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State Criminal Charges

The State Criminal Judicial Process

Arnold & Smith, PLLC attorneys have extensive experience advocating at both the State and Federal level. The judicial process varies significantly depending on where your case is tried, and often the Government will have a choice of prosecuting your case in either State or Federal Court. For example, if you are caught with an illegal drug such as marijuana, you could be prosecuted at the State level for possession of marijuana. However, depending on the circumstances (such as the amount of the drug, the presence of a significant amount of cash, or the presence of a weapon), the Federal Government has the discretion to prosecute you in Federal Court, perhaps even for Drug Trafficking.

State Criminal Cases

If you have been charged with a criminal offense at the State level, our attorneys will explain the entire process to you and make sure that you have a full understanding of what you are up against. You may find it beneficial to review the following information to get a better idea of the process.

Sentencing

A conviction of a misdemeanor in North Carolina could carry along with it a term of up to 150 days in jail as well as a $1,000 fine. The amount of punishment for a conviction depends primarily on two factors: the level of the misdemeanor, which is defined in the state statutes, and one’s criminal history. The more severe a crime and a longer criminal history report will garner harsher sentences.

The state legislature has divided misdemeanors into four levels: Class A1, Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. Class A1 convictions for crimes such as Assault on a Female are classified the highest and carry the greatest amount of punishment, while Class 3 misdemeanors such as Vandalism, are classified the lowest and carry the least amount of punishment.

Additionally, a court will look at one’s criminal history in determining the appropriate sentence. North Carolina has created a tiered system for determining a person’s criminal history level for misdemeanors ranging from Level I to Level III. If a defendant has never been convicted of an offense, he or she would fall into Level I. One, two, three, or four prior convictions would result in a Level II classification, and five or more convictions would necessitate a Level III classification.

It is important to note that a defendant will receive one conviction “point” for all cases and/or charges resolved on the same day in district court, or in the same week in superior court. This means that if a defendant has three charges resolved in the same day, he or she will be deemed to have only one prior conviction for purposes of setting the criminal history level. Preserving a low criminal history status will also be helpful if a defendant is again convicted of a crime, thus keeping open the opportunity for a lower sentence. This aspect of North Carolina’s criminal judicial process highlights the importance of obtaining experienced legal counsel.

Below is a helpful chart outlining the possible sentences based on a defendant’s misdemeanor class and prior conviction level for offenses committed between December 1, 1995 and before December 1, 2013. In addition to monetary fines, three other sentences are also possible following a misdemeanor conviction: Community Punishment (C), Intermediate Punishment (I), and Active Punishment (A). A sentence of Community Punishment may include, but is not limited to, supervised or unsupervised probation, house arrest with a monitoring device, restitution, and community service. Intermediate Punishment requires a sentence of supervised probation in addition to the possibility of jail, house arrest, community service, and restitution. And finally, an Active Punishment requires confinement in a jail or state prison.

PRIOR CONVICTION LEVELS
MISDEMEANOR
CLASS
LEVEL ILEVEL IILEVEL III
No Prior ConvictionsOne to Four Prior ConvictionsFive or More Prior Convictions
A1 (fine discretionary)1-60 days C/I/A1-75 days C/I/A1-150 days C/I/A
1 (fine discretionary)1-45 days C1-45 days C/I/A1-120 days C/I/A
2 ($1,000 max fine)1-30 days C1-45 days C/I1-60 days C/I/A
3 ($200 max fine)1-10 days C1-15 days C/I1-20 days C/I/A.

Below is a helpful chart outlining the possible sentences based on a defendant’s misdemeanor class and prior conviction level for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2013.

PRIOR CONVICTION LEVELS
MISDEMEANOR
CLASS
LEVEL ILEVEL IILEVEL III
No Prior ConvictionsOne to Four Prior ConvictionsFive or More Prior Convictions
A1 (fine discretionary)1-60 days C/I/A1-75 days C/I/A1-150 days C/I/A
1 (fine discretionary)1-45 days C1-45 days C/I/A1-120 days C/I/A
2 ($1,000 max fine)1-30 days C1-45 days C/I1-60 days C/I/A
3 ($200 max fine)1-10 days C*
Fine only
(1-3 Priors)* (4+ Priors)
1-15 Days C 1-15 days C/I
1-20 days C/I/A.

*: Unless the offense for which a person is convicted states specifically to the contrary, the maximum punishment for conviction of a Class 3 misdemeanor, if the person has 3 or less prior convictions for the same offense, shall only be a monetary fine.

  1. The Arrest. Like any criminal offense, the case against you begins with an arrest and a formal charge.

  2. First Appearance. Next, you will be required to make your First Appearance at an initial hearing where the Court will advise you of your charges, the penalties you face, and your right to an attorney. Depending on the type of charge you are facing, your attorney may be able to make this appearance on your behalf; this is assuming you have already obtained counsel.

  3. Negotiations. As the case materializes, your attorney will most likely meet with the prosecutor, officers, and witnesses, to advocate and negotiate to have your case resolved before it even gets to court. For misdemeanor offenses, cases are often resolved through dismissal or plea agreements at this stage.

  4. The Trial. If the outcome of negotiations does not satisfy you, your attorney will be ready to go to court and fight for an acquittal. The burden of proof is on the Government to prove beyond a reasonable that you are guilty, and a judge will make the determination whether they have succeeded.

Felonies:

Your case will begin in a lower Court:

  1. The Arrest. Like any criminal offense, the case against you begins with an arrest and a formal charge.

  2. First Appearance. Next, you will be required to make your First Appearance at an initial hearing where the Court will advise you of your charges, the penalties you face, and your right to an attorney.

  3. Discovery. Preliminary Settings, or discovery, follow your initial hearing. At this point, the Government continues to prepare its case against you, while your attorney gathers evidence and develops defenses to build a powerful response to the Government.

  4. Negotiations. As the case materializes, your attorney will most likely meet with the prosecutor to negotiate and try to get your case resolved before it even gets to court.

  5. First Challenges. If negotiations do not reach a desirable outcome, your attorney will most likely request a chance to make a pre-trial challenge of the Government’s case against you. This often entails cross-examining the Government’s witnesses, reviewing the evidence, and challenging whether the officer had probable cause to make the arrest.

  6. Grand Jury. If the Court determines that the arresting officer did have probable cause to arrest, a Grand Jury will review the case and make a determination of whether the case should go to trial.

If the Grand Jury decides there is enough evidence, you will have the chance to fight at Trial.

  1. The Arraignment. Your attorney will be by your side as you enter your plea of Not Guilty.

  2. Pre-trial Motions. At this point, your attorney will employ a variety of techniques and tactics, often in the form of specific Motions, to attack the Government’s case before trial and seek every possible advantage. Meanwhile, the firm will continue to investigate and develop evidence to support your case.

  3. Jury Trial. Throughout the entire process you will have the opportunity to discuss your chances of winning at trial with your attorney. Your attorney will give you an honest, straightforward analysis and ensure that you are completely informed of your options. If you decide you want to fight the case at trial, your attorney will head to court and fiercely advocate on your behalf.

  4. The Sentencing. In the event a jury finds you guilty, the fight is not over. Your attorney will continue to advocate at your sentencing hearing to ensure that the Court’s judgment is as lenient as possible.