North Carolina Magistrates Authorized (Again) to Conduct First Appearance in Limited Circumstances

The North Carolina General Assembly revisited the authority of magistrates to conduct first appearances in Session Law 2022-6 (H243). The General Assembly ratified the law on 3/11/2022, and the Governor signed the legislation on 3/17/2022. The fifty-two page act is fairly typical session wrap up legislation. It makes numerous changes across statutes addressing many different legal topics. Part VIII of the law makes changes in the courts area.

In North Carolina, a district court judge normally conducts first appearance for criminal defendants. The clerk of court conducts first appearance only when a district court judge is not available during the designated time periods.

The General Assembly amended G.S. 15A-601 to change the law of first appearance twice in late 2021. Among changes in the General Assembly’s first revision was an amendment that would permit a magistrate to conduct first appearance if the clerk is not available. In subsequent legislation, the General Assembly removed that authorization for magistrates before it became effective.

See this blog post for details about previous changes to first appearance during this legislative session.

With Section 8.4 of Session Law 2022-6 (H243) the General Assembly has again amended G.S. 15A-601(e) to permit a magistrate to conduct first appearance if the clerk is not available.

The General Assembly made Session Law 2022-6 (H243) effective retroactively to July 1, 2021. Application of that date to this session’s first appearance changes is complicated. Previous amendments to G.S. 15A-601–to which this amendment applies–were effective for criminal processes served on or after December 1, 2021. Practically, it’s difficult to see how the new July 1, 2021 effective date has much impact. My view is that the amendment is effective immediately, but we’ll see if the Revisor of Statutes has something different to say in the final codification of this statute.

You can find previous posts about first appearance by searching this site.