WHAT IS A FELONY?
In North Carolina, the statutes will generally state whether or not a crime is a felony or misdemeanor.
A felony charge is a very serious matter and it is recommended that you contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to discuss your options. A felony conviction can result in loss of rights such as the ability to own a firearm, hold public office, and the right to vote. Also, a felony conviction will greatly impair your ability to seek and hold gainful employment.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS IF I AM CHARGED WITH A FELONY?
The felony judicial process is much more lengthy than the misdemeanor process.
After the initial arrest and processing, your initial bond will be set. In some cases, a judge may refuse to set bond. It is recommended that you contact an attorney either way to discuss your options.
Next comes the First Appearance. You are required to attend this hearing. This usually occurs in District Court. You will be advised of the charges against you and the maximum possible punishment for the charges. You will also be advised of your right to an attorney and whether or not you want to request a public defender. If you request a public defender you must meet certain low income and low asset requirements to have your request accepted by the Judge. If you wish to hire your own attorney or the Judge denies your request, you will have to sign a waiver of counsel.
There may be additional court dates following the First Appearance that preliminary in nature. This is called the Discovery Phase of the process. This is your opportunity to gather information to defend the charges against you. The State is required to provide you with the evidence it has against you, even evidence that tends to show your innocence.
During the discovery phase there will be Pre-Trial Negotiations that your attorney will be undertaking with the District Attorney in your case.
PROBABLE CAUSE HEARING
The next formal hearing is the Probable Cause Hearing. This is a setting that is required by law where a Judge formally determines whether or not there is probable cause. This is a lower evidentiary standard than required to convict you. All the judge must determine is that the crime was “probably” committed and that you “probably” committed it. This is the first opportunity to cross-examine the State’s witnesses against you and determine the strength of the Prosecutor’s case.
In reality, the Probable Cause hearing is simply a formality in Wake County. State law only requires a “setting” for a Probably Cause hearing which is basically just an additional court date. Actual evidentiary hearings are very rare in Wake County. The way the Probable Cause hearing is conducted varies by County.
The Probable Cause hearing is a step in the felony process that should be discussed with your attorney. The hearing can be a very useful step in defending your charge by determining the strength of the evidence against you. It is also a very strategic time in your case. Given the sheer amount of felony cases existing in the County where you are charged it is likely that this is the first time a the Prosecutor has actually studied the nature of the charges against you. It is likely that your attorney, upon demanding an evidentiary hearing, could sufficiently cross-examine the State’s witnesses (if they are even present) to convince the Judge that no Probable Cause exists in the case against you. At this point the charge could be dismissed. However, the Prosecutor need only present the case to a Grand Jury where an indictment would be issued against you and you would be subject to a new arrest warrant (and also a new bail).
You should discuss carefully your options with your attorney in how to best handle your Probably Cause hearing.
Should the Judge determine there is Probable Cause in your charge, the case will be sent before a Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is a non-evidentiary hearing where neither you as the defendant nor your attorney will be allowed to attend. You may be called to testify before a Grand Jury but your attorney may not be present in the hearing. If the prosecutor convinces the Grand Jury that Probable Cause exists in your charge, the Grand Jury will return an indictment.
At the Arraignment, the charges against you will be read to you and you will be required enter a plea.
The time following the Arraignment is more critical time for you and your attorney to gather evidence to defend your case as well as discussing settlement options with the Prosecutor.
It is always YOUR decision whether or not to take a matter to trial. Should no settlement or plea deal be acceptable in your case, trial will be inevitable. I counsel all of my clients to be prepared for trial as we have been gathering evidence and potential witnesses to defend the charges against you throughout the judicial process.
Sentencing follows a guilty verdict by jury or a plea of guilty through the negotiation process. A felony conviction does not always mean active prison time. The Judge often has many options available for sentencing purposes. I will fight for you to receive the lowest possible sentence and be with you throughout the process.
A felony charge is a very serious matter and generally requires the assistance of a Criminal Defense attorney. If you wish to discuss your charge, give me a call at (919) 586-7072 ANYTIME day, night, weekend, or holiday. There is no charge for an initial consultation where we can discuss in confidence the nature of the charges against you and your options.