"Criminal law matters...frequently asked questions."
Posted by Valerie Hunter, Hunter & Hein, Attorneys at Law, PLLC, 6/10/15
Are traffic tickets really criminal offenses?
Yes. Traffic tickets are either infractions or misdemeanors. Depending on the charge, by paying a traffic ticket, you may be pleading guilty to a criminal misdemeanor. A guilty plea will not only add points to your license and your insurance, but it will go on your driving record, and your criminal record. Although traffic tickets don’t often have a great impact on your criminal record, they can have an impact on sentencing if you are ever charged with, and convicted of, a crime in the future.
Am I going to get jail time for my offense?
NC has sentencing guidelines for both misdemeanor and felony offenses. The potential punishment for offenses varies based on the class of the offense and your prior record level. The sentencing guidelines for felony offenses are found in N.C.G.S. § 15A-1340.17. The misdemeanor sentencing guidelines can be found in N.C.G.S. § 15A-1340.23.
What is my “prior record level?”
Your prior record level plays a part in determining your potential punishment range for an offense. The more convictions you have, the higher your prior record level, and the more severe the potential punishment. For misdemeanor offenses, if you have no prior convictions, you are a prior record level one; if you have one to four convictions, you are a prior record level two; and if you have five or more convictions, you are a prior record level three. For felony offenses, your prior record level will depend on the class of felony you were convicted of, and how many points were assigned to your conviction by the court. You can find the point values for the various levels of felony offenses in N.C.G.S. § 15A-1340.14.
What’s the difference between a charge and a conviction?
When you are charged with a criminal offense, you have been accused of committing an illegal act. You may be charged at the time of an arrest if a police officer observes you committing a criminal offense or a private citizen may go to the magistrate and swear out a private warrant for charges to be filed against you. Once charges have been filed against you, a court date will be assigned. On your court date, you may plead guilty to the charge, enter into a diversionary program, take other steps (such as mediation) to resolve or dispose of a charge, or have a trial disputing the legitimacy of the charge.
When you are convicted of a criminal offense, this means you have been found to be guilty of committing the offense with which you were charged. This typically occurs either by a guilty plea or by a guilty verdict at trial. A conviction increases your prior record level for sentencing purposes on future convictions.
What happens if I miss my court date?
Different counties and different judges handle missed court dates differently. If you are unsure of whether you must appear in court, your safest option is to assume that you do. In some cases, an Order for Arrest is issued when you miss your court date. This means that if you get pulled over, stopped at a check-point or even have an accident, and a police officer runs your name, you will be arrested. Other times, only a Failure to Appear (FTA) will be entered, which assesses an additional $200 fee to any court costs and fines you are ordered to pay upon disposition of your case. Receiving a FTA in certain situations may result in your driver’s license being suspended.
There are certain offenses which are “waive-able offenses” for which you can waiver your appearance and an attorney can appear on your behalf. But you should make sure to ask your attorney whether you can waive your appearance for your specific charge and make sure you have filled out all appropriate paperwork to do so.
How do I get out of jail if I don’t have the money to post bond/bail?
If you can’t post bond, you will want to try to contact your attorney to ask that they add you on for a bond hearing. At a bond hearing, your attorney will ask a judge that your bond amount be lowered or, preferably, unsecured. An unsecured bond means that you will be released from jail without paying anything; but if you miss your next court date, the full amount of your bond will become due.
Another option is to see a bail bondsman, who may offer to allow you to pay a reduced amount in exchange for them securing the amount of your bond. This option allows you to pay less up front, but if you miss your court date, you will have a bail bondsman looking for you, because he then becomes liable for your full bond amount unless he brings you back to court.
Can I remove prior charges and convictions from my record?
Yes, North Carolina allows for the expungement of certain convictions and for charges that are dismissed or not resulting in conviction. Article 5 of N.C.G.S. Chapter 15A and N.C.G.S. Chapter 7B contain the statutes covering the majority of expungement opportunities in North Carolina. For more information, view our blog which answers frequently asked questions about expungements in NC.
When facing criminal or traffic charges, it is important to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Know your rights. We can help. Call us today at 704-412-1442. Our criminal and traffic lawyers frequently represent citizens facing criminal and traffic charges in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties, North Carolina.
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