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State Criminal Law Exam Structure

  • The state criminal law exam is offered at the State Bar building in Raleigh with in-person exam administration preferred.
  • Four 90-minute modules (six hours total).
  • Exam sessions will begin around 8 AM and finish at approximately 5 PM.
  • You may use your own approved NC Criminal Law and Procedure Statute Books, both Chapter 14 and 15A and Chapter 20—including those published by Lexis Nexis, Thomson Reuters, Blue360 Media, and Westlaw. Tabs allowed, but no handwritten notes.

Morning Module 1 – General Criminal Law (Common Module for State, Federal, and Juvenile Delinquency)

  • Includes 15 multiple choice questions and 4 short answer questions.
  • Focus on constitutional law. 

Morning Module 2 – State Criminal Law

  • Includes 50 multiple choice questions.

60-minute lunch break 

Afternoon Module 1 – State Criminal Law

  • 16 short answer/short essay questions. (Allow approximately 5-6 minutes per question.)

Afternoon Module 2 – State Criminal Law

  • 16 short answer/short essay questions. (Allow approximately 5-6 minutes per question.)

All questions are allocated "points" and require responses that demonstrate accuracy, clarity, sound reasoning, recognition of the problem presented, knowledge of the principle of law involved, and correct application of those principles. Full or partial credit may be given.

Subject Matter

The examination covers the applicant's knowledge in the following topics in criminal law.

(A) North Carolina and Federal Rules of Evidence;

(B) State and federal criminal procedure;

(C) Constitutional law;

(D) Trial procedure and trial tactics;

(E) Criminal substantive law;

(F) Appellate procedure and tactics.

The criminal law examination covers the following topics. The current exam may include a very similar distribution of questions.


General Criminal Law – Morning Module I Constitutional Exam Topics

Admissibility of testimony

Motion to suppress

Confidential communication

Probable cause

Criminal conviction

Rules of evidence

Fifth Amendment

Search and search warrant

Illegal search

Validity of search


Criminal Law –State Law Exam Topics for Morning Module II and Afternoon Modules I and II

Consent to search

Rules of professional conduct

Defense strategies

Satellite-based hearings

Domestic violence

Sentencing guidelines

DWI (emphasis given with multiple questions to include pertinent case law)

Sex offender registration

DMV and insurance consequences (emphasis given with multiple questions)


Expunction of DNA records

State Rules of Evidence

Insanity/diminished capacity

Structured sentencing

Insurance and driver’s license points

Suppression of evidence

Jury selection


Loss of license

Trial de novo

Misdemeanor statute of limitations

Trial procedure

Motion to suppress

Trial tactics

Motion for new trial

Trial scheduling

N.C.G.S. 20-179

Trust accounts

Plea agreement

Venue options

Prior conviction

Witness impeachment


Sample Questions/Answers

(Please note that sample questions were taken from previous exams and are included only as a reference for types of questions and suggested answers. They are not intended for use as legal authority.)

1) A prisoner has sought your help after being convicted upon his plea of guilty in state court to a drug trafficking offense, which carries a minimum mandatory seven-year active sentence. Prior to the entry of the plea, the defendant was told by his court-appointed attorney that he would receive a five-year sentence if he pled guilty and that he would be eligible for community service parole. The attorney told your client not to say that he had been promised the five-year sentence or any other conditions at the time the judge took the transcript of plea from him because, in the words of the attorney, the district attorney does not want anyone to know that he is in favor of your getting paroled and getting a sentence less than the mandatory minimum seven-year sentence under the sentencing guidelines. The transcript of plea reflected nothing about a five-year sentence, a stipulation of substantial cooperation, or parole. When the judge asked the defendant whether or not there were any additional promises made to him, the defendant under oath said no. At the sentencing, the judge gave the defendant seven years. When the defendant entered the department of corrections, he found out that he was not eligible for the promised community service parole because he had pled to a drug trafficking offense.

What remedies are available to you in representing the defendant? Explain.

