Felonies are the most serious crimes that are prosecuted in North Carolina. Prosecutors and law enforcement officers work hard to seek felony convictions. North Carolina felonies are divided into 10 different categories (A, B1, B2, C-I), based on the facts involved and the seriousness of the offense. All North Carolina felonies are crimes punishable by more than one year in prison. For instance, a class I felony, the least serious type of felony, carries a maximum penalty of 24 months in jail. A class A felony, the most serious type offense, carries a maximum penalty of either life in prison or the death penalty. The final outcome in any particular felony case depends on the individual facts of the case, the defendant’s criminal record and any agreements that the defendant enters into with the district attorney’s office.
Felony convictions can result in disastrous consequences, and may result in substantial jail sentences and the loss of civil liberties, including the right to vote or possess any kind of firearm. At Hale Law Firm, PC, can defend you. For a free consultation, call 919-838-0058.
Not all felonies carry mandatory jail time. Many property-related crimes, such as felony larceny, embezzlement and obtaining property by false pretenses are low-level class H or class I felonies for which a defendant can receive probation. Certain drug offenses, such as possession or small sales of controlled substances, are also considered low-level felonies. Often, a probationary sentence for these offenses carries special conditions such as house arrest, jail weekends, community service or substance abuse counseling.
Some mid-level felonies also carry the possibility of intensive probation, depending on the defendant’s criminal record. Examples of mid-level class E, class F, or class G felony offenses include violent assaults, involuntary manslaughter, habitual driving while impaired, common law robbery, and some sexual assaults. However, a conviction for a mid-level felony offense could result in a lengthy prison sentence, and some drug trafficking crimes carry mandatory minimum jail sentences.
High-level class A, class B1 or B2, class C, and class D felonies include violent crimes such as arson, burglary, armed robbery, voluntary manslaughter and murder. Many of the highest-level felonies involve sexual violence, such as statutory or forcible rape. Certain drug trafficking offenses are also considered high-level felonies and carry very high mandatory minimum sentences. Conviction of a high-level felony could result in decades in prison or, in a case of first-degree murder, a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty.
How Felony Offenses Are Handled In Wake County, North Carolina
Felony prosecutions begin, of course, with law enforcement officers who commence investigations. In North Carolina, persons charged with felony offenses have a right to a jury trial. However, except in rare circumstances, felony prosecutions begin in district court. Under North Carolina law, a defendant has the right to a probable cause hearing in district court. At such a hearing, prosecutors are required to present evidence sufficient to demonstrate to a district court judge, that there is probable cause to believe a felony was committed, and that the defendant committed it. However, in Wake County, probable cause hearings are very rare. Rather that presenting evidence, which would be subject to cross-examination, prosecutors generally either offer a plea to a lesser criminal offense or sentence, or they move to continue the case in order to seek an indictment. Thus, when felonies are first set in district court in Wake County, it is unlikely there will be any hearing. Rather, the hearing will be treated as an administrative one. Usually district court hearings for felony cases occur in Courtroom 301 in the Wake County Justice Center.
Felony cases are screened by experienced prosecutors. Many low-level felonies can be resolved in district court through either a reduction in charges or with a favorable agreement as to sentence, or via some sort of deferred prosecution agreement that may allow for dismissal of charges if the defendant completes the terms of any agreement reached. Depending on the defendant’s criminal record, it may be to participate in a community service or substance abuse counseling program that will result in dismissal of the case. Felony charges that are not resolved in Wake County District Court, will usually be submitted to a grand jury.
When criminal offenses are presented to a Wake County Grand Jury, only a law enforcement explains to the grand jury why the accused committed a criminal offense. Unlike the procedure under federal law, there is neither a prosecutor nor a court reporter in the room. Accordingly, information and statements made to a grand jury are not disclosed to the defendant facing the charges. Only a law enforcement officer explains to the grand jurors how the evidence uncovered during the investigation establishes that a crime was committed and done so by the accused. By contrast, in federal court, a prosecutor presents evidence to a grand jury, a court reporter is present, and evidence presented before a grand jury is usually disclosed to a defendant before trial.
If the grand jury determines that there is probable cause to believe that a felony offense was committed by the defendant, the grand jury will return a true bill of indictment, and the case will be transferred to Superior Court.
Once in Superior Court, the case may still be able to be resolved through plea negotiations. Or, a “not guilty” plea may be entered, and a jury trial requested. At a such trial for a felony criminal offense, 12 randomly selected members of the community will find the facts of the case and the presiding judge will determine the applicable law.
In every criminal trial, the burden is on the state to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds that the state has not met that high burden, it must not convict and also return a verdict of “not guilty.” Most convictions in North Carolina Superior Court may be appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
North Carolina Felonies May Be Prosecuted By The Federal Government
Many North Carolina felonies also qualify as felonies under federal law, including drug crimes, weapons offenses, child pornography, and other cases that have a federal nexus, or involve interstate criminal activity. Often serious crimes are initially prosecuted in state court, but are later assumed by the federal government. Usually, the federal government selects only the most serious crimes to prosecute in federal court. All federal felonies are punishable by more than one year in prison. Many federal sentences are much more severe than state sentences, for the very same criminal offense. For that reason and others, it is extremely important consider and determine whether the federal government is or may be interested in assuming the prosecution of the case. Resolving a state criminal offense, only to have it picked up by the federal government can be disastrous. In fact, defendants can be prosecuted in both jurisdictions for the same criminal offenses. Under those circumstances, consecutive state and federal sentences may be mandatory under federal law. It is crucial to hire an attorney who is very experienced in the representation of both state and federal criminal cases.
An Experienced Attorney Is A Must
Felony charges in Wake County require skilled and experienced legal representation. Felony prosectors are generally the most experienced attorneys in the District Attorney’s Office. Likewise, the law enforcement officers and detectives who investigate the most serious crimes are among the most experienced in the police department. It is important to hire an experienced attorney who can fight back, protect a defendant’s civil rights, and successfully defend felony prosecutions.
Free Consultation — Contact A Lawyer
Call Hale Law Firm, PC, in Raleigh, North Carolina, at 919-838-0058 or contact us online for a free consultation regarding representation in felony cases in Wake County, NC, or in federal court.