To Fight For Your Rights
Who Decides Whether You Will Be Charged with a Crime: A Comprehensive Guide
At Powers Law Firm, we understand facing criminal charges can be a confusing and intimidating experience. That's why we're here to help guide you through the process and provide the support you need. In this article, we'll explore the decision-making process behind criminal charges and the key players involved.The Role of Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officers are often the first to encounter individuals who may have committed a crime. They investigate and gather evidence, then present their findings to the appropriate legal authority.
An arrest occurs when a law enforcement officer takes an individual into custody based on probable cause. A citation may also be issued for lesser offenses, requiring the individual to appear in court at a later date.Infractions
Depending on the severity of the crime, an individual may be charged with a felony, misdemeanor, or infraction. Infractions typically involve minor offenses that result in fines or other non-incarceration penalties.
An infraction is a type of noncriminal violation of the law. As such, infractions are not punishable by imprisonment (jail or prison). Rather than plead guilty, the party accused of an infraction pleads "responsible." In North Carolina, some traffic court matters are infractions.The District Attorney's Office: The Decision-Maker
The District Attorney's (DA) office plays a crucial role in determining whether charges will be filed. The DA's office reviews the evidence provided by law enforcement and decides whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution. The State carries the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.Factors Considered by the DA
The DA considers several factors when deciding whether to pursue charges:
- Strength of the evidence: The DA evaluates the evidence to determine if there is a likelihood of conviction, using the legal standard proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Severity of the offense: The DA considers the severity of the alleged crime and its impact on the community.
- Criminal history of the accused: The DA reviews the individual's criminal record, if any, to gauge their risk to society.
- Resources: The DA's office must prioritize cases based on available resources and may choose not to pursue cases with limited potential for success.
The DA has the discretion to decide whether to file charges, negotiate a plea agreement, or decline to prosecute. The DA’s decision may be influenced by the factors listed above and the unique circumstances of each case.Grand Jury: The Indictment Process
For North Carolina felony charges, a grand jury is used to determine whether there is enough evidence to prosecute an individual with a crime in Superior Court. To issue a True Bill of Indictment, the grand jury determines whether probable cause exists for the alleged crime. This anonymous group of citizens reviews the evidence and decides if an indictment is warranted.Grand Jury Proceedings
Grand jury proceedings are secret, and only the prosecutor, the grand jurors, and witnesses called to testify may be present. The accused and their attorney do not have a constitutional or statutory right to be present during these proceedings.Grand Jury Decisions
If the grand jury believes there is sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution, they will return a True Bill of Indictment. If not, they will issue a "Not a True Bill."
If you are facing criminal charges, it's essential to have a knowledgeable defense attorney on your side. They can:
- Review the evidence: Your attorney will evaluate the evidence against you and identify any weaknesses in the case.
- Negotiate with the prosecutor: Your attorney may negotiate with the DA to have charges reduced or dropped, or to reach a favorable plea agreement.
- Represent you in court: If your case goes to trial, your attorney will advocate for you and present your defense to the judge and/or jury, depending on the circumstances of the criminal charges.
The decision to charge an individual with a crime is a complex process involving law enforcement, the DA's office, and sometimes a grand jury. If you are facing criminal charges, we believe it's crucial to have a dedicated and experienced defense attorney on your side to help protect your rights and navigate the legal system. At Powers Law Firm, we are committed to providing the guidance and support you need during this challenging time.Frequently Asked Questions
To further assist you in understanding the charging process, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions.
Yes, charges can be dropped or dismissed after they have been filed. This can happen if the prosecutor decides there is insufficient evidence, witnesses become unavailable, or new evidence comes to light that exonerates the accused.
Misdemeanors are less severe crimes that typically result in lighter penalties, such as fines, community service, or short-term imprisonment.
In North Carolina, the maximum period of incarceration authorized for a misdemeanor is generally 150 days. One important exception involves misdemeanor DWI charges, which can carry a maximum sentence of up to three years (36 months) in prison.
Felony offenses are more serious crimes that usually result in harsher punishments, such as significant fines and long-term imprisonment.
The length of time it takes for a case to go to trial depends on several factors, including the complexity of the case, the availability of witnesses, criminal justice system caseloads, and the court's schedule. In some cases, it may take several months or even years for a case to be resolved.
There are several potential outcomes for a criminal trial, including:
- Acquittal: The accused is found not guilty and is released from custody (if the accused is in custody).
- Conviction: The accused is found guilty and may face penalties, such as imprisonment, fines, or probation.
- Mistrial: The trial ends without a verdict due to a hung jury or other procedural issues. The prosecutor may choose to retry the case.
