Upcoming changes to the way bond is set, and the pretrial release process, have captured the attention of criminal defense lawyers in North Carolina.
Who will now set the terms and conditions of pretrial release, particularly in relation to DWI (Driving While Impaired) cases, and the process of determining release from jail, will be significantly different in the near future.
This initiative, known as the “Pretrial Integrity Act,” brings about marked changes in how bonds are determined and outlines who has the authority to establish the terms and conditions for release from custody for certain criminal charges in North Carolina.
Some people charged with more than one DWI, or other serious criminal charges in North Carolina, will be taken aback to learn that they may be waiting a few days in jail for bond conditions to be set- Bill Powers, DWI Attorney
Understanding the New Criminal Law in NC
The new legislation, which becomes effective October 1, 2023, designates that certain offenses necessitate a Judge’s attention rather than a Magistrate’s.
Traditionally, except for Domestic Violence charges in NC, a Magistrate would often determine the release conditions, including setting a bond amount.
The advantage of such a process is that Magistrates can assess the charge details and set bonds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
That’s not true for District Court Judge and/or Superior Court Judges in North Carolina, who hold sessions of court as directed by NC law.
The new bond law in NC will also require the judge to obtain criminal history documentation and a risk evaluation of the accused in certain circumstances.
A Magistrate is authorized rule on the issue a bond and release terms after a “48 Hour Hold” period concludes, assuming a Judge is unavailable to rule prior to the expiration of that time period.
It’s crucial to note that changes to N.C.G.S. §15A-533 and §15A-534 affect defendants accused of impaired driving who face more than one pending DWI charge.
Regarding DWI charges, if an individual is detained for a new offense while already on pretrial release for a separate impaired driving charge, a judge will now determine th
e pretrial release conditions instead of a magistrate.
What is the Impact on DWI Charges?
North Carolina’s tough DWI laws are no secret.
For decades, the NC DWI laws have seen ever-increasing penalties and changes to procedural protocols that are somewhat unique to impaired driving charges and are not necessarily applicable to other, more serious criminal charges.
The revised bond process intentionally broadens the necessity of a judge, rather than a magistrate, affecting some DWI defendants in a substantial fashion.
Here’s the gist: If an individual faces new charges apart from a DWI while already on pretrial release for another, unrelated DWI case, they are thrust into a complex predicament.
Such criminal defendants could experience a custody duration of up to 48 hours, unable to secure release until a district court judge defines their pretrial release terms—a considerable deviation from past standards.
The Pretrial Integrity Act: Is it fair?
The “Pretrial Integrity Act” will most certainly change the timing and processes of setting bond and conditions of release.
Extended Detention Time: A potential 48-hour detention will be problematic in certain circumstances. If arrested during weekends or holidays when courts are not open, individuals will not have the ability to post bond. Only after the expiration of 48 hours may a Magistrate set a bond and terms and conditions of release.
DWI-specific Inclusion: Defendants accused of certain misdemeanor DWI charges could, as a practical matter, remain incarcerated longer than some people charged with felony offenses, including things such as Simple Possession of Cocaine, PWISD Possession with Intent to Sell or Deliver Marijuana, both of which are felony criminal charges in North Carolina.
Strain on the Legal System: The underlying motive may be to ensure certain serious felony chargfes or those with more than one pending DWI charge in NC. Requiring a judge to rule in court, rather than a Magistrate located at the jail (intake center) will stress the legal system, increasing the number of court appearances requiring the presence of the accused, prosecutors, Clerks of Court, and defense counsel for bond hearings, adding to the number of cases already on the docket.
DWI Defense Lawyers in Charlotte NC
For a DWI defense attorney in Charlotte, who represents clients in a jurisdiction already overwhelmed by a significant backlog due to COVID-19, the new bail/bond and pretrial release protocols raise concerns.
The primary objective of criminal lawyers is to safeguard clients’ rights.
The potential 48-hour waiting time will have a significant negative effect on clients facing certain classes of criminal charges, adversely affecting their employment and family responsibilities to a significant extent – Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charlotte NC
Furthermore, given judges manage the new specific bail terms, which necessitates a formal court appearance, DWI lawyers and prosecutors will need to be available for hearings that previously were not required.
This will require court time, which in Mecklenburg County, is problematic at best.
What does the new Bond Law Cover?
The “Pretrial Integrity Act” covers certain serious felony criminal charges in NC, including but not limited to:
- Murder – First Degree and Second Degree
- Attempted First Degree Murder
- Rape (First and Second Degree) Charges
- Sex Offenses (First and Second Degree)
- Human Trafficking
- Arson – First Degree
- Burglary– First Degree
- RWDW – Robbery with a Firearm/Dangerous Weapon
Costs of Detention
As a general rule, detentions increase costs to local counties and municipalities.
Housing prisoners for days at a time will impose a tremendous financial strain on the Mecklenburg County Detention Center and the resources of the jail in Charlotte NC.
On the state level, legal costs associated with appointed legal counsel may rise, especially if representation is required during bond hearings scheduled before a Judge, not a Magistrate.
Policy Issues: What would help?
While not presently in the pipeline at the General Assembly in Raleigh, there are certain things that could be done to mitigate problem areas:
Streamlined Process: Ensuring judge availability, especially during weekends and holidays, could prevent undue delays. Currently, in Mecklenburg County and other judicial districts in North Carolina, this isn’t an option. Magistrates usually oversee matters outside regular working hours.
Case-by-Case Consideration: A more nuanced approach considering the new offense in light of the previous one could offer a more focused risk assessment, rather than applying a “one size fits all” approach without considering the specifics of the allegations.
Increased Resources: Adequate resources, in terms of manpower and infrastructure, can ensure smooth operations and avoid unnecessary holdups.
Educating the Public: Informing the public about these changes can help individuals make informed decisions, potentially avoiding scenarios leading to additional arrests during pretrial release.
Powers Law Firm – Charlotte DWI Lawyers
Criminal laws mirror society’s evolving standards and principles. While they aim to maintain order and safety, continuous revision ensures justice.
The latest bail and bond modifications in North Carolina signify this evolution.
As we progress, proactive engagement and information for all stakeholders, from defense attorneys to the public, is paramount.
Together, we can embrace these shifts, prioritizing justice in all our judicial activities.
What is DWI in North Carolina?
While many use DUI to describe Driving Under the Influence, North Carolina prefers DWI or “drunk driving” per N.C.G.S. 20-138.1, the NC DWI Law.
Impaired driving is illegal if the blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or more. Hence, North Carolina prohibits driving under the influence of any impairing substance.
Bill Powers, a seasoned DWI attorney in Charlotte NC, enjoys helping clients,
Part of our job is to explain the specifics of DWI charges. We want to make sure you understand what you face and how the process works – Bill Powers, DWI Lawyer in Charlotte NC
If you or a loved one faces a DWI charge or related legal matter in Mecklenburg County, the team at Powers Law Firm is here to help. Please contact our office for assistance.
Helpful Information about Criminal Charges
- What you need to know about Drug Charges
- FAQs about Criminal Charges in North Carolina
- What is Probable Cause?
- What happens if I miss court?
- Can I get my record cleared? Expungements in NC
- Understanding the Wiretapping Laws & Your Rights
- Sobriety Tests: What You Need to Know
- How the Police Conduct a Criminal Investigation BEFORE AN ARREST
- Discovery & Criminal Charges: It’s Not Always a Right in North Carolina
- Domestic Violence Charges in NC
- What is DUI in North Carolina?