A Prayer for Judgment or a PJC is unique to North Carolina Law. Only a judge may grant you a PJC in the state of North Carolina, and it is usually reserved for traffic violations or petty misdemeanors. It essentially allows a defendant to plead guilty to a crime, without having the plea entered against them. It is a win-win situation generally, because the prosecutor can count it as a conviction, but in general it does not count as a conviction against the defendant, but there are some exceptions. When a person is granted a PJC they need only pay the costs of court, there are no fines or other fees.
In dealing with clients who are trying to decide what to do about hiring an attorney, many of them tell me they are just going to ask for a PJC. While many times this may be successful, there are some pitfalls to watch out for. There are some situations that judges cannot grant a PJC on. A judge cannot grant a PJC for a speeding ticket if the charge is in excess of 15 mile per hour. Additionally, a judge cannot grant a PJC for a charge of DWI.
Many defendants go into court without an attorney, and ask the prosecutor for a PJC. Their typical response is, "I won't oppose it, but you'll have to ask the judge." This is generally a setup. Often a prosecutor knows full-well that a Judge is not going to offer a PJC but they will allow a defendant to plead guilty and ask for one anyway. Remember, prosecutors are there to move cases and get convictions. If you are about to do something on your own, that may be harmful to your future, they will not intervene. If you are charged with speeding in excess of 15 mph or charged with a DUI, please talk with an attorney. There are many that offer free consultations, use those free consultations to get a sense of your rights.
Even if granted a PJC on a traffic violation, you still are not out of the woods yet. Both the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and Insurance Companies have their own policies regarding PJCs. Currently in North Carolina the DMV will recognize two PJCs per driver every 5 years. If you plead guilty and are granted a third PJC within that 5 year period, DMV will not recognize it and the conviction will affect you just like any other guilty plea. Currently, Insurance Companies in North Carolina will recognize one PJC every 3 years per insurance policy. If you are asking for a PJC you need to make sure that nobody on your insurance policy has been granted one in the last three years, or your insurance rates will be affected as if you had not been granted the PJC.
As stated earlier, in some ways a PJC counts as a conviction against you and in some ways it does not. For example, a PJC will not count against you as a moving violation for the purposes of a DMV suspension. If your license is suspended, and you are convicted of a moving-violation during that suspension, your suspension is extended an additional year. If you are a granted a PJC on that moving violation, the suspension is not extended. However, for the purposes of determining a sentencing level, PJC count as convictions against you. In North Carolina sentencing is based on your level, which is based on prior convictions. Each day you are convicted of something adds a point to your sentencing level, and although in some situations a PJC does not count as a conviction, a PJC will give you a point for sentencing level purposes. This can prevent you from being considered a first offender.
In General, I advise my clients to save their PJCs. There are many counties that reduce speeding charges to non-moving violations. It is a bad idea to waste a PJC in such a county. If you merely have to do some traffic school or pay a high fine, it is generally worth it to save your PJC. There are many counties in North Carolina that never reduce speeding tickets to non-moving violations. These are the types of counties you want to use your PJCs in. However, each speeding charge is its own unique situation, and the advise I have given here is designed to be general, and not specific.
In summary, be careful in assuming you will get a PJC. If you do not get a PJC you have already plead guilty. Remember you cannot get a PJC on a DWI or a speeding charge of 15 mph or over. You get two PJCs per person from the DMV every 5 years. You get one PJC per policy from Insurance Companies every three years. If you can get a reduction and avoid a moving violation without using a PJC that is generally the best way to go.