There are two main classes of crimes in North Carolina: misdemeanors and felonies. Felony crimes are divided into ten different categories (A, B1, B2, C-I) based on the seriousness of the offense. A Class I felony, the least serious type of felony, carries a maximum penalty of 15 months in jail. A Class A felony, the most serious type of felony, carries a maximum penalty of either life in prison or death. 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.
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 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 felony offenses include violent assaults, involuntary manslaughter, habitual driving while impaired, certain types of drug trafficking crimes, 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 sentences.
High-level 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 death by lethal injection.
Felony prosecutions begin in district court. Often, low-level felonies are resolved in district court through plea deals to reduced charges. Depending on your criminal record, you may even be eligible to participate in a community-service or substance-abuse counseling program that will result in dismissal of your case. If you are not able to resolve your case in district court, the prosecutor will submit your case to a grand jury. If the grand jury determines that there is probable cause to believe you have committed the felony offense, the grand jury will return a true bill of indictment, and your case will be transferred to superior court.
Once in superior court, you may be able to resolve your case through plea negotiations. You may also plead not guilty and request a jury trial. If you request a jury trial, your case will be tried before a jury of twelve randomly-selected members of the community, with a judge presiding. In every criminal trial, the burden is on the State to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds that the State has not met its burden, it may find you guilty of a less-serious charge or not guilty. If the jury does find you guilty, the judge will impose a sentence in your case ranging from probation to an active prison term. If you are convicted, you may appeal your conviction to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Felony charges require skilled and experienced legal representation. If the State does not have sufficient evidence to prove that you committed a felony offense, you may be entitled to a dismissal or a reduction in your charge. Similarly, if the State violated your civil rights during the investigation or prosecution of your case, a judge may suppress certain evidence in your case, meaning that the State cannot use the evidence against you at trial. Contact our office today for a consultation in your particular felony case.