Jurisdiction and Venue in North Carolina State Court
Jurisdiction is a court’s authority to hear a specific case. For example, NC courts have jurisdiction to dispose of NC state criminal charges. This is why you see criminal cases captioned “State of North Carolina versus [Criminal Defendant]”.
Venue just refers to the location of the courthouse. For example, Mecklenburg County is the appropriate venue in which to prosecute alleged state criminal acts that occurred in Mecklenburg County. However, any NC state court possesses jurisdiction to hear such a case. For example, the Union County Courthouse would have jurisdiction to hear the Mecklenburg case proposed above; however, Union County would not be the appropriate venue (barring change in venue for certain situations).
Jurisdiction as it relates to a criminal defense attorney’s ability to practice law
All state criminal courts operate under North Carolina jurisdiction. It does not matter what county the court is in. Any NC criminal defense lawyer that is licensed to practice in North Carolina can practice in ANY county in the state. The NC-barred criminal defense lawyer does NOT have to be a member of the county’s local bar.
Jurisdiction in North Carolina Criminal Law
North Carolina state courts have jurisdiction to dispose of cases involving violations of state law. Federal Courts have jurisdiction over federal crimes. To read about federal courts and federal jurisdiction, click here.
Jurisdiction – NC Court’s jurisdiction is further broken down into District and Superior court
In NC criminal law, the courts are broken down into district and superior courts. All cases begin at the district court level (click here to read more). Felonies eventually move up to Superior Court. Once Superior Court has jurisdiction, only a Superior Court judge has authority to preside over such a case. District Court judge would not have such authority because such District Court lacks jurisdiction.
As a side note, you may hear criminal defense attorneys refer to “admin court” or “administrative court”. Admin Court is a part of District Court. Various things happen in Admin Court. For examples, typically, most traffic charges are disposed of in Administrative Court.
Venue – NC criminal courthouses are broken down into counties
Typically, when we talk about venue in the NC state criminal law context, we are referring to which county is the appropriate location or venue in which the matter should be heard. That is because North Carolina breaks up venues by county (some states, such as South Carolina, break up venue into cities). Thus, an alleged state criminal act that takes place in Huntersville, NC would be resolved at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, since the alleged crime took place in Mecklenburg County.
Change of Venue
In some circumstances, a criminal defense lawyer or prosecutor may make a motion for a change in venue. For example, a case that has become extremely locally well-known may get massive amounts of media attention vilifying the criminal defendant. As such, the defense attorney may argue that a defense attorney may argue that a change in venue is necessary to prevent undue prejudice and to ensure a fair trial and thus due process for the defendant.
Note that neither the OJ Simpson murder trial nor the Casey Anthony murder trial had a change in venue. However, in Florida v. Casey Anthony, the events took place in Orlando, FL and the trial took place in Orlando, FL. However, the jurors were selected in Clearwater, FL, which is 100 miles away from Orlando.
If you have been charged with a North Carolina state crime, a South Carolina state crime, a Federal crime in North Carolina, or a federal crime in South Carolina, contact us to speak with a criminal defense lawyer.