Surry County Detention Center Criminal Court Process

Search for an Inmate in Surry County

Criminal Court Process for Surry County North Carolina

Information on the criminal court process for offenders arrested in Surry County North Carolina and booked into the Surry County Detention Center. From the arrest to the sentencing and everything in between.

Surry County Detention Center Criminal Court Process

Criminal Court Process for Surry County North Carolina

Surry County North Carolina Criminal Court System – Definitions

It might be helpful to define some words that will be used on this site, when explaining the North Carolina Court System and how it works. The definitions on this site are for general information and not legal advice. It is always preferred to follow information given by your attorney or local authorities.

If you scroll down below this content, and the listing of the courts in Surry County, you will find a simple flowchart diagram and a video that will help you visualize the stages of the Criminal Court Process.

Arrest is when North Carolina, Surry County or local police take a person into custody and start the legal process. The arrested person may or may not be immediately jailed. 

In less serious crimes, the person may only be given a citation ordering that they appear in Surry County court on a certain date. In cases involving more serious crimes, the person is usually placed in the county jail until an arraignment, or a judge decides the next step.

Booking is when the Surry County sheriff or local police gather information such as the detainee’s name, address and why the person is being arrested. Booking also includes fingerprinting, criminal history, investigation, and verification of identity. Bail for lower-level crimes may be set right after booking so the arrested can “bail or bond out” before being detained.

The prosecution, sometimes called “the government” or “the people” or “the state” is the side that presses the charges and seeks punishment for the offense. These are attorneys that work for the state of North Carolina, Surry County or a city or town.  The prosecuting attorney for Surry County or the district is called the District Attorney or Assistant District Attorney. A U.S. Attorney prosecutes federal cases.  

Jurisdiction is an important term in the court system that means whether a court has the obligation or duty or right to handle a case.  For example, if you run a red light in your town or city, the local district court would likely have jurisdiction over your case, but the next county over would not have jurisdiction over your case.  If you attempted to flee from police when they attempted to stop you after you ran the red light, it becomes a more serious crime, and the district court might not have jurisdiction so you might be assigned to a higher-level court that has jurisdiction over the more serious crime.  Jurisdiction varies from state to state and sometimes county to county.

Arraignment is when a judge determines whether the charges are supported by the prosecution’s initial evidence and tells the arrested what they are charged with, and the person says whether they are guilty or not guilty. At this time, the person is called the defendant, and the opposing side is called the prosecution. If there is reason to believe that the arrested is guilty, the judge will set bail conditions or send the defendant to jail or release them ROR (release on recognizances). An arraignment is not a trial, and the defendant is entitled to a trial within a reasonable amount of time after the arraignment.

Bail is money paid that is held by the Surry County court to make sure that the arrested does not flee the area before their trial. Bail amounts and other conditions are determined by the bail magistrate. There are standard bail amounts established for certain charges. Once the case is over, the bail money is returned to the defendant. If a person does not pay bail, they could remain in the Surry County Jail until their trial although North Carolina makes every effort to allow bail release despite the ability to pay.  Bail can be denied if the court feels that the arrested would be a danger to others if released. 

In North Carolina, if the arrested is not released under their own recognizance, or they are not able to pay the full bail amount, there are other ways to pay bond through the courts or by using a bond company.

A  personal recognizance bond is a bond where someone representing the defendant signs paperwork promising to pay the money if the defendant does not show up to court. If the defendant does not show, the full amount will be due and the people who signed the paperwork will be responsible for paying the court. 

Cash percentage in lieu of bonds.  If the bond order permits, the defendant pays a percentage of the amount, usually 10% to the court, which then holds the money until the case is over. The amount is returned if the defendant is acquitted or the case is dismissed, or it can be used toward paying any court fines incurred by the defendant.

Surety Bond is when defendant pays a percentage of the bond amount (usually 10%) to a professional bondsman or bail bond company licensed to do business in North Carolina, . The bondsman then signs the bond on behalf of the defendant. The defendant does not receive any of the money back. If the bondsman feels the defendant is a flight risk, they can refuse to give a bond or charge a higher fee. For example, a bondsman may determine a defendant is a flight risk if they are from a state other than North Carolina.

A Property Bond is a bond in which the bond is pledged in land or home real estate (mobile homes are not accepted).  Usually, the property must be in Surry County, and it must be worth up to twice the amount of the bond.

