Once upon a time in the North Carolina courts, a prayer for judgment continued (PJC) could have a positive impact on a person’s future. Essentially, the prosecution would pray—that is, move—for entry of judgment, and the judge would continue the prayer and withhold judgment rather than granting the prayer and entering judgment. See State v. Griffin, 246 N.C. 680 (1957) (discussing procedure). Older cases recognized that a judge’s exercise of his or her authority to defer judgment in the interest of justice did not constitute a conviction. A PJC was thus treated like a prosecutor’s exercise of discretion in deferring prosecution. The deferral not only avoided imposition of sentence in the criminal case; it also meant that the matter did not count as a conviction in later, collateral proceedings. See Barbour v. Scheidt, 246 N.C. 169 (1957) (discussing treatment of PJCs). The Court of Appeals’ February 18, 2020 decision in Mace v. North Carolina Dept. of Insurance provides a reminder that times have changed and a PJC usually provides no protection from the collateral consequences of a conviction.
In United States v. Smith, 939 F.3d 612 (4th Cir. 2019), the Fourth Circuit held that a defendant who received a conditional discharge for a prior felony was not “convicted” of that crime within the meaning of the federal felon-in-possession statute. He was therefore not a felon under that law, and thus not barred from possessing a firearm under it. The appellate court reversed his conviction. The case gives us an opportunity to review what we know (and don’t know) about the subsequent effect of conditional discharges and PJCs.
Sometimes prayer for judgment is continued on a serious (Class B1–E) felony conviction to give a defendant time to demonstrate good behavior before sentencing. What happens if that PJC extends beyond the time limitations set out in G.S. 15A-1331.2? Does the court lose jurisdiction to enter judgment in the case and sentence the defendant?
Judges can continue prayer for judgment in any case. Except when they can’t.
With three words—PER CURIAM. AFFIRMED.—the Supreme Court of North Carolina last week added a new wrinkle to two already perplexing areas of the law: sex offender registration and PJCs. In Walters v. Cooper, the high court affirmed the court of appeals’ conclusion that a conviction for which a person receives a prayer for judgment continued … Read more
I’m headed to High Point today to teach a session for magistrates on crimes related to sex offender registration. I’m glad I looked at the slip opinions from the court of appeals before I left. A case decided today answers a somewhat frequently asked question about sex offender registration: Does a PJC for a sex … Read more
I am sometimes asked if a conviction for which prayer for judgment has been continued (a PJC) can be expunged. It’s a sensible question, given—as I’ll discuss in a moment—that a PJC is treated like a conviction for most purposes in North Carolina. A person has virtually the same incentive to seek expungement of a … Read more
Defendants are generally pretty happy to get a PJC. When a judge continues prayer for judgment the defendant avoids punishment and is often able to sidestep a car insurance rate hike. That’s not to say a PJC is a total free pass. I wrote before about how a PJC will certainly count as a prior … Read more
Editor’s note: Today’s post discusses a recent case about the unique-to-North-Carolina phenomenon of Prayer for Judgment Continued, or PJC. For a terrific earlier post about PJCs — it’s the single most popular post in the history of this blog — see Jamie Markham’s discussion, here. Like Jamie, I get a lot of questions about PJCs. … Read more
Recently, I blogged about limitations on a judge’s authority to enter a disposition of prayer for judgment continued in speeding cases depending upon the speeding charge. (You can read that post here.) The recent discussion regarding judgments in speeding cases begs the question of why specific speeds are part of the adjudication in the first … Read more