North Carolina’s New Bond Policies and Procedures

The conditions of release, or bond, is the first step in the justice system for any criminal case. All cases from misdemeanor reckless driving to 1st degree murder have conditions of release if the defendant, or person charged with a crime, was arrested. There are several different types of bonds that a magistrate or Judge can issue, and the difference can be very important to your case. The main types of bonds are:

  1. Written Promise to Appear – If the judicial official, either a Magistrate or a Judge, gives you a written promise to appear, you will have to sign a document promising to return to court and then you will be released.
  2. Unsecured Bond – If the judicial official grants you an unsecured bond, then again you will have to sign a document, this time saying that if you do not show up for court then you will have to pay the amount specified.
  3. Secured Bond – In order to post a secured bond, instead of simply being able to sign a document and be released, here you have to put up some kind of money. This is where a bondsman is used to post the amount of the bond while only charging you a fraction of the amount as their fee.
  4. No Bond – There are several circumstances where the judicial official may choose to set no bond. This means that for some reason or another, the judicial official has determined that no conditions of release would be sufficient to secure your return to court or the safety of the community.

The North Carolina Legislature recently passed a new law that greatly alters how pretrial conditions of release, often called just bond, are handled in the justice system. These new policies mean that it will take longer for many people who are arrested to be released, as well as slow down both the first appearance and release process. These new policies took effect on October 1, 2023, and have now been implemented across the state.

To understand the change in the process it is important to know what the process was prior to the new law taking effect. Prior to the new law, the policies looked like this:

  1. Domestic Violence Crimes: If you were charged with a crime that was marked as a crime of domestic violence, then your conditions of release, or bond, were not allowed to be set until you had seen a District Court Judge or 48 hours had elapsed, whichever happened first. This means that if you were arrested on a Friday or Saturday night, you were held for 48 hours or until you could be taken in front of a Judge on Monday morning.
  2. All Other Crimes: If you were charged with any other crime, then the Magistrate who sits in the jail would examine your case and set your conditions of release. Now this does not mean that you would always get a bond, in some cases, such as 1st degree murder cases or other violent crimes, the Magistrate could choose to set no bond as a condition of release.

Under the new laws, the policies have changed for who can have their bond set by a magistrate and who must wait 48 hours to see a judge, similar to the previous rules for Domestic Violence Cases. Under the new law, magistrates are no longer allowed to immediately set bonds in the following cases:

  1. Repeat offenders – This applies to people who are already out on any kind of pre-trial conditions of release, and they are charged with a new offense, regardless of the type of offense.
  2. Certain Violent Crimes – if you are charged with a serious-enough violent crime then like a domestic violence case, the Magistrate must wait 48 hours to set your bond. Some examples of these charges are Murder, Kidnapping, Statutory Rape, Forceable Rape, Human Trafficking, and Burglary.

This new law makes hiring an attorney early in the process more important than ever. Instead of a magistrate, who is used to seeing unrepresented people, you will more than likely be in front of a District Court judge. These judges often have different opinions and political pressures than magistrates face and an attorney can help you navigate the system much more effectively than relying on a public defender or being forced to represent yourself.