If you are facing criminal charges in Raleigh, North Carolina, it is important that you become familiar with the criminal court process, as it can be confusing and overwhelming. There are various rules involved in criminal proceedings, and whether your case goes to trial or not, it is important to understand them.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, your case will begin in District Court. Your first court date should have been given to you by a magistrate or judge at the time of your arrest. It is always a good idea to have decided on an attorney prior to coming to your first court date. Do not be late. The assistant district attorney will be conducting a roll call at the beginning of the court proceeding. If you miss your name, you may be arrested again on a failure to appear charge.
At the first court date, the judge will inquire as to whether you are requesting a court appointed attorney. If you have arrived with hired counsel, you will be asked to sign a waiver form giving up your rights to a court appointed attorney. Your hired attorney can then begin negotiating with the assistant district attorney, or gathering evidence in your case. You will not need to say anything at this point, and should sit quietly until your attorney is finished working. If called up before the judge for a continuance, your attorney should generally be the one talking.
Some felony charges will begin in District Court where your attorney will have the opportunity to negotiate with the assistant district attorney or to request a hearing challenging the probable cause for your arrest. The District Attorney’s Office will make a determination whether or not to indict your case to the Superior Court for further proceedings. There is no right to a jury trial while in District Court, but your case may be heard by a jury in Superior Court. If you have been found guilty of a misdemeanor by a District Court judge, you have an automatic right to appeal that misdemeanor decision to the Superior Court and request trial by jury.
If you have requested a trial by jury, 12 people will be selected to hear your case. This process is called voir dire and both sides will have an opportunity to strike potential jurors. The jury selection process can usually be accomplished in one day, but more serious felony cases can take much longer.
Before trial begins, the assistant district attorney and the defense can file pretrial motions to have certain evidence admitted or excluded from the proceedings. Questions of law like this are often conducted before the judge in the absence of the jury. The jury is there to listen to the facts of the case based on what the judge has determined is admissable for them to hear.
Trial begins with opening statements which contain the version of events that the attorneys feel will be presented at the trial. Essentially, opening statements are an outline of what each side expects to show. After opening statements, the assistant district attorney will present their case through direct examination of the State’s witnesses. The defense then cross-examines the prosecution witnesses, and the assistant district attorney can re-examine the witnesses. After the prosecution rests its case, the defense has the opportunity to motion for dismissal if they believe the State has failed to meet the elements of the crime.
If the judge denies the defense’s motion to dismiss, the defense has the opportunity to call witnesses of it’s own. It is important to note that the defense is under no obligation to do this. It is the State’s burden to prove the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense has no burden to prove anything. If the defense decides to call witnesses and present evidence, those witnesses will be subject to cross examination by the assistant district attorney, and the defense will not be allowed the last word during closing arguments.
Once the defense has finished presenting its case, the prosecutor is then allowed to offer evidence to rebut the defense witnesses. After all evidence is presented, the defense attorney and the assistant district attorney meet with the judge to determine a set of instructions on the law that will given to the jury. Both the prosecution and defense then make their closing arguments, and the jury is given the instructions.
The jury then deliberates to try and reach a verdict. The verdict must be unanimous with way. All 12 must agree on guilt or innocence. If the jury cannot agree, the jury is considered “hung” and the case may be retried by the State. If the jury reaches a verdict of guilt the case will proceed to the sentencing phase where the judge will hear fro both sides before determining an appropriate sentence under the law.
If you are facing criminal charges in Raleigh, North Carolina, it is imperative that you call a criminal defense attorney right away. An experienced criminal defense lawyer in Raleigh, North Carolina will help to explain these rules of court. For more information on criminal proceedings or your specific criminal charge in Raleigh, NC, please contact the Scharff Law Firm at (919) 457-1954 today!