Answer #1:

Legal Remedy: File a motion for appropriate relief alleging:

a. Plea was not freely and voluntarily made;

b. Plea was not the informed choice of the Defendant;

c. Ineffective assistance of counsel

1. Attorney lied/misrepresented the meaning of the sentence.

2. Attorney misrepresents the law and the consequences of the entry of the plea.

d. Defendant advised to lie to the court during the plea colloquy.

Other Remedy: Report the attorney’s conduct to the NC State Bar.

a. Conduct described here is subject of a specific ethics opinion prohibiting the conduct of advising client to lie to the court as well as having “outside” understandings with prosecutors and/or judges not specifically set forth in plea agreement.

2) Your client in 1989 was charged in state warrants with possessions of cocaine with intent to sell and deliver and with possession of drug paraphernalia. His matter was placed on the district court docket six times in a row but not heard. On the sixth time in district court, the State moved to continue. The judge denied the motion and dismissed the two cases for failure to prosecute. On both warrants the district judge wrote that he was dismissing the cases for failure of the State to prosecute. In 1992, three years later, the State obtains a multi-count indictment against your client based upon the same transaction as the 1989 charges.

The new indictment charges:

(1) possession of cocaine with intent to sell and deliver;

(2) possession of drug paraphernalia;

(3) conspiracy with a named other person to possess cocaine with intent to sell and deliver;

(4) simple felonious possession of the same cocaine alleged in count one; and

(5) willfully and intentionally maintaining a dwelling to store and sell cocaine.

What motions, if any, would you file in an effort to get this indictment dismissed?

Answer #2:

Motion #1: Motion to dismiss on the basis of the individual and the public’s constitutional right to a speedy trial in criminal cases.


a. Prejudice to the defendant by being recharged with previously dismissed counts.

b. Missing or absent witness.

c. Passage of time.

d. No excuse by the prosecution for not calendaring the case for trial.

Motion #2: Motion to dismiss on basis of res judicata effect of the prior dismissal.

Motion #3: Motion to dismiss on basis of prosecutorial misconduct.

a. Use of same grounds similarly stated in speedy trial motion

b. Use of pre-indictment delay basis.

3) Smith and Jones work together on an assembly line. Smith had a reputation for arguing and fighting and, in fact, had engaged in a fight with another employee several weeks prior. The fact that Smith had engaged in this fight was known by Jones. On the day in question, Jones was accused numerous times by Smith of not performing his job correctly. Smith was verbally abusive to Jones. Jones asked his supervisor whether he, in fact, had done anything wrong on the job and his supervisor said he had not. He also asked his supervisor if he could tell Smith to quit harassing him. The supervisor told Smith exactly that. Smith, however, continued to verbally harass Jones. Finally, Jones walked around the assembly table to within one foot of Smith and asked Smith if he had a problem with him. Smith said, “Yeah, I have a problem. You don’t do your job right. You have a problem with me?” Jones then said, “Yeah, I have a problem. You have a big mouth.” Smith, who was cutting packages at the time and wielding a six-inch packing knife, swung around towards Jones with knife in hand, but made no appreciable effort to move the knife towards Jones’ stomach, although it was level with his stomach and pointing directly at it. When Smith began to turn, Jones hit him in the face, knocking Smith backwards. Smith’s head hit the cement floor and he died. The autopsy showed that without question, the death was caused by Smith’s head hitting the floor and not the blow to Smith’s face.

  • Assume you are the prosecutor. Discuss what you would consider prior to charging Jones and, after so considering, how would you charge Jones?
  • Assume you are the defense attorney. Analyze your defenses for whatever charges you anticipate the prosecutor will bring.

Answer #3:

Prosecution Considerations:

1. Defendant’s intent/lack of intent to strike

2. Anger level; possibility of self-defense

3. Whether victim’s words or actions were provocation for defendant to strike; separate evaluation of pre-emptive self-defense

Charging Decision:

1. Voluntary Manslaughter is best answer

2. Second degree murder is second best answer

Defense Consideration: Self Defense

Decision whether to take the offered plea to Involuntary Manslaughter with 1-year probation period:

1. Best Answer: Advise client to take the plea and avoid possibility of conviction on greater offense and probable active sentence if convicted. (Facts are fuzzy on provocation; self-defense may not work.)

2. Second Best Answer: Go to trial and seek acquittal.