NCcourts.gov as a first resort to determine if a question can be answered without calling the local courthouse.
Online court services are available for handling some court business, including citation services, paying your ticket, court payments, signing up for court date notifications and reminders, eFiling court documents for certain courts and case types, and more.