What do I do if I’ve been charged with a criminal offense or a traffic infraction?
What are my rights under the US Constitution and North Carolina Law?
What will happen to me if I get convicted of a crime?
If you are currently asking yourself any of these questions, you need an attorney to answer them for you and to protect your legal and constitutional rights in court.
There are three types of offenses in North Carolina: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. These are handled by the court system in different ways.
Infractions: These are the least serious offenses and include things like speeding and seatbelt tickets. Original jurisdiction of these cases in North Carolina is in District Court where the case is heard before a judge of the District Court. The District Attorney prosecutes the case and the judge makes the decision as to whether or not you are responsible. If you are found responsible, you have the right of appeal to Superior Court where the judge acts as the impartial arbiter between the State and the defense and the jury makes the determination of whether or not you are responsible. It is extremely rare for infractions to make it to a jury trial. Infractions can, however be serious. Some of them can result in the revocation of your driver’s license if you don’t pay them:
Open Container in Passenger Area
Fail to Stop at Stop Sign/Red Light
Fail to Secure Load
Get enough convictions for infractions and your driver’s license will be revoked for accumulating too many points. The most common reason for revocation of a driver’s license in North Carolina is failure to pay court costs and fines. Don’t just let that court date go by. Hire an attorney who can potentially get your infraction dismissed or reduced.
Misdemeanors: These are the second most serious type of criminal offense in North
Carolina. Misdemeanors include things such as:
Possession of Marijuana up to ½ oz
Possession of drug paraphernalia
Intoxicated and Disruptive
Operate Vehicle without Insurance
Speeding tickets over a certain speed
Misdemeanor Larceny (theft of items with a value of less than $2,000).
Original jurisdiction in misdemeanor cases in North Carolina is in the District Court. The District Attorney prosecutes the case, your attorney presents evidence on your behalf and the judge makes the determination of guilt or innocence. You have an absolute right to appeal any decision of the District Court in a criminal matter to the Superior Court and have the case heard by a jury of your peers. Misdemeanor offenses do show up on criminal records and can prevent you from getting a job where the employer performs a background check on potential employees. Conviction of certain misdemeanors can result in the loss of a job, the loss of your driving privileges or depending on your prior record level can lead to jail time.
Felonies: These are the most serious types of criminal offenses in North Carolina. Felonies encompass a wide range of offenses from possession of a small amount of cocaine or heroin all the way to premeditated murder. Some other types of felony offenses are:
Assault with a deadly weapon
Breaking and entering
Felony Larceny (theft of property with a value greater than $2,000)
Robbery with a dangerous weapon
Original jurisdiction of felony cases in North Carolina is in the Superior Court. You cannot be tried on a felony without having first been indicted by a grand jury which hears evidence on behalf of only the State. After indictment, if you are charged with a felony, the case goes to Superior Court where you are prosecuted by the District Attorney’s office and defended by defense counsel. The judge acts as an impartial arbiter between the parties, he or she does not make the determination of guilt. The jury determines whether or not you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the judge passes sentence if you are convicted. If you are convicted you have the right to appeal that conviction to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Trials in Superior Court are highly technical and very scripted affairs. Rarely would any judge or attorney recommend that a private citizen attempt to try his or her own case in Superior Court. Neither the judge nor the District Attorney can or will give you legal advice of any kind. Do not go to court without an attorney and counselor to help you navigate this complex process, someone who knows your rights and will defend them to the best of his ability. If you are convicted of a felony, you lose important rights such as your right to vote and your right to own a firearm. A felony conviction makes it much less likely that employers will hire you. It is also a certainty that conviction of a felony will result in some kind of jail time or probationary sentence.
Driving While Impaired:
Driving While Impaired (DWI) is its own specific area of law. It is governed by the North Carolina motor vehicle law. Some attorneys specialize almost exclusively in DWI cases. DWI is based on whether or not you have consumed enough of an impairing substance (usually alcohol) that it affects your ability to operate any of the following:
A car, truck or SUV
A moped or scooter
A lawn mower
On a street, highway or parking lot connected to a street or highway in North Carolina. Original jurisdiction in DWI cases is in the District Court with an automatic right of appeal to Superior Court. The law says that if you have a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .08 or greater, that creates a presumption of impairment. Rarely do District Court judges or juries acquit people of DWI if the State can prove .08 or greater. But there are highly technical requirements that the State must meet in order to prove that alcohol concentration. An officer’s violation of your constitutional rights in stopping your car, interrogating you, arresting you, or administering the breath test to you can result in the suppression of the evidence the State wishes to present against you or an outright dismissal of the charges against you. If you are convicted of Driving While Impaired it WILL result in the immediate revocation of your license to drive, a fine and cost of court, a requirement that you perform community service, a drastic increase in your auto insurance rate or your loss of insurance entirely. Do NOT go to court alone. Know your rights, know your options and know that you have an experienced attorney on your side!