What is a Felony?
A crime can be categorized as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the value of the item in question (in the case of a theft) or the amount of injury or damage caused. Felonies are serious crimes. Historically, felonies were crimes for which you could be imprisoned for more than one year. Currently, the North Carolina Legislature determines whether a crime is a felony.
What Kind of Crimes are Felonies?
Violent felonies can be anything from First Degree Murder (the most serious crime in North Carolina) to Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon (Armed Robbery). Violent felonies also include rape, sexual assault, violent assault, attempted murder, manslaughter (a form of killing) and burglary. Other felonies include such crimes as drug trafficking, possession of drugs with intent to sell and deliver (PWISD), manufacturing of drugs, larceny, embezzlement, and obtaining property by false pretenses and other kinds of thefts, and breaking & entering.
Moreover, felonies can also be impacted by sentencing enhancement laws. These are laws that punish repeat offenses. For instance, North Carolina has a habitual felon law (three strikes) which increases the punishment for four or more felony convictions. North Carolina also has a less common violent habitual felon law, which imposes a life sentence for a second violent felony. In addition, North Carolina has a habitual assault law, which punishes multiple assaults more harshly.
A key difference between a felony conviction and a misdemeanor conviction is that a felony conviction will result in the loss of certain citizenship rights, including the right to vote and the right to hold public office. These rights are restored after prison or probation ends. In addition, a person who is a convicted felon can never again legally possess a firearm or ammunition for a firearm. A violation of this prohibition can result in a federal sentence of up to 10 years in for mere possession of something as small as a shotgun shell.
Overall, a felony conviction is a serious matter. If possible, you should hire a lawyer as quickly as possible if you believe you may be charged with a felony. Under no circumstances should you speak with police about the case without your lawyer present.
What is the Felony Process?
Most felonies begin in District Court in North Carolina. Many of them also end in District Court, either through dismissal, a felony diversion or felony drug diversion program, or a plea agreement.
A felony diversion or felony drug diversion program involves an agreement between the District Attorney and the defendant. The defendant agrees to complete certain kinds of treatment programs, stay out of trouble, pay back restitution (if the case involves theft or a property crime), and pay certain program costs. Usually there is a community service component involved.
Felony cases not resolved in District Court head to Superior Court. Felony cases never go to trial in District Court; they go to trial in Superior Court. A felony case will generally reach Superior Court in one of two ways: either a probable cause hearing is held and the judge finds there is enough evidence to charge the person with a felony; or the prosecutor convenes a grand jury – 18 citizens – who meet in a room in the District Attorney’s offices. The grand jury deliberates in secret, and nearly always issues a true bill of indictment. In Mecklenburg County, probable cause hearings are almost never held. Instead, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney uses the Grand Jury method to indict people.
An indictment is merely an accusation, which puts the case within the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. At that point, the District Attorney may make additional plea offers, which may be rejected or accepted by the defendant. Most felony cases never actually reach a trial. In many cases, the person eventually pleads guilty to either a felony, or a misdemeanor. In some cases, the charges are dismissed if the District Attorney is not able to proceed with prosecuting the case.