District courts hear cases involving civil, criminal, and juvenile matters, as well as appeals from the magistrate. District courts are divided into 43 districts across the state and sit in the county seat of each county. They may also sit in certain other cities and towns specifically authorized by the General Assembly.
Civil cases such as divorce, custody, child support, and cases involving less than $25,000 are heard in district court, along with criminal cases involving misdemeanors and infractions. However, due to an amendment, from August 1, 2013, through June 30, 2015, either the district court or the superior court is the proper division for the trial of civil actions in which the amount in controversy is between $10,000 and $25,000.
Civil cases are heard by a jury if a party requests one, but certain cases are always decided by a judge without a jury, such as child custody disputes. The district court also hears juvenile cases (age 16 and under) that involve delinquency issues, and it has the authority to hear juvenile undisciplined cases (ages 16 and 17). It also considers abuse, neglect, and dependency cases involving children younger than 18.
Magistrates are appointed by the senior resident superior court judge from nominations provided by the clerk of superior court and are supervised by chief district court judges. Magistrates accept guilty pleas for minor misdemeanors and infractions, such as for hunting or fishing violations or for traffic violations, and may accept waivers of trial for certain worthless check cases if authorized by the chief district court judge. In civil cases, the magistrate is authorized to try small claims cases ($10,000 or less), landlord eviction cases, and suits for recovery of personal property and motor vehicle mechanics’ liens.
43 districts statewide
272 district court judges
2.29 million cases filed (FY 2016 - 17)
2.48 million cases disposed