702.1Judicial Notice [Rule 201]
- The court may take judicial notice of adjudicative facts that are not subject to any reasonable dispute if the facts are common knowledge in the jurisdiction or can be easily determined by reference to reliable sources.
- The court may take such notice on its own motion or at the request of a party.
- The court must instruct the jury that judicial notice means the jurors may, but are not required to, accept the matter as a conclusive fact.
The Basic Rule
Rule 201 – Judicial Notice of Adjudicative Facts
(a) Scope of rule. – This rule governs only judicial notice of adjudicative facts.
(b) Kinds of facts. – A judicially noticed fact must be one not subject to reasonable dispute in that it is either
(1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or
(2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.
(c) When discretionary. – A court may take judicial notice, whether requested or not.
(d) When mandatory. – A court shall take judicial notice if requested by a party and supplied with the necessary information.
(e) Opportunity to be heard. – In a trial court, a party is entitled upon timely request to an opportunity to be heard as to the propriety of taking judicial notice and the tenor of the matter noticed. In the absence of prior notification, the request may be made after judicial notice has been taken.
(f) Time of taking notice. – Judicial notice may be taken at any stage of the proceeding.
(g) Instructing jury. – [...] In a criminal case, the court shall instruct the jury that it may, but is not required to, accept as conclusive any fact judicially noticed.
G.S. 8C-201 (abbreviated and re-formatted for clarity).
What Is Judicial Notice?
In a criminal case, if the court takes “judicial notice” of a matter, the court must instruct the jury “that it may, but is not required to, accept as conclusive any fact judicially noticed.” G.S. 8C-201(g); see also N.C.P.I.--Crim. 104.97 (instructing jurors that they may “accept a judicially noticed fact as conclusive, but you are not required to do so. You should give it such weight as you decide it should receive in connection with all other evidence.”).
How is this used?
In criminal trial practice, judicial notice is typically used to establish generally known or readily ascertainable matters such as dates, times, locations, street names, distances, and similar facts that are relevant and helpful to the case, without the necessity of calling a witness.
What Facts are Subject to Judicial Notice?
The trial court may only take notice of relevant “adjudicative facts,” which means facts that bear directly on the parties and the issues in a particular case. See G.S. 8C-201, Official Commentary; State v. Baskin, 190 N.C. App. 102 (2008) (existence of a guilty plea by co-defendant who did not testify was not relevant in defendant’s case, so the court could not take judicial notice of it).
Additionally, the judicially noticed fact must be one that is “not subject to reasonable dispute.” Compare State v. Martin, 270 N.C. 286 (1967) (trial court could properly take judicial notice that “Louisburg Road” and “North Boulevard” were two names for the same street in Raleigh) with State v. Anthony, 267 N.C. App. 45 (2019) (state's contentions "regarding the risk of recidivism by sex offenders based upon various studies and statistics" were "not subject to judicial notice under Rule 201 since they are subject to reasonable dispute"), remanded, 373 N.C. 249 (2019). See also Hinkle v. Hartsell, 131 N.C. App. 833 (1998) (whether the area around a motel was a “high crime area” was in dispute, so trial court should not have taken judicial notice of it as a fact).
The requirement that the fact must be one that is “not subject to reasonable dispute” is clarified by two conditions:
a) Generally Known
First, the trial judge may take judicial notice of facts that are generally known within the court’s jurisdiction. G.S. 8C-201(b)(1); see, e.g., State v. Brown, 81 N.C. App. 281 (1986) (allowing judicial notice that “Brown” is a fairly common last name); State v. McGill, 73 N.C. App. 206 (1985), rev’d on other grounds, 314 N.C. 633 (1985) (the fact that alcohol impairs reaction time and driving ability “clearly lie[s] within common knowledge of jurors”); State v. Trapper, 48 N.C. App. 481 (1980) (allowing judicial notice that North Carolina’s coastline is regularly used by smugglers to bring in drugs); State v. Parker, 7 N.C. App. 191 (1970) (court did not err by taking judicial notice that a steak knife over 4 inches long was a deadly weapon per se); see also State v. Baldwin, 226 N.C. 295 (1946) (“…the court may take judicial notice, and they should take notice of whatever is, or ought to be, generally known within the limits of their jurisdiction, for justice does not require that courts profess to be more ignorant than the rest of mankind”).
