The Criminal Court Process in North Carolina

Charlotte Criminal Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?”


The criminal court process can be difficult to understand. If you have never been charged with a crime, or even if you have, it can be difficult to determine what the next step should be. However, if you are facing a criminal charge in North Carolina, it is important to know what to expect and the steps that will occur throughout the case. There are two types of criminal charges in North Carolina — misdemeanor and felony charges. Each charge has a different process through the North Carolina criminal court system.


Gavel-Charlotte-Monroe-Lake-Norman-Criminal-Defense-Lawyer-300x200Misdemeanor Charges


If you have been charged with a misdemeanor in North Carolina, the following are the steps you can expect.


  • Arrest and Charges: First and foremost, you will likely be arrested and formally read the charges against you.
  • First Appearance: A first appearance is the initial hearing of your case. At this hearing, you will be read the charges against you, be told the maximum punishment that the crime carries, and your right to counsel.
  • Pre-Trial Negotiation: The defense discusses with the prosecutor the possibility of reducing the charges, dismissing the charges, and trying to come to an agreement to avoid trial.
  • Trial: If no settlement is reached, the case goes to trial. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the elements of the crime charges. After both sides present their case, the judge will make a ruling.


Felony Charges


Since felony charges often carry harsher consequences, the criminal court process is different. Charges can be brought in higher and lower courts in North Carolina. Lower court proceedings are similar to the misdemeanor charge process with a few additional steps:


  • Probable Cause Hearing: If a settlement, or plea bargain, can not be reached, there will be a probable cause hearing. At this hearing, the prosecution’s evidence is challenged by cross examining the witnesses who have been called upon to testify against the defense.
  • Grand Jury: The judge will convene a Grand Jury if a plea bargain is still not reached. The Grand Jury will examine the evidence and decide if the defendant should be indicted.


If the Grand Jury hands down an indictment, then the case goes to the higher courts in North Carolina for trial. The trial process is as follows:


  • Arraignment: The defendant is required to be present so that s/he can plead guilty or not guilty.
  • Motions and Settlement Conference: Each side will likely present motions to the judge to suppress evidence, change the venue of the trial, or other necessary legal motions. Also during this time is more time for evidence gathering and the potential to reach a settlement with prosecution.
  • Trial: If no agreement can be reached, the case finally reaches the trial. At trial, both sides can prevent evidence, bring witnesses, and rebut the other side’s evidence.
  • Sentencing: This step only occurs with a finding of guilt. Even if there was a guilty verdict, your attorney will fight for the lowest possible sentence.


If you have been charged with a crime in North Carolina, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our attorneys are here for you at every phase of the trial. Contact us today for a consultation. If you find yourself facing criminal charges and need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe (by appointment only until 2019), please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.








The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.





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