North Carolina's court system is divided into trial and appellate divisions. In the trial division, there are Superior and District courts, which hear over 3.2 million cases per year. In the appellate division, the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court hear appeals from lower trial courts.
In each county seat, a District Court hears civil, criminal, juvenile and magistrate cases. The District Court presides over divorce, custody and child support cases; civil cases with up to $25,000 in damage claims; and misdemeanor and lesser offense criminal cases.
Criminal cases heard in a District Court are always decided by a judge – never a jury.
The small claims court division of the District Court hears cases of up to $10,000, as determined by the county. These cases usually regard personal property, eviction or recovery of money.
Several special courts are being developed by North Carolina's Legislature to help alleviate caseload on other courts. Corporate lawsuits, drug abuse and family cases are heard in Business Court, Drug Treatment Courts and Family Courts.
North Carolina's Superior Courts hear civil claims over $25,000, felony criminal cases and misdemeanor appeals from the District Court. These trials are heard by a jury of 12 of the defendant's peers. However, jury trials in civil claims are typically waived.
There are 50 districts in North Carolina and eight Superior Court divisions split among them. The judges rotate among the districts to avoid favoritism.
North Carolina's Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court. There are a total of fifteen judges in the Court of Appeals, and they sit in panels of three to hear cases. New trials are not conducted at this level – information from lower court trials are simply reviewed and decided by the judge panel. Nearly the only cases this court doesn't hear are those in which a death sentence has been imposed.
The Supreme Court is located in Raleigh, and is comprised of seven justices. These justices serve eight-year terms. There is no jury in the Supreme Court, so these justices review appeals from lower courts, those which concern a death penalty case, and in any case where the state's laws and constitution come into question.
In Dickson v. Rucho, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the decision that race could be used to choose new boundaries for voting districts after reviewing results of the 2010 census. The plaintiffs argued that the government was creating majority and minority districts by relying too much on race while redrawing the districts. The U.S. Supreme Court later sent the case back to North Carolina's Supreme Court for review after the federal high court determined in a similar Alabama case that the redistricting should be done so with great scrutiny when based on analysis of race.