NC Prisoner Legal Services  
 
  
 
 
 
 

 
 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What types of cases does NCPLS take?

What is the difference between a “civil” and a “post-conviction” case?

When my loved one’s case gets to an attorney, does that mean there will be a lawsuit filed?

My loved one is displeased with his current attorney, what should he do?

What services are available to formerly incarcerated people?

I am not currently an inmate in the North Carolina Department of Correction, but I need an attorney, who can help?

Does NCPLS provide assistance to federal prisoners serving time in North Carolina?

My loved one is permanently disabled or terminally ill.  Is there any way for him to be released?

Does NCPLS assist with sentence commutations from the governor?

My loved one cannot read and/or write, can you still help him?

I called your office about the progress of my loved one’s case but you told me you could not talk to me.  Why?

My loved one received a letter saying NCPLS was ordering documents in his case, why is it taking so long?

I was told my loved one’s case was with a paralegal, when will an attorney review his case?

 

What types of cases does NCPLS take?

NCPLS represents inmates in the North Carolina Department of Correction and in North Carolina county jails who believe they have been wrongfully convicted, received a legally erroneous sentence, or face immigration consequences as a result of their convictions.  Our office also represents inmate who believe the conditions of their confinement are inhumane — this includes cases where inmates have been abused by guards; assaulted by other inmates due to negligence by prison personnel; injured while doing a prison job; or who are receiving improper medical treatment.  Inmates seeking legal assistance in any matter should always feel free to contact our office.

What is the difference between a “civil” and a “post-conviction” case?

.Post- conviction cases concern the criminal offense and sentence that resulted in the inmate being sent to prison or jail.  Civil cases concern what actually happens to an inmate while he is in the custody of the Department of Correction or county jail.  Sometimes an inmate has both post-conviction and civil issues, so we will open up two files: one for an attorney who will handle the civil claim and another to an attorney who will handle the post-conviction claim.

When my loved one’s case gets to an attorney, does that mean there will be a lawsuit filed?

Not necessarily.  There are roughly 40,000 inmates in the North Carolina Department of Correction and almost 20,000 pre-trial detainees, so the demand for our services is very high.  While attorneys at NCPLS review and evaluate every inmate request for legal representation, we do not have the resources to litigate or investigate every case an inmate would like us to.  We can only investigate cases that present potentially meritorious legal issues, and we can only accept cases for litigation that have a reasonable chance of success.

My loved one is displeased with his current attorney, what should he do?

Our office does not represent inmates who have not been convicted (either at trial or by pleading guilty).  Defendants who are having issues with their attorneys should always try to resolve any problems they have with their attorney directly and informally.  Contact information for attorneys working in Public Defender’s offices is available on the Office of Indigent Defense Services website.  However, if a defendant feels he cannot work out issues with his attorney on his own, he may contact the North Carolina State Bar’s Client Assistance Project.

What services are available to formerly incarcerated people?

Click here for the NCPLS formerly incarcerated person packet, which contains resources to assist inmates upon their release.

I am not currently an inmate in the North Carolina Department of Correction, but I need an attorney, who can help?

Legal Aid of North Carolina, Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, Pisgah Legal Services, and the North Carolina Justice Center all represent low-income people in a variety of matters.  Also, NC Free Legal Help provides a directory of North Carolina attorneys who provide free initial consultations. See their respective websites for the services they provide, as there are restrictions on what types of cases they can take and who they can serve.

The North Carolina Advocates for Justice website contains information about attorneys who concentrate their practices on specific types of cases, for example criminal or personal injury.

The North Carolina Bar Association Foundation sponsors the NC Lawyer Referral Service, which helps people find attorneys who will consider taking their case.  There is a small fee for this service.

Does NCPLS provide assistance to federal prisoners serving time in North Carolina?

Unfortunately, NCPLS is only funded to represent prisoners who are serving time in North Carolina county jails or a North Carolina Department of Correction facility.  We are not funded to assist federal inmates, such as those housed at the Rivers Correctional Institution in Winton, NC.

My loved one is permanently disabled or terminally ill.  Is there any way for him to be released?

Yes, but inmates have no right to release and they are only released under very narrow circumstances.  The North Carolina Department of Correction has policies for the medical release of ill and disabled inmates.  Inmates convicted of Class A, B1, B2, or convictions requiring registration as a sexual offender are not eligible. Your loved one may be eligible for compassionate release if they are terminally ill and if there are resources for their care available if they are released. Contact NCPLS for more information about this program.

Does NCPLS assist with sentence commutations from the governor?

Unfortunately, very rarely.  In almost all cases, inmates who write our office seeking information about commutations are sent our Executive Clemency Packet.

My loved one cannot read and/or write, can you still help him?

Yes.  Although the majority of our communication with inmates is through the mail, we can make arrangements to assist inmates with special needs.  If you know of an inmate who needs help but cannot read and/or write contact us and we will make arrangements to visit him.  Please try to provide the inmate’s DOC number when you call or write.

I called your office about the progress of my loved one’s case but you told me you could not talk to me.  Why?

In order to protect our clients’ confidences and their attorney-client privilege, we are very limited in what information we can share with client’s loved ones.  In addition, our attorneys carry a heavy caseload and time spent on the telephone takes away from the time they need to spend on case work.  You will need to rely on your loved one to keep you informed about the status of his/her case.  In the event that NCPLS needs information from a friend or family member, the attorney handling the case will contact that individual.

My loved one received a letter saying NCPLS was ordering documents in his case, why is it taking so long?

In order to properly evaluate all post-conviction cases and many civil cases, our attorneys must have certain documents.  To properly evaluate post-conviction cases where the defendant pled guilty or had a trial but did not appeal, our office needs to order court documents from the county where the defendant was convicted.  Some counties are more responsive to our requests than others, and that means the document ordering process can be quite long.  We are always looking for ways to speed up the document ordering process, but at the moment we advise inmates that ordering documents will take as long as 90 days.  Obtaining documents in relatively recent cases where an inmate had a trial and appealed his conviction is much easier because many of these are available online.

Civil attorneys often need documents such as medical records when evaluating civil cases, and the process for obtaining these documents can also be quite lengthy.

I was told my loved one’s case was with a paralegal, when will an attorney review his case?

All post- conviction and civil cases are reviewed by a staff attorney.  However, in many cases, paralegals assist attorneys by conducting some preliminary investigations and initial analysis of files.  Attorneys supervise paralegals in all aspects of their work and final decisions on files are always made by attorneys.  The fact that your loved one’s file is with a paralegal does not mean an attorney will not review his case.