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The North Carolina Felony Process

If youve been arrested for committing a felony in North Carolina, it will help you to learn about the North Carolina felony process.

The North Carolina state legislature creates the states criminal code. It defines what qualifies as a felony and sets the guidelines for sentencing. By understanding the rules that the legislature has established-and by hiring a knowledgeable North Carolina criminal lawyer-you can increase your chances of receiving a lighter sentence or potentially proving your innocence.

Types of North Carolina Felonies

A felony is a more serious crime against the state than a misdemeanor. Felonies typically entail more than a year in prison, hefty fines, or a combination of both.

Examples of a North Carolina felony include:

  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Arson
  • Robbery

In addition, North Carolina felony law breaks felonies down into subcategories. These subcategories are known as classes, and they range from the most serious class A to the least serious class J. For example, in North Carolina, felony class B will potentially get you life in prison while felony class G can get you a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Getting Arrested for a North Carolina Felony

For a police officer to arrest you for committing a felony, he or she has to have what is known as probable cause. Probable cause means the office has a reasonable belief that you committed a crime.

Taking into account probable cause, if a police officer spots you doing an illegal activity that constitutes a felony, he or she has the right to arrest you on the spot. However, if he or she does not spot you in the commission of a crime, then he or she must develop probable cause during a period known as the search.

The search can require a warrant from a judge, which gives the officer permission to search your property. However, there are numerous occasions where a search warrant is unnecessary. For example:

  • If an officer arrests you in a vehicle, the office has a right to search your vehicle without a warrant
  • If an officer arrests you, the officer has the right to search your person without a warrant
  • If an officer gets your permission to search something, then the officer does not need a warrant

Your Constitutional Rights

When you are arrested, you have several constitutional rights that apply.

First, you have the right to remain silent. This means you do not have to answer the police or an investigator's questions. The purpose of this right is to prevent you from saying something that may incriminate you.

You also have the right to an attorney. This means that you may make a phone call to contact your lawyer and to have your lawyer present during questioning.

Finally, if you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one for you. This kind of lawyer is known as a public defender.

The Arraignment

Within about three days of your arrest, you will be taken into court where the charges against you will be read aloud. You will then get the opportunity to enter your plea. This is known as the arraignment.

For your plea, you have several options. What option you choose will depend on the crime you are charged with, the circumstances surrounding the crime, your lawyers informed advice, and whether you have entered into a plea agreement. A plea agreement is when you and the prosecution, the party charged with proving your guilt, strike a deal where you plead guilty to reduced charges in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Your first option is a guilty plea. This means you admit to the crime.

The second option is a not guilty plea. This means you claim you didnt commit the crime.

Your third option is no contest. This plea does not admit guilt but also does not dispute the charges. It is often used if there is a related civil trial against you.

Finally, there is also the mute plea. If you use this plea, the court will enter a plea of not guilty. It is used if you wish to dispute the North Carolina felony process up to that point.

Setting Bail

After the arraignment, the judge will set bail. Bail is the amount of money you must pay if you wish to be released while pending trial. For more serious crimes, bail may not be an option.

The Trial

Under North Carolina felony law, you have the right to a jury trial. However, you may waive this right and opt for a bench trial where a judge will solely preside over your case.

If the jury finds you guilty, you will have only 14 days after the judgment to file an appeal.