It is always important to have family involvement after being arrested.  Not only can they make calls and communicate on your behalf (not all bond companies will accept collect calls), but family support will show the court that there are people who will make sure that the defendant makes it to court, not only for the defendant’s own good, but because they may have signed bond paperwork and responsible to pay if the defendant does not show in court. Chances of obtaining a bond from a bond company or clerk of court are better if family is involved.  

(There have been phone scams where a bond company calls and informs a person that their family member has been arrested and they ask for financial information.  A bondsman will not call asking for money without involvement of the arrested.)

A criminal defense attorney (also called lawyer or counsel) is hired or retained to represent the arrested as early as possible after the arrest.

If there is a chance that the case might go to trial and the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that the court provide an attorney. This is called indigent representation and a public defender or assigned attorney would represent the defendant in all proceedings.

Indigent representation is only available misdemeanor and felony cases that could result in jail time, juvenile cases, and certain appeal cases. The State of North Carolina funds indigent defense, unlike many states that require local governments to fund defense.  

Each local court or authority in North Carolina decides how to provide indigent defense.  Most counties use assigned counsel while others use full time public defenders or contract attorneys.

For less serious cases or civil cases, there are pro bono volunteers who volunteer legal services for free or for a small fee. They often will hold clinics to teach people how to represent themselves in court or expunge their record which means to legally erase or eliminate a criminal or arrest record from public view. This website provides contact information for Legal Aid in North Carolina.

A district court can refer to the first level of the legal system, or a minor court. District courts are in the community.  A district court can also refer to a U.S. Federal District Court that hears federal cases. There are three U.S. federal district courts in North Carolina, with offices throughout the state. It is important that you check the address of the court you are to appear in rather than to ask someone because that person might give you directions to the wrong “district” court. Being late to court can land you in custody as well.

Pretrial proceeding is the process where both sides (prosecution and defense) gather information, interview witnesses, request records, videos etc. Pretrial proceedings also include communications with the judge assigned to the case and these appearances are either in person or by on-line conferencing. Some pretrial proceedings may not require a defendant’s appearance, allowing an attorney to appear in their place. The information that is gathered is called discovery and both sides must share the information that they have gathered.  This information does not include conversations between the arrested and their attorney.

Most cases do not go to trial because both sides reach a plea deal, where both sides try to reach a reasonable punishment based on what was learned in the pretrial proceedings.  A plea deal can only happen if the accused person admits they are guilty in exchange for a lighter punishment.  The reason they must admit guilt is because it would not be fair to punish someone who claims they are not guilty.  There are times in plea bargaining when the prosecution agrees to give a lighter sentence in exchange for information leading to the arrest of a more serious criminal related to the crime.  

Trial is where both sides share their information in front of a judge or a judge and jury. After listening to all the evidence, the judge or jury decides the verdict which is whether the person is guilty or not guilty. If a court has only a judge hearing both sides, it is called a bench trial.  If a jury is selected, it is called a jury trial.  If the defendant is found not guilty, they are released.  If they are found to be guilty, the next step is sentencing.

Sentencing is the punishment that the judge decides the person should get. This could be jail or prison time, fines, community service, probation, or a combination.

Appeal is asking for a higher court to hear the case again at an appellate court.  If the accused person thinks something went wrong at trial or has new information that was not available during the trial or that the sentence is too harsh, the defense attorney can ask for an appeal. It is not unusual for an appeal when there is a long jail sentence, but an appeal can be denied if the appellate court feels that the original trial or sentencing was fair.

North Carolina Felony vs Misdemeanor

In North Carolina, a misdemeanor is divided into Class A1, 1, 2 or 3.  

  • Class A1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 150 days in jail and a fine. 
  • Class 1 misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of 120 days in jail and a fine. 
  • Class 2 misdemeanors are punishable by 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $1000. 
  • Class 3 misdemeanors are punishable by up to 20 days in jail and a $200 fine. Examples of misdemeanors are trespassing, simple assault, petty theft, possession of small amounts of marijuana and shoplifting.

A felony crime is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor and are divided into different classes which are general guidelines and are based on the crime, prior criminal history and other factors.  Examples of felony crimes are murder, rape, theft, aggravated assault, drug trafficking, kidnapping and identity theft.  

