Most criminal attorneys use the term “frequent flyer” for people who have many charges or are often in criminal court. This post is directed at non “frequent flyers”, those North Carolinians new to the justice system.
Being charged with a crime is scary and confusing to most people. This post seeks to pull back the curtain and give a rough overview of some terms used, people involved, and punishments faced for people who have been charged with a criminal offense in NC.
Felony vs Misdemeanors vs Infractions
Criminal laws in NC are labeled as felonies, misdemeanors or infractions when created by our elected officials. Most laws are created in Raleigh by our state government officials, but local counties and cities may also push local ordinances. The importance of what label applies comes down to the potential punishment.
An infraction would be the least serious offense and is not a true criminal matter. No jail time would be incurred, most likely a fine or community service. A misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction, with jail time becoming a possibility. The most serious offense would be classified as a felony. Felonies can include both violent and non-violent crimes. Higher fines could be imposed as well as steeper jail time sentencing.
If found guilty or one pleads guilty; the presiding judge must use a sentencing worksheet or guidelines to determine the appropriate punishment. Depending on your prior record and the type of crime, the judge will determine which box or grid you fall in. These guidelines are available online.
Different types of punishment
Most individuals facing low lying felonies or misdemeanors will not face automatic jail time. Instead probation and other conditions established by the judge will be the punishment. Simply put, probation is jail “hanging over your head” and you don’t need to serve that time if you do what the judge tells you. The judge will likely tell you to pay fines, go to classes (drug, domestic violence, parenting or other depending on the charge), community service, have no contact with involved persons, no visitation violations, among other items.
Otherwise you are looking at jail time.
The right to trial in a criminal matter is not necessarily what people expect. Most people don’t realize that with minor charges, only a bench (non-jury) trial with the judge preceding is allowed. Upon appeal of a misdemeanor charge or with all felonies, a jury trial is available.
Roughly half of inmates in NC are in prison for probation violations. This means after being found guilty or pleading guilty, they could forego jail time if they follow the restrictions and recommendations set forth by the judge. Unfortunately, most people cannot follow the conditions of probation. NC Probation laws are complex and many times when violated, part of the sentence may be activated, “pending” jail time may be terminated, or a short period of jail time may be activated.
The US Constitution requires defendants who are in poverty and cannot afford an attorney to have a court appointed counsel, also known as a public defender. Put simply being poor shouldn’t stop you from having representation. Normally defendants are against having public defenders and call them plea defenders or poor defenders. I will acknowledge some if not most public defenders are over worked and provide poor customer service. Even so, most public defenders are talented and able, thus, they know the system and how to get results. Feel free to use a public defender. Just be prepared for them to spend limited time on your case.
If you are in need of an attorney for a misdemeanor or felony, think of us! Give us a call at 3363100780 .