North Carolina Court Appearance Project


Of the one million people with active driver’s license suspensions in North Carolina in 2018, 800,000 drivers had suspended driver’s licenses solely for missing court.

In North Carolina, nonappearance for a court case can lead to driver’s license suspension, an order for arrest, and jail time. Nearly 250,000 court appearances are missed annually in North Carolina, causing significant consequences for individuals and their communities. To combat nonappearance rates, the Court Appearance Project selected three counties in North Carolina to examine the scale and impact of missed court appearances in their communities and devise policy solutions to address them. The team examined local data from courts and jails from 2015 to the present to create individualized county and state policy recommendations.

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Key Findings:

  • North Carolina criminal courts experienced missed appearances for 1 in 6 cases.
  • Nonappearance rates by county for North Carolina criminal cases ranged from seven percent to 35 percent, with a state average of 15 percent.
  • Traffic misdemeanors accounted for 82 percent of all nonappearances in North Carolina.
    • The most common offenses for driving-related nonappearance were driving while license revoked, expired registration card/tag, and speeding.
  • Black people made up 22 percent of the state’s population and 49 percent of missed court appearances.
  • Failure to appear led 1 in 10 North Carolinians to a license suspension.
  •  In New Hanover and Orange Counties, bookings solely for failure to appear on a misdemeanor outnumbered all other charges with jail booking, accounting for 1 in 6 jail bookings.


  • End automatic license revocation in state law for court nonappearance and unpaid debts.
  • Expand access to the state’s criminal justice database that integrates criminal justice data and Division of Motor Vehicle records to allow court actors the authority to see a person’s failure to appear history and their location in other jails.
  • Incorporate and improve court reminder systems.
  • Offer transportation support to court.
  • Reduce wait times and case disposition times. 
Criminal Justice Innovation Lab