Felonies in North Carolina are divided into Class A-H plus Class 1 felony.  Class 1 felonies have a maximum sentence of 24 months in prison and includes breaking and entering into a motor vehicle or possession of certain controlled substances. 

  • Class 1A misdemeanors which are crimes that fall between felonies and misdemeanors.  
  • Class A felony is the most serious, for first degree murder and punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty.  
  • Class H felony has a maximum sentence of 39 months in prison. 

The Surry County Clerk of Court is an elected official whose responsibilities for Criminal Court’s administrative issues include receiving criminal warrants, receiving bail, creating the trial schedule, receiving fees, fines and maintaining court records.

A warrant is used to get someone to appear in court or to law enforcement.  There must be good reason to believe that the person is involved in a crime. The warrant gives authority to arrest the person and search for evidence for the investigation of the crime. 

A criminal summons is issued to request that a person appear in court at a particular time and date.  It does not involve an arrest.  A traffic ticket, summary citation or lesser misdemeanor could be considered a summons if you are given a court date.

A summary citation, commonly referred to as a ticket, is a criminal summons by a law enforcement officer either in person or via mail accusing the defendant of a minor offense, stating potential fine, listing the court having jurisdiction and instructions for addressing the issue. Defendants may or may not be required to appear in court or handle the matter by entering a plea via mail.

Fines are usually paid to the District Court or clerk of court and payment methods can be found on the District Court or Surry County Clerk of Court website. If you do not pay your fine on time, you can lose your driver’s license, must pay additional fees or even have a warrant for your arrest.  It is important to read the instructions on the ticket issued by the police officer or court at the time of your arrest. For a parking ticket or summary citation, the fine amount and how to send payment should be on the ticket. 

North Carolina Criminal Court System - How it Works

In North Carolina, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals hear case appeals.  The primary criminal courts are the North Carolina Superior Courts and District Courts

District courts handle a variety of cases including criminal misdemeanor and juvenile cases that do not require a jury.  If a jury trial is requested for the misdemeanor, it would be heard in superior court. The district courts are located in the county seat plus other towns and cities that might be more populated. Most traffic tickets are handled by district courts and some larger counties have a separate traffic court.

Magistrates are persons who are trained in court and legal procedures. A magistrate does not have to be an attorney but helps move the process by performing some of the routine court functions such as issuing arrest warrants, setting bail and accepting guilty pleas for minor misdemeanors.

Superior courts in North Carolina have a system of rotating judges in order to maintain consistent rulings throughout the state.  The superior court handles felony cases and appeals for misdemeanor and infractions from the district court.

Court of Appeals hears appeals primarily from superior court.

The North Carolina Supreme Court is like our United States’ Supreme Court because it has a panel of judges that rule on matters that have to do with someone’s constitutional rights or policies and laws. The North Carolina State Supreme Court deals with the state constitution or laws or policies. Sometimes the Supreme Court will hear criminal cases on appeal when there is a question on the state laws or procedures that lead to the appeal.  

The criminal cases are usually referred from the district courts of appeal.

Specialty courts or problem-solving courts are being adopted in many states to handle cases that involve non-violent and first-time offender cases in a way to where the offender can retain a job or responsibilities while following specific orders of the court as returned court appearances, periodic evaluations or testing for substances. In North Carolina, these courts are called Recovery Courts that orders the completion of and supervision of specialized treatments, testing and recovery goals.


Federal Court deals with crimes involving violations of United States laws.  Federal crimes include federal drug trafficking, federal tax evasion and fraud that crossed state lines and include crimes that occur on federal property as post offices or federal buildings.  

Cases involving crimes that involve the FBI or DEA or Immigration agencies are federal crimes. Terrorism is a federal crime. 

There are some differences in the Federal court system as compared to the North Carolina state court system. For example, the attorneys who work for the courts are called United States Attorneys and Federal judges are called District Court Judges (not to be confused by local state district courts).  

Federal Magistrate Judges hear the case early on, but they do not decide on the cases at a trial like the Federal District Court Judges. In a federal case, a grand jury is used for indictments.

There are three U.S. Federal Judicial Districts in North Carolina, the Eastern District, Middle District and Western District.


DOBSON NC, 27017

Search for an Inmate in Surry County