Almost all North Carolina Misdemeanor Cases begin in district court. For some counties, these cases start in ‘Disposition Court,’ while other counties will simply begin misdemeanor cases in regular district court. Disposition Court is a court where the District Attorneys try to resolve those cases which can be quickly disposed of, normally by a guilty plea. There are no trials in Disposition Court, so either the case will be plead out or continued to another date. If the case does end up going to trial, it will be set in regular district court.
Normally, misdemeanor cases will take between 1 and 4 months to resolve depending on how they are handled. In most instances, the State will offer the Defendant a plea deal or in instances of first-time offenders, offer a deferral agreement. In those particular instances, it can take less time to resolve the case. If, however, the case is for trial or the Defendant is trying to obtain a better deal, the case may take longer.
A plea deal is where the State asks the Defendant to plead guilty to a lesser crime, or a fewer number of charges, in exchange for the Defendant giving up his or her right to a trial. A deferral agreement is where the the State and/or Judge sets certain requirements that must be met during a set period of time, 6 or 12 months. The requirements normally include community service, restitution (paying the victim for damages), and perhaps classes like anger management or substance abuse assessments. Additionally, during that period, the Defendant can not receive any other charges or the agreement may be voided and he or she will be required to come back to court and face the original charges. If the Defendant completes all the requirements and stays out of legal trouble during the allotted time period, the original charge will be dropped.
In instances where the facts are not strong for the State, and the Defendant wants to have a trial, the case will take more time. Normally, each side is permitted several ‘continuances’ before the judge will mark the case as ‘last.’ A continuance is where either the District Attorney or the Defendant asks the court to set a new court date for the case, normally 4 to 6 weeks out. When the judge marks the case as ‘last,’ that means that at the next court date the judge expects both parties to be prepared to resolve the case, whether that means having the trial, accepting a plea deal, or having the charges dismissed. The good news is, the longer the case drags out, the better it normally is for the Defendant. If several months have passed from the date of the alleged offense, the memory of the State’s witnesses will not be as strong as they would be if the case was tried within a month of the alleged crime. Additionally, it could also mean that a State’s witness has moved, or the police officer has relocated or retired. In these instances, the State will have a harder time proving their case.
If the Defendant is found not guilty by the judge in District court, that will be the end of the case against the Defendant for these charges. The State does not have the right to appeal a not guilty verdict to Superior court.
If the Defendant is found guilty, he or she has an automatic right to appeal their case to Superior court. In North Carolina, everyone has a right to a jury trial for misdemeanor or felony charges. Therefore, if you are found guilty in District Court you have a right to appeal to Superior court. The appeal is “de novo” meaning the Superior case is “new” and tried with no regards to what occurred or what was heard during the district court trial. Obviously, an appeal will take longer then just a couple of months to ultimately resolve the case.
The number of misdemeanor crimes are too numerous to list. However, below provides a list of the more common non-traffic misdemeanor charges North Carolina Courts receive.
- Simple Assault
- Assault on a Female
- Injury to Real Property
- Simple Possession of Marijuana (up to one and a half ounces)
- Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
- Larceny (normally for items totaling in value less then $1000)
- Underage Drinking
All North Carolina Misdemeanors are assigned one of 4 class levels: 1A, 1, 2, or 3. Class 1A is the most serious misdemeanor crime in North Carolina where a class 3 is the least severe. Additionally, when determining the sentence of a Defendant convicted of a misdemeanor, the Judge will consider the Defendant’s prior record. The prior record will determine whether the Defendant is a level 1, level 2, or level 3. Level 1 is for those with no prior convictions and is the least serious. A level 2 is for Defendants with 1 to 4 prior convictions, and level 3 is for five or more prior convictions.
Once a Defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor they face the sentencing phase of their case. During a sentencing hearing, the District Attorney will present the evidence in the case as well as any aggravating (bad) factors about the case the DA feels is important. Additionally, the DA will give the Judge the sentencing level of the crime(s) in question as well as the Defendant’s prior criminal record. These two factors are used by the Judge to determine what range to sentence the Defendant.
Additionally, the Defendant’s criminal defense attorney will be permitted to present mitigating (good) facts in order to try and persuade the judge to sentence the Defendant in the lower area of the sentencing range.
In order to determine what sentence your North Carolina Misdemeanor Charge can carry, speak with North Carolina Criminal Lawyer M. Moseley Matheson regarding your case, call him anytime at 919-335-5291 for your consultation. He is prepared to assist you with your Wake County Misdemeanor Charge.