b) Accurate and Ready Determination
Second, the court may take judicial notice of facts that are capable of accurate and ready determination by referencing sources whose accuracy and reliability cannot be questioned. G.S. 8C-201(b)(2); see, e.g., State v. McCormick, 204 N.C. App. 105 (2010) (in a burglary prosecution, court could take judicial notice of the time of sunset on that day for purposes of establishing when “nighttime” began); State v. Newton, 21 N.C. App. 384 (1974) (allowing judicial notice that “Desoxyn” was a trade name for methamphetamine); see also State v. Pallet, 283 N.C. 705 (1973) (court shall take judicial notice of municipalities, counties, and other political subdivisions of the state, but not of municipal ordinances).
In Hinkle v. Hartsell, 131 N.C. App. 833 (1998), the Court of Appeals offered the following “laundry list” of the kinds of facts that may be appropriate subjects of judicial notice:
- “the public laws of this State, of the United States, and of any other state or territory of the United States, as well as of any foreign country”
- “the existence and jurisdiction of the various courts of the State; their terms or sessions, and judges; the counties comprising the various judicial districts; and, any earlier proceedings in the court involving the same case”
- “the laws of nature”
- “human impulses, habits, functions and capabilities”
- “the prevalence of a certain surname”
- “established medical and scientific facts”
- “well-known practices in farming, construction work, transportation, and other businesses and professions”
- “the characteristics of familiar tools and appliances, weapons, intoxicants, and poisons”
- “the use of highways”
- “the normal incidence of the operation of trains, motor vehicles, and planes”
- “prominent geographical features such as railroads, water courses, and cities and towns”
- “the effect of natural conditions on the construction of public improvements”
- “population and area as shown by census reports”
- “the days, weeks, and months of the calendar”
- “the facts of history; important current events; general economic and social conditions; matters affecting public health and safety”
- “the meaning of words and abbreviations; and the results of mathematical computations.”
Id. at 836, citing 1 Kenneth S. Broun, Brandis and Broun on North Carolina Evidence § 24, at 97 (5th ed. 1998) (internal quotations and punctuation omitted). This list of examples is intended to be representative, not exclusive: it is “the spirit and example of the rulings, rather than their precise tenor, that is to be useful in guidance.” Id.
Judicial Notice of Court Records
The trial court may take judicial notice of the existence of court records, and the logical conclusions arising from the existence of those records. See, e.g., State v. Thompson, 349 N.C. 483 (1998) (“This Court may take judicial notice of the public records of other courts within the state judicial system”); State v. Tyson, 189 N.C. App. 408 (2008) (“Defendant asks that we take judicial notice of this arrest warrant, and we grant Defendant's request.”).
The court may also take judicial notice of the contents of those records, but only if the matter is one that is not subject to reasonable dispute. Compare State v. Washington, 192 N.C. App. 277 (2008) (Court of Appeals took judicial notice that defendant’s prior conviction occurred on a particular date, since this fact was readily subject to accurate determination pursuant to the records) with American Aluminum Products, Inc., v. Pollard, 97 N.C. App. 541 (1990) (error for court to take judicial notice of facts contained within a consent order, since the purpose of the order was limited and did not conclusively resolve the issues to be tried).
For more information on introducing and using court records at trial, see the related Evidence entry on Self-authenticating Documents [Rule 902].
When and How to Take Judicial Notice
Judicial notice may be taken at any time in the proceeding. G.S. 8C-201(f). Though not specifically required by the rule, the preferred practice is for the court to explicitly give notice to all parties that the court is taking judicial notice of a fact by announcing it in open court. See In re M.N.C., 176 N.C. App. 114 (2006). The parties must be given an opportunity to be heard regarding the propriety of taking judicial notice of the matter, and the “tenor of the matter” to be so noticed. G.S. 8C-201(e).
If the matter is one properly subject to judicial notice, the court has received all the necessary information, and a party requests that the court take such notice, the judge “shall” do so; if it is not requested by a party, the court “may” do so anyway. G.S. 8C-201(c), (d).