Common Questions and Helpful Answers About NC Criminal and DWI Charges
It is natural to have many questions and concerns when charged with a crime in North Carolina. These charges can have serious consequences and long-lasting effects on those charged with their families, so they need reliable answers quickly. Here, Todd Browning and Howard Long share their answers to many of these tough questions. Find out their thoughts on DWI, traffic charges, and many other crimes.
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What happens if I miss my court date for a criminal offense?
When you are charged with committing a crime, you may be released after paying bail while your case is pending. As a condition of your release, you agree to attend all required court hearings in your criminal case. This is something that you are already legally required to do. If you break this promise and fail to attend a court hearing, the consequences can be harsh. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you to reduce the penalties that you could face.
What Could Happen to You If You Miss a Court Hearing?
If you fail to appear at your court hearing, this is taken seriously in North Carolina no matter the seriousness of the crime that you are being charged with committing. The judge will mark your case with a failure to appear (FTA). He could also order the following:
- Bench warrant. The judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. This is more likely for a misdemeanor or felony offense, but is also possible if you are required to go to court for a traffic violation. If the charges are serious, the police may actively look for you to arrest you, including going to your home or job. If you are charged with a less serious offense, you may not be arrested unless you are stopped for a traffic violation and the police check the computer records and see that a bench warrant was issued.
- Bail bond. You could have your bail revoked and be required to remain in jail until your case goes to trial. In addition, you could forfeit the original bond that you paid to be released when you were arrested initially.
- Separate criminal charge. You could be charged with contempt of court or another separate crime for missing your court hearing and face an additional punishment if convicted.
- Harsher sentence. If you are convicted of a crime or enter into a plea agreement, the judge will decide your sentence and can consider your remorse, or lack of it, in making his decision. Many judges consider failing to appear at a court hearing as a sign of lack of remorse or of disrespect for the court. This could result in the judge imposing a harsher sentence.
- Driver’s license suspension. Another consequence of failing to appear in court is that your driver’s license could be suspended. If you miss a hearing in traffic court, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest and notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) of the warrant. The DMV could send you a letter giving you two months to resolve your ticket before your driver’s license is suspended. If you wait too long after that to resolve your ticket, you could find your options for doing so with the prosecuting attorney are limited.
What Can You Do If You Miss a Court Hearing?
You may not have wanted to miss your court hearing, but did due to an accident, a medical emergency, or another legitimate reason. Even if you do not have a good excuse, you can take proactive measures if you miss your court hearing to reduce the negative consequences. Here are actions that you can take:
- Go to the Clerk’s office immediately to explain why you missed your court hearing.
- Ask that the court hearing be rescheduled. This request may—or may not—be granted.
- Obtain documentation of the reason for missing court when possible. For example, get a letter from your treating physician if a medical emergency caused you to miss a court hearing.
- Contact your criminal defense attorney who may be able to get the arrest warrant dismissed and your court hearing date rescheduled.
Have you missed a court date? We urge you to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you minimize the potential consequences that you face. To discuss your situation, call our office or fill out our online form to schedule your free consultation today.
What is a no contest (“nolo contendere”) plea and how does it differ from other pleas in criminal cases in North Carolina?
If you are charged with a crime in North Carolina, you will have to decide what plea to enter to the charges. How you plead can have important consequences both in your criminal case and life in general because a conviction will result in you having a permanent criminal record. One option that some people choose when entering into a plea agreement or entering a plea other than a plea of not guilty is to plead no contest—also referred to as nolo contendere—instead of guilty. Here, we explain what a no contest plea is and the benefits of entering this plea.
What Is a No-Contest Plea?
You have several choices of pleas that you can enter in your criminal case. These include the following:
- Not guilty
- No contest
- Alford plea
In many criminal cases, a person will start out by pleading not guilty and then change his plea to guilty later if he enters into a plea agreement.
Depending on your situation, it could be in your best interest to not plead guilty and instead enter a no contest plea or an Alford plea when resolving your case. A no-contest plea in North Carolina is a plea where a person does not admit or dispute the charges against him and has the same effect as a guilty plea in terms of sentencing. However, a person is not admitting legal responsibility for the incident.
What would be the benefit of pleading no contest instead of guilty? Important advantages to this plea include:
- If you plead no contest, your plea cannot be used against you in a civil action filed by any victim who suffered injuries due to your actions. This is the biggest advantage of this plea and can be important if you caused a car accident resulting in a person’s injury or death, injured someone in an assault, or shot someone. In contrast, if you pled guilty, your plea could be used against you as an admission of fault in a civil case and increase the likelihood that you will owe compensation to the victim.
- You avoid the attorney fees associated with taking your criminal case to trial.
- If you are entering this plea as part of a plea agreement, the charges against you and the sentence you face may be reduced.
Another Option: An Alford Plea
While not all states allow people to enter an Alford plea, you are permitted to do so in North Carolina. If you enter this plea, you are maintaining your innocence but are admitting that the state has sufficient evidence to convict you and agree to accept the punishment. Unlike a no contest plea, you are essentially pleading guilty while still maintaining your innocence. This plea may seem contradictory, but it was ruled permissible by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1970 in a criminal case in our state, North Carolina vs. Alford.
Like a plea of no contest, an Alford plea may be beneficial if you believe that you face civil liability as well as criminal charges, as your plea may not be allowed to be used against you in the civil case. You must obtain the approval of the prosecutor and judge to enter into a no contest or Alford plea.
How Should You Decide Which Plea Is Right for You?
You should never decide on entering a plea without first consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advise you on what the best option is. This is especially true when you are considering a no contest or Alford plea to avoid civil liability. In addition, your attorney may be able to raise defenses to the charges—even if you know that you are guilty—that could result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense.
If you are a suspect or have been charged with a crime, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC are here to help you build a strong defense to the charges you face. Call our office today to schedule a free consultation to learn how our experiences as former prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys can be beneficial to you.