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What is Criminal Procedure in North Carolina?

Person handcuffed

A lot of our clients have questions about criminal procedure in North Carolina, and how it affects their case. Questions of criminal procedure are often complicated, involving not only specific laws, but state and federal court decisions as well. In general, however, having a basic understanding of what criminal procedure is, and how it can affect your case, is always a good idea if you are facing criminal charges in Jacksonville, North Carolina, one of the surrounding counties or even in Federal Court.

What is Criminal Procedure in North Carolina?

In a criminal case, there are generally two aspects.  The first part is the substantive law, meaning those parts of the case that are concerned with the actual facts and evidence and the law that is alleged to have been broken.  The second part is the procedural aspect.  Criminal procedure refers to the rules that the police must follow in their investigation, the way that evidence is collected, stored and used, and the rules that the govern how the case moves through the courts.

To properly defend a criminal case it is necessary to consider both the substantive and procedural sides of the case, because a good defense can involve one or both sides of that equation.  Most Constitutional protections fall within the concept of criminal procedure.  One way to look at criminal procedure is to view it as the set of rules that restrict how the government uses its power and how citizens are able to protect their rights if they have to go to court.

What is the Difference Between and Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure in North Carolina?

Every aspect of a case is governed by criminal procedure rules.  If the government fails to follow the proper procedures there can be serious consequences for their effort to prosecute the crime charged.

Criminal procedure in North Carolina limits the ways that the police can investigate a crime, and even who can be investigated, to begin with.  For example, the police cannot simply pull over any car that they want to search.  The law says that they have to have a “reasonable suspicion” that a law is being broken.  So if a driver is stopped without a good reason the law might call for their case to be dismissed because their rights were not respected when the required criminal procedures were not followed