Contact Powers Law Firm for Guidance and Legal Representation
If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, don't hesitate to reach out to the Powers Law Firm. Our team of dedicated attorneys is here to help guide you through the legal process, provide sound legal advice, and represent your best interests in court. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and discuss your case.The Importance of Legal Representation
Whether you are facing criminal charges, going to trial, or considering an appeal from District Court to Superior Court, having an experienced team of attorneys on your side can be crucial.
At the Powers Law Firm, our dedicated team will work to protect your rights, explore available options, and pursue a favorable outcome for your case. Don't face the complexities of the criminal justice system alone – reach out to Powers Law Firm for the support and representation you need.Expungement of Criminal Records
In some cases, individuals with a criminal history may be eligible for an expungement of their records. An expungement is also referred to as an expunction. If you are eligible, this process can help minimize the impact of past criminal convictions on your life and allow you to move forward with a clean slate.Expungement
Expungement is the legal process of removing a criminal conviction or arrest from your public record. Once a record is expunged, it is generally not accessible to the public, and you may legally state that you have not been arrested or convicted of the expunged offense.Eligibility for an Expunction
Eligibility for expungement of your record can vary depending on several factors, including:
Type of offense: Some offenses, such as violent crimes or sex offenses, may not be eligible for expungement or sealing. Unfortunately, DWI charges are not eligible for expunction in North Carolina.
Time since the conviction: You may be required to wait a certain period of time after the completion of your sentence before you are eligible for expungement or sealing.
Your age at the time of the conviction: North Carolina authorizes the expunction of certain offenses based on your age.The Process of Expungement
The process of expungement involves filing a petition with the court, obtaining a background record check from the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), and providing any required documentation. The expungement process is complicated and, therefore, having an experienced attorney guide you through the process can be very helpful.How the Powers Law Firm Can Help
At the Powers Law Firm, our team of dedicated attorneys is here to help you navigate the expungement process.
We understand the challenges that a criminal record can present and would like to help if you're eligible for an expunction. Contact us today to discuss your options and hopefully begin the journey toward a brighter future.What's the Difference Between a Bench Trial and Jury Trial?
A bench trial is a trial held in front of a judge without a jury. The judge will decide any questions of law, as well as the verdict. In essence, the Judge operates as both judge and jury. District Court criminal trials in North Carolina are bench trials. If you plead guilty or are found guilty after a trial, the District Court Judge also enters the judgment and imposes punishment.**
A jury trial involves a panel of jurors who hear the evidence and render a verdict based on that evidence. Jury selection begins with attorney(s) questioning potential jurors regarding their backgrounds and biases to determine if they would be fair and impartial.
Once the jury is empaneled, the trial proceeds in much the same way as a bench trial. Superior Court criminal trials in North Carolina are almost always jury trials, although the Constitutional and Statutory Right to a Jury Trial may be waived in certain circumstances.
At Powers Law Firm, we have extensive experience advocating for our clients inbench and jury trials. We utilize our knowledge of the law, experience with the court system, and our resources to thoroughly prepare for each trial.Is the Grand Jury Involved in a Guilty Plea or Trial?
The Grand Jury does not determine guilt or innocence and therefore is not involved in either a guilty plea or trial. The prosecution utilizes the Grand Jury to request an indictment in order to formally charge the defendant with a crime.
The Grand Jury reviews evidence and testimony to determine if there is probable cause that the accused committed the alleged offense. If they find probable cause, they will issue an indictment. In North Carolina, the Grand Jury proceedings are not open to the public.
At the Powers Law Firm we understand the Grand Jury process and how it affects criminal cases. We can explain what you can expect, provide advice on your best course of action, and help you navigate this critical stageUnderstanding the Appeals Process
After a conviction, in some instances, the defendant may have the right to appeal the decision.
An appeal is a request for a higher court to review the case and determine if any legal errors occurred during the trial that may have impacted the outcome.Grounds for Appeal
Common grounds for appeal include:
- Insufficient evidence: The appellant may argue that the evidence presented at trial was not enough to support a guilty verdict.
- Legal errors: This may include errors made by the judge, such as incorrect jury instructions or allowing inadmissible evidence.
The appeals process involves submitting written briefs to the appellate court outlining legal arguments as to why the conviction should be overturned or the sentence reduced. Time is of the essence.
The prosecution will ordinarily submit a brief defending the trial court's decision. In some cases, the appellate court may hold oral arguments, where attorneys for both sides present their arguments to the judges.Appellate Court Decisions
After reviewing the case, the appellate court can:
- Affirm the conviction: The court agrees with the trial court's decision, and the conviction stands.
- Reverse the conviction: The court finds that a significant legal error occurred and overturns the conviction.
- Remand the case: The court sends the case back to the trial court for further proceedings, such as a new trial or resentencing.
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**As part of the criminal justice process, both the State (the Assistant District Attorney) and the law enforcement agency officer may provide information to the Court (the Judge) during the sentencing hearing. That's true whether you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial.