You’ve had heated words with someone. Maybe you said something you shouldn’t have said. Maybe it was said to a romantic partner or estranged spouse. Maybe it was a coworker—or your teenager.
Something turns up missing at work, at someone’s home, or even in your church. You may be the “prime suspect.” You’ve done nothing wrong, but another person firmly believes that you are the guilty party, even without proof or evidence.
Just because you haven’t been arrested doesn’t mean you’ve escaped a criminal charge.
If someone believes they have probable cause to file charges for a presumed wrongdoing, you can still find yourself on the wrong side of the law. If this happens, you’ve been criminally charged, and you need to pay attention.
A criminal summons is not much different than if you were taken to jail in a police car. Take this one seriously, because you can still end up in jail. Just like being arrested at the scene of a crime, you’ll need a criminal defense attorney to defend yourself.
How Could This Happen?
In North Carolina, if the police don’t have enough evidence or probable cause to make an arrest, a private citizen can initiate criminal charges against you by discussing the situation with a magistrate. The individual only has to provide sufficient information and probable cause to file charges. This option is not limited to law enforcement officers, so anyone really can do it, and file nearly any kind of minor criminal charges. While this is useful for things like domestic abuse threats, it may be enough to tell the magistrate that “s/he takes medication and talks to plants” to file charges. If the magistrate has enough believable evidence, you’ll be issued a criminal summons.
What Did You Say?
Particularly serious is the charge of “communicating threats,” where you can actually find yourself in more trouble than you would if you actually do assault someone. We don’t suggest hitting anyone, of course, but “communicating threats” is a very real charge and more serious than actual assault. Should someone take your comments seriously and file what’s called “citizen-initiated charges,” you’ll be served with a criminal summons with a court date. It’s one of the most common privately filed charges, where the individual can talk to a magistrate, and offer reasons for probable cause. The state doesn’t even need to have proof, just the opposing party’s word that you “communicated a threat.”
Magistrates will not issue citizen-initiated felony charges, only misdemeanors. But even if you’re not guilty, you should not ignore a criminal summons for a misdemeanor. It is, and can become, a big problem if you ignore it.
Defend Yourself (With A Criminal Defense Attorney)
Just like being arrested, you have the right to your own defense. Even if the charges are baseless and unproven, you can still find yourself going to jail as a result. Misdemeanors are “small potatoes” in court, but a conviction can cause you additional problems later, like denials for employment, housing, and other important things. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you defend yourself in court, handle your case and possibly have the charges dismissed. Don’t try to defend yourself, on your own, because you could find yourself with additional charges—or going to jail.
Do Not Miss Your Court Date!
Even if someone has filed frivolous charges with malicious intent, you must not miss the court date. If you do, you’ll be “called and failed,” and the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest. Once arrested, you’ll have to post bond to get out, you’ll still have a court date, and you’ll still need an attorney to defend you. There are few legitimate excuses for missing a court date, so just don’t.
You Have The Right To Legal Counsel—Use It
Dewey P. Brinkley is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Wake County, and a former Wake County prosecutor. Contact our Raleigh law office today at (919) 832-0307 for a free consultation. He will discuss your case with you and will aggressively fight to help you clear your name.