The North Carolina Criminal Process
Raleigh Criminal Defense Lawyers Coming to Your Aid
If you've been arrested or are currently being investigated for a crime, facing the criminal process is a scary prospect. Even if it's not your first time, criminal procedure can be confusing, and the uncertainty adds to the apprehension you may feel from a potentially life-changing conviction and the resulting sentence.
Criminal Process in Raleigh
A knowledgeable Raleigh criminal defense attorney can represent and advise you throughout the criminal process. The lawyers at Clifford Law Group will fight to protect your rights. Our attorneys pride themselves on keeping clients fully informed throughout the process, letting them know all their options and the potential consequences of each. We will vigorously and zealously defend you.
Call us today at (919) 842-5461 or contact us on our online form for a free consultation to speak to our attorneys. We represent clients throughout Wake County, Durham County, Orange County and the surrounding areas, including Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
Investigation, Information & Indictment in Wake County
An investigation may begin with a complaint from the public, or a law enforcement officer may see something that triggers an investigation. Police gather relevant evidence. They have specific procedures and rights they must respect during this process.
After the police submit their investigation to the prosecutor, the prosecutor will decide whether to press charges. There are multiple ways to press charges. The prosecutor may present his or her findings to a grand jury, which is a panel of citizens. If the grand jury believes there is sufficient cause, they will return an indictment. In rare cases, the grand jury may charge a person without the prosecutor's urging. This is called a presentment.
In most case, though, the prosecutor will present what is called an information. The information is an accusation by the prosecutor and filed with the court that states the accusations of the court.
Upon receiving the indictment, presentment or information, the judge will sign a warrant for the suspect's arrest. The warrant gives the police the authority to arrest you wherever police find you. They may arrest you at your home or workplace.
If you are facing a complex legal matter, it is vital that you retain the immediate representation of Clifford Law Group. The right attorney may make all the difference in the outcome of your case. Make the smart choice – enlist the supportive assistance of our Raleigh natives today.
Raleigh Arrests or Citations
Most criminal proceedings, however, start with an arrest. The power to arrest may come from a warrant, but in most cases, an arrest occurs because the officer believes she or he has probable cause to believe the arrested person committed a crime.
If the alleged offense occurs in front of the officer, he or she can arrest the suspect on the spot. If it does not, the officer may arrest the suspect if he or she has probable cause to believe the suspect committed a felony, certain misdemeanors like shoplifting or DWI, or if the officer believes the suspect will not be apprehended again or may cause injury to himself or herself or others.
For some misdemeanors, police may issue a citation. The citation will instruct you to be in court at a certain time. Your attorney can usually represent you at that hearing.
Preliminary Hearings in North Carolina
The first appearance hearing is, as it sounds, the first time you will appear in a court. At the first appearance, you are told the charges you are facing, the potential penalties you might face if convicted, and advised of your rights, including the right to attorney. If you are still in custody, the judge may determine conditions of bail.
If the charge is a misdemeanor, the process then moves to pleading. If it is a felony, there is a probable cause hearing, unless the defendant waives it.
At a probable cause hearing, the prosecutor must show that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime. Probable cause means that the circumstances and evidence would lead a prudent and cautious person to believe that the events described are probably true. It is a much lower standard that beyond reasonable doubt, the standard required to convict a person. You may be represented at this hearing.
Pleading & Trial in Research Triangle Criminal Cases
If you choose to plead guilty or no contest, your Raleigh criminal defense lawyer will attempt to negotiate with the prosecutor for a plea bargain for a lighter sentence. Most judges accept such plea bargains. He or she may also seek to arrange for one of several pretrial diversion programs, which may allow the defendant to not serve time in jail.
If you choose to plead not guilty, your case will go to trial. Before the trial, there could be one or more pretrial hearings. At the pretrial hearings, your attorney may challenge the prosecution's evidence because of mistakes in police procedure or flaws in the evidence. If there is insufficient evidence, the judge may throw the case out.
Before trial, the jury is selected by a process called voir dire. The prosecutor and the defense attorney ask questions of potential jurors. Potential jurors who reveal they cannot follow the law because of biases are excused. After unqualified jurors are excused, each side gets a certain number - 6 or 14, depending on the charge - of peremptory challenges, for which they may dismiss any juror for any reason other than for the juror's race.
At trial, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. They must prove every element of the crime. Beyond a reasonable doubt is a difficult standard to meet, but prosecutors are able to do it every day.
The defense does not have to prove anything, but will challenge the prosecution's evidence and brings forth their own evidence that may show reasonable doubt. The defendant is not required to testify. He or she may choose to, but, in most cases, the defense attorney advises strongly against it.
After the evidence is presented and arguments are made, the jury will deliberate and return a verdict. If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant is free to go. If the verdict is guilty, the case proceeds to sentencing.
At the sentencing hearing, the judge will review the charges and determine a sentence based on North Carolina's structured sentencing system. The defendant begins serving his or her sentence, but may appeal the court's decision.
Expunction for Past Offenses
For some offenses, you may be able to expunge records of the offense. To expunge a record means to seal it from public view. It will not turn up in most background searches.
Certain juvenile records, records for first offenders under 21, and for certain misdemeanors and low-level felonies, typically ones that are nonviolent, may be expunged. Expunction is a complicated process. A criminal defense attorney can assist you.
If you were found not guilty, it is also possible to expunge arrest and trial records.
Wake County Criminal Defense Lawyer
The criminal process can be overwhelming, but you don't have to go it alone. The Raleigh criminal defense lawyers at Clifford Law Group can be at your side. We will advise you and represent you, keeping you informed on all your legal option.
Call us today at (919) 842-5461 or contact us on our online form for a consultation.