Criminal charges in North Carolina follow a normal, standard protocol in our courts and judicial system. A Bill of Indictment is an important legal pleading and one that merits careful review by criminal defense lawyers.
In addition to providing for a methodological approach to the administration of justice, consistency serves to ensure Equal Protection of Laws.
Due Process includes compliance with Chapter 15: Criminal Procedure and Chapter 15A: The North Carolina Criminal Procedure Act.
That Due Process also demands compliance with those legal protections afforded under the US Constitution, the NC Constitution, in addition to statutory protocols established by the Legislature.
It can make a difference whether the allegations are felony or misdemeanor charges, in that felonies are provided certain additional procedural safeguards given the substantial long-term consequences if convicted. Certain misdemeanors are subject to the indictment process if initiated in Superior Court.
Article 48 of the Criminal Procedure Act provides for Discovery in Superior Court. Despite what some in the community may refer to as Motion for Discovery, the law encourages voluntary compliance with the statute without the need for filing a formal motion.
Much to the surprise of many defendants facing criminal charges, and the great consternation of criminal defense lawyers, case law indicates, “There is generally no traditional right to discovery” for misdemeanor charges in District Criminal Court.
Another important distinction between a misdemeanor and felony charges involves the indictment process. For more information, see: What is an Indictment?
The importance of Indictments in North Carolina
In an October 2018 opinion by the NC Court of Appeals, a unanimous three-judge panel provides legal guidance on several important aspects of what is required in an indictment and even when indictments can be amended in North Carolina v. Hill.
Appellate courts review indictments for compliance with the law. Minor, technical violations normally survive challenges to errors. The sufficiency of an indictment in North Carolina is reviewed de novo, which means “anew.” As such, unlike challenges to Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause, there is not an abuse of discretion analysis.
Indictments are not required to be grammatically perfect or unreasonably exacting in form. The meaning of the allegations of criminal charges within an indictment is sufficient if “clearly apparent,” to such extent that a “person of common understanding” would be able to discern what is intended.
The purpose of an indictment is to apprise the Defendant of the accusations, thus allowing the defendant and legal counsel (defense attorneys) to prepare a defense and legal strategy.
As such, the indictment must be read as a whole, making certain the essential elements of the criminal charges are properly set forth and the allegations substantially follow the acts described and/or prohibited within Chapter 14: Criminal Law.
May the State amend an Indictment at Trial?
Substantial changes to an indictment are not allowed. Per N.C.G.S. § 15A-923(e), a Bill of Indictment in North Carolina may not be amended if such amendment would substantially alter the criminal charge complained of in the indictment.
The primary purpose of an indictment is to allow the Defendant to prepare for trial. As such, any review of a State’s Motion to Amend Indictment must include analysis of the 6th Amendment Right (protection). There are other purposes of indictments.
Words matter, as do the specific language used in an indictment. For example, as reviewed in North Carolina v. Hill the failure to use the word “assault” in an indictment for assault with deadly weapon charges is not a fatal error.
At the same time, the likely inadvertent omission of the word “bodily,” because it substantially changed whether a criminal charge was a felony or misdemeanor, assault inflicting serious injury (misdemeanor) vs. assault inflicting serious bodily injury (felony), the Court’s decision to allow the State to amend was found to be reversible error.
Bill Powers – Charlotte Criminal Defense Attorney
NBTA Board Certified Criminal Defense Specialist Bill Powers has more than 25 years courtroom experience and is available for legal consultation in serious felony charges including murder and manslaughter, sex crimes, and drug charges.
You may reach Bill Powers directly by email: Bill@342HELP.com