If I had to answer the question in the title of this post in the briefest possible way, I would say: not usually. But there’s a lot of uncertainty and nuance packed into that short answer. This post gets into the details.
The School of Government has published a new resource on initial appearances and pretrial release. Although any judicial official is authorized to preside at an initial appearance, in most cases that official is a magistrate. This guide addresses pretrial release only in the context of magistrates’ authority and limitations.
Pretrial release is generally set by magistrates at a defendant’s initial appearance. As a special approach to setting conditions of pretrial release, the “48-hour rule,” as it is known in domestic violence cases, shifts that responsibility to judges. The rule comes from G.S. 15A-534.1, which provides that a judge rather than a magistrate must set a defendant’s pretrial release conditions during the first 48 hours after arrest for certain offenses. The 48-hour rule generates a lot of questions. Below, I have answered some fundamental questions that have arisen with this rule.
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 … Read more
Following years of discussion and drafts, a formal Rules of Conduct for Magistrates was promulgated by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) effective October 1, 2021.
In June, Session Law 2021-47 Section 13.(a) authorized the AOC to prescribe rules of conduct for all magistrates via a new G.S. 7A-171.3. It said that the rules of conduct shall include rules governing standards of professional conduct and timeliness, required duties and responsibilities, methods for ethical decision making, and any other topic deemed relevant by the AOC.
Historically, magistrates have been subject to the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct as officers of the court in theory, though not everyone has agreed that the Code was directly applicable to magistrates. Confusing the issue further, the NC Judicial Standards Commission is not authorized to hear complaints about magistrates or clerks of court, among others. So, while the Judicial Standards Commission oversees ethical issues for North Carolina trial and appellate judges, no similar body has been in place for magistrates.
In this earlier blog post, I discussed changes made to North Carolina’s first appearance process, to be effective for criminal processes served on or after December 1, 2021. Additional amendments have been made in new legislation.
In Session Law 2021-182 (S183), Section 2.5.(a) revised G.S. 15A-601 as previously amended by S.L. 2021-138.
Defendants charged with misdemeanors and in custody to get first appearance
This amendment does not affect a significant change made by S.L. 2021-138–the expansion of first appearance to include defendants charged with misdemeanors who are in custody. Under current law, only criminal defendants with felony charges are required to get first appearance.
On September 2, 2021, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed Session Law 2021-138 (S300) into law. The law makes wide ranging changes to the state’s criminal law and procedure, including adjustments to satellite-based monitoring based on Grady v. North Carolina, limitations on the enactment of local ordinance crimes, and revised standards for the hiring, certification, and decertification of law enforcement officers. The law has various effective dates, depending on the particular provision. This post will concentrate on changes to first appearance requirements. My colleagues will address other aspects of the changes made by this law in future blog posts.
Twice over the last few weeks, I have been asked to teach public officials about North Carolina’s courts. In my day-to-day work, I spend a lot of time thinking about what our court officials do in particular cases and the law that governs those choices. I less often consider the structure in which they carry out that work. In preparing to talk about that broader topic, I gathered a few thoughts and, more importantly, links to important resources that I thought readers might find of interest.
One of the projects that I wanted to finish before I go was updating my old paper on the 48-hour rule of G.S. 15A-534.1. I just completed the update. The new paper is available here. It is more comprehensive than before, but in a different format that is a little longer and less handy. It … Read more
The National Center for State Courts just released new rankings of judicial salaries. How does North Carolina fare?