If you have been charged with a felony in North Carolina, you will face a lengthy process. You will have several court dates. One such court date – the probable cause court date – is the subject of this blog.
The probable cause court date is generally a part of the criminal judicial process for felony charges. This hearing occurs toward the beginning of a case. Generally, a felony criminal defense client will have a first appearance, a bond hearing, and then the probable cause hearing. At this hearing, the defendant has an opportunity to require the state to prove that there is probable cause for the defendant to be charged with the crime that he or she has been charged with.
Probable cause in this regard refers to whether there is probable cause for you to be charged with a crime. It is the state’s burden of proof, but the standard of proof is extremely low. The state must essentially show that there are some facts to support the charge.
You can waive probable cause on this day, and your case will continue to move through the criminal judicial system. If you do not waive, you will either have a hearing in front of a judge, or your case will be sent up to the grand jury for indictment.
Should you choose not to waive probable cause, some counties will allow for a hearing in front of a judge on your probable cause court date. If the judge finds probable cause, the case will continue to move through the criminal justice system and will eventually make its way up to Superior Court. If the judge does not find probable cause (which is rare because the burden is so incredibly low), your case will be dismissed.
Grand Jury Indictment
Grand Jury Indictment is the third manner in which your case will progress through the criminal judicial system with regard to probable cause. Sometimes your case will be sent up to a Grand Jury for indictment. In North Carolina, a Grand Jury consists of 12-18 randomly-chosen residents of the county in which the criminal defendant has been charged. Again, remember that the probable cause standard is very low. Just because you are indicted does not mean that there is necessarily much evidence against you.
Some counties, such as Mecklenburg County, utilize Grand Juries rather than the bench hearing discussed (see Probable Cause Hearing). At your Mecklenburg County probable cause hearing, you will have the option to choose whether or not you wish to waive probable cause. Your criminal defense lawyer will help you make this decision. If you waive probable cause on this date, your case will continue to move through the criminal justice system. If you do not waive, your case will be temporarily dismissed. It will then go up to the grand jury for indictment. If a grand jury finds probable cause, they will formally indict you, and your case will continue to move through the criminal justice system. Please note that sometimes, prosecutors will not give you the option to waive probable cause. Rather, your case will automatically be sent up to the Grand Jury for indictment.
If you have been charged with a crime in North Carolina or South Carolina, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney to understand your options. Gilles Law has criminal defense lawyers licensed in both North Carolina and South Carolina, practicing both State criminal defense and Federal criminal defense.