District Court Dilemma
The way the courts are structured in North Carolina, the trials that exist in the District Courts are far different than most any other states system. In NC, the trial court in DC is a bench trial in front of a judge. The Judge is usually a harder audience to convince of a Defendant’s innocence than a jury would be. NC then allows the trial de novo on an appeal from the DC trial in accordance with the Defendant’s constitutional rights.
As a Lawyer taking a case to trial in DC, you have a lot of decisions before hand and after the fact to decide for yourself and with your client. First, you have to decide if you want to show the State their missing piece of evidence or their biggest weakness in their case in DC, where your chances of success are diminished. This is especially the case in front of certain judges who have a reputation for never finding for a defendant in DC. Then if there is a conviction on maybe a DWI charge, the defendant may be forced to weigh the possibility of an appeal bond being placed on them while they wait for their jury trial. This may generally not be an issue because the bond may not be significant, but if the client is indigent or someone with no family or friends to bail them out, it becomes a significant issue. The way the system is set up in this situation, a defense attorney is basically forced to tell the client, you will serve more time in jail if you cannot bond out than if you just leave the guilty verdict alone and not appeal. This is one of the ultimate dilemma’s in DC, because it is an unfair choice that a client should not be forced to make. The particular example shows exactly why many see the system as broken, especially for the poor.
January 19th, 2011