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How Does a Criminal Case in North Carolina End?

When people come to consult with an attorney at Welch and Avery about a pending criminal charge, the thing they are often really concerned about is the ultimate outcome of the case.  There is a range of potential ways that to resolve a criminal case.  Which options might be applicable will depend on the type of case involved and the particular facts and circumstances of that case.  To help better explain what potential outcome can result from any criminal case in North Carolina, we’re going to take a look at a variety of the potential outcomes available.

Please keep in mind that the outcomes we discuss here are possible in a general sense, but that doesn’t mean they are possible, or even likely, in your particular case. This is why it’s so important that if you are ever confronted with a criminal case in North Carolina that you speak with an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at how a criminal case in North Carolina can come to an end.

Investigation, no Charges

Not every investigation results in charges being filed.  There are many cases where the police investigate a suspicion of criminal activity and determine either that no crime has taken place or that there is insufficient evidence to take out charges.  Sometimes individuals will go to a magistrate to seek a criminal warrant against somebody and the magistrate declines to find probable cause to issue the warrant.  Finally, the prosecutors may advise law enforcement not to press charges because the State has elected not to pursue a matter.

In each of these circumstances, there has been some sort of event that led to the suspicion that the law has been broken.  And in each of these cases, the result was that no charges were filed and no case was brought to court.  This outcome is one that manifests itself at the earliest possible stage of the criminal process.  There are times when a good criminal lawyer can get involved at such an early stage of the process and can help bring about a favorable outcome such as this one.

Criminal Case in North Carolina Filed but Later Dismissed by the Prosecutor

Once a criminal charge has been filed, only the prosecutor has the power to dismiss the case.  However, their discretion to choose this course of action is very broad.  A District Attorney has the power to dismiss virtually any criminal case in North Carolina for virtually any reason.  This is commonly known as “dropping the charges”.  There can be many reasons why charges might be dropped.  Sometimes the prosecutor may feel that there is not enough evidence to take the case to trial.  In other cases, the alleged victim may request that the case be dismissed and the DA agrees.  Sometimes a witness or victim recants their story, or the DA may decide to drop a case simply “in the interest of justice”.

In addition, there are programs available for certain defendants that can allow them to obtain a dismissal of the charges.  First offenders can participate in a program such as Deferred Prosecution which allows them to have the case against them dismissed in exchange for fulfilling certain conditions.  Defendants charged with possession of drugs can sometimes seek a dismissal of charges through a similar option called a “90-96 judgment”.

When the State dismisses a case the person charged is deemed to be not guilty of the offense.  This is generally treated the same as if they had gone to trial and been acquitted, and the reason why the case has been dropped is usually not indicated in the records.

Charges Dismissed by the Court

It is fairly rare for the court to dismiss a criminal case in North Carolina, but this is another possible outcome.  While the District Attorney has the power to decide which cases to prosecute and which to dismiss, a court can sometimes dismiss a case as well.

Sometimes a motion can be filed by a defendant seeking to force the charges to be dismissed on some legal grounds.  If the judge agreed with the defendant and granted the motion it could lead to the dismissal of the case.  In even more rare situations a court might dismiss a case on its own initiative.

Generally, these scenarios arise when there is a serious question about criminal procedure and the facts and circumstances of the case.  You would need to consult with a criminal defense lawyer to determine if such an outcome is likely in your case.  There are other possible outcomes for a criminal case that we will look at more closely in our next blog post on this topic.

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