Like most misdemeanors, felonies almost always begin in District Court. Here, most felonies are resolved either through the dismissal of charges, a diversion program, or a plea deal. Normally, the case is continued several times in district court while the Prosecutor gathers evidence and negotiates with the Defense Attorney on what options the Prosecutor is willing to offer; normally a deferral program or plea deal. If agreement cannot be reached, the case will be moved to Superior court.
A felony can reach Superior court if the Prosecutor indicts the Defendant. An indictment is where the State brings in a Grand Jury to hear evidence on the case. The Grand Jury will deliberate and if they find enough evidence to indict the Defendant, they return what is called a True Bill of Indictment.
At Superior Court, the Prosecutor will likely make additional attempts to plead out the case. If no agreement can be reached between the Prosecutor and the Defendant, then the case will go to trial. In Superior Court, the case is almost always heard in front of a jury. The jury will be used to make a determination of whether the Defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds the Defendant guilty, the Judge will issue the sentence.
Once charged with a felony, there are several things that will happen. Once the Defendant is arrested, he or she will receive a first appearance, where the charges will be read to the Defendant, their right to counsel will be explained, and the Magistrate may set a bond for them. Next the Defendant will have a Bond Hearing where a District Court Judge will make a determination as to what bond, if any, needs to be set.
Most felonies can be divided into three common types: property crimes, drug crimes, and assault crimes.
Felony property crimes include obtaining property by false pretenses, larceny, fraud, forgery and embezzlement. Normally included in sentencing for these crimes is some kind of restitution where the stolen property is returned or paid for.
Felony drug crimes include possession with the intent to sell or deliver, maintaining a dwelling or car for the purpose of possession or delivery of drugs, possession of cocaine or methamphetamine, and drug trafficking.
Felony assault crimes include assault with the intent to kill, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery assault on a female, sexual assaults, and homicide crimes.
For sentencing, each crime is assessed a class (A, B1, B2, C, D, E, F, G, H, or I) that will then be compared to the Defendant’s prior criminal record, to determine the sentence level (1-7). Though all felonies in North Carolina carry the potential of imprisonment for more than one year, there are felonies that, with a Defendant with little or no previous criminal record, can avoid a jail sentence of that length.
There are three different types of felony sentences: active sentence, intermediate sentence, and community sentence. First sentencing type is a community punishment. The Defendant is assigned some form of community service, required to pay restitution when appropriate, and either supervised or unsupervised probation. Should the Defendant violate the probation, they risk activating their jail sentence. Unsupervised probation is a period of time where the Defendant must not get into any legal trouble or risk activating their suspended jail sentence. Supervised probation is where the Defendant is assigned a probation officer and must meet with the officer regularly.
An Intermediate Sentence is where the Defendant will be given both a period of time on probation as well as an amount of time in jail; commonly referred to as a ‘split sentence.’
An Active Sentence is where the Defendant is assigned a number of months in jail.