Criminal Procedure in North Carolina

If you've been accused of a crime in North Carolina, here's some useful information about the process you should expect.

Getting Arrested in North Carolina

Before officers can arrest you, they must be reasonably sure you committed a crime. In general, this means they need to see you commit the crime, have an arrest warrant, or have other probable cause. Arresting officers also must be sure you understand your Miranda rights, the two most important being:

  • the right to remain silent
  • the right to an attorney.

After your arrest, you'll be taken to the police station. Officers will fingerprint you, photograph you, and confiscate your personal belongings. This procedure is called booking.

Making Bail

For the most part, as long as you haven't been charged with murder, North Carolina law requires that you be released on your own recognizance. When this happens, you don't have to pay bail. You must only sign a promise that you'll show up in court at a later time. If you're not released on your own recognizance, either a magistrate -- which is a judicial official -- or a judge will usually decide your bail within 48 hours of your arrest. You may either pay the bail yourself or contract with a bondsman to post a surety bond for you. Bondsmen usually charge from 10 to 15 percent of the bail total.


At your arraignment, a judge will formally tell you about the complaint against you. If you're charged with a misdemeanor, you can then enter your plea. If you're charged with a felony, the judge still reads the charges, but you can't enter a plea. If the state decides to pursue the case, you'll have a second arraignment in circuit court and you can make your plea at that time. In general, you will either plead guilty, admitting to the crime, or not guilty. A not guilty plea does not mean you're claiming innocence. It just means that you're not admitting to having committed the crime.

Plea Bargaining

Very few criminal cases make it to trial. Most are resolved when the defendant and the prosecutor make a deal called a plea bargain. In this deal, you plead guilty to the crime, but it's often a lesser charge with a lighter sentence than the original.

Indictment by a Grand Jury

If you're accused of a felony, you'll have a felony probable cause hearing in district court. If the court rules that the evidence against you is sufficient, a grand jury will then evaluate the evidence and formally charge you or dismiss the charges.

Going to Trial

If your case does go to trial, the prosecutor and your lawyer will alternate presenting evidence and questioning witnesses, including cross-examining each other's witnesses. If you're found guilty of a misdemeanor, the judge may sentence you immediately. With felonies, the judge typically sets a new court date for your sentencing.

Hire a Criminal Lawyer

This is only a brief overview of the criminal process in North Carolina. It may not cover the details of your case. It's a good idea to assert your right to legal counsel as soon as possible after being arrested.

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