Facing criminal charges in North Carolina can be frightening. When you are facing charges that carry fines and even prison time, you are probably scared and unsure of what to do. The criminal courts can be quite intimidating, filled with high powered people speaking in legal terms you may not understand.
When you walk in the courtroom with an experienced and professional attorney you have an edge. We have experience in the North Carolina Courts and are respected in the criminal justice community. With counsel like us representing you, you can rest assured that your rights will be looked out for and you will have an advocate working for you at every stage.
Knowing what the criminal process consist of can lessen the fear of the unknown. Although every case is different, all criminal cases must follow some of the same stages.
The first step in the criminal process is your arrest. You may be brought in on a warrant or you might be arrested on the spot for “probable cause”. What this means is that the officer making the arrest had sufficient reason to believe a crime had been committed and you were the person who committed it.
Upon your arrest you will be advised of your “Miranda Rights”. We have all heard these rights recited on television but sometimes don’t realize the importance of them. If a police officer fails to advise you of your rights at the time of arrest, your criminal charges might not hold up in court.
Typically, after your arrest the police will take you before a North Carolina Magistrate as soon as possible. The magistrate will advise you of the charges against you and some of your basic rights during the criminal process.
If you were arrested without a warrant, the magistrate will also review the circumstances of your arrest to ensure probable cause is present. If there is not sufficient probable cause, you will be released. If however, the magistrate agrees with the arresting officer, you may be detained until future criminal proceedings.
It is also at the first appearance in front of the magistrate that he will first address the issue of bail.
The issue of bail may be addressed at several points in the criminal court process. The magistrate and then the judge will take several things into consideration when determining if you are eligible for bail.
- The charges against you
- Your criminal history
- Ties to the community (employment, family, etc)
When determining if you are eligible for bail the main consideration is if you will return for future court dates. A judge will not release you if they believe you won’t come back.
As you attorney we can help show the court that you do not pose a “flight risk” increasing your chances of pre-trial release.
When your arraignment takes place depends largely on the type of charges you are facing. An arraignment is when you get an opportunity to enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest, stand mute).
With some less serious offenses you may be arraigned at your first appearance. More serious felonies, however, will be arraigned at a later date in the Superior Court.
Probable Cause Hearing
In some states this is referred to as the preliminary hearing. This is where your case goes before a judge to determine if sufficient probable cause exists to send your case to trial. Probable cause does not mean the judge will determine whether or not you committed the crime you are accused of, but rather, simply if there is a reasonable belief that you did.
You have the option of waiving your right to this hearing. You should always consult with your attorney before giving up any of your rights. We can help you determine if moving forward without a probable cause hearing would be in your best interests.
Waiting for your case to go to trial can be a long and agonizing process. Both the prosecution and defense will enter several motions during this time to ensure your case is handled in the best way.
These motions include time extensions (continuances), location changes (venue), and requests for the judge to rule on evidence.
When your day in court arrives, your nerves may be rattled but you may also feel a sense of relief that the day has finally come. Some trials are over in a few hours, while others last several days. Despite the fact that all trials are slightly different, the majority of them follow the same basic structure:
1. Opening Statements: Each side, beginning with the prosecution will have the opportunity to introduce their case to the judge and or jury.
2. Presentation of Evidence: The longest stage of the trial, this is where the prosecution attempts to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime you are charged with. Witnesses will be called and evidence presented by both sides.
The prosecution and defense take turns both in presenting evidence and questioning witnesses. This back and forth can go on indefinitely until both parties are satisfied.
3. Closing Arguments: Closing arguments are the last opportunity each side will have to address the jury and judge.
4. Judge’s Instructions to the Jury: Before the jury deliberates the case, the judge will instruct them of their legal duties.
5. Jury Deliberations: The jury will retire decide your fate. A jury’s decision must be unanimous.
6. Verdict: Once the jury has reached a decision, the judge will enter a verdict.
Once a guilty verdict has been reached, it is up to the judge with the help of North Carolina statutes to determine your sentence. Typically after the verdict is entered, the judge will set sentencing for a future date. See my criminal sentencing page for more information on sentencing procedures.