A felony in North Carolina is a serious charge. In the past, a felony was defined as a crime for which you could serve more than one year in prison as a punishment for the crime, but that has since changed. Today, the North Carolina Legislature determines what crimes are classified as felonies. Some crimes can be classified as either felonies or misdemeanors, such as larceny, , assault, and some drug possession charges, while other crimes, usually violent in nature can only be felonies.
Felonies in North Carolina include sex offenses such as rape and indecent liberties with a minor, robbery, kidnapping, murder, certain violent assaults, larceny, and certain drug crimes like possession, possession with intent to sell and deliver (PWISD), manufacturing, distribution, sale, or trafficking. One issue to be concerned about with these types of felonies is that enhanced sentencing comes into play, where repeat offenses can be punished more harshly. North Carolina has a version of a three strikes law, call a habitual offender that significantly increases penalties for felony convictions.
Felonies have additional consequences beyond prison or probation. If you are convicted of a felony, you may lose citizenship rights such as the loss of the right to vote and to hold public office. If you are not a US citizen and are on a green card or visa, a felony conviction can result in the denial of green card or visa renewal and denial of a citizenship request. In addition, convicted felons lose the right to carry a firearm.
The majority of felonies begin in district court, which is the lower level of two courts in the North Carolina state court system. Many are resolved in district court, but some are escalated to superior court. Felonies handled in district court are dealt with by dismissal, plea agreement, drug diversion program or deferral agreement. If none of these agreements can be reached in district court, the case is escalated to superior court. In superior court, a district attorney has the option to again revisit the options of dismissal, deferral, diversion or plea, but if this cannot be agreed upon, then the case will go to a jury trial. A jury trial in superior court can take as long as two years to be scheduled.
Jury trials are complex in that there are multiple phases: jury selection, the actual trial, and if found guilty, the sentencing phase. It is important if you are facing felony charges to find a criminal defense lawyer that has both felony and trial experience and is unafraid to go to trial. Some attorneys are less comfortable in a trial setting and would prefer to negotiate a plea offer, but you should seek the counsel of a criminal lawyer who can analyze the facts in your case, determine what defense strategy would be in your best interests, and if that means having a trial, taking your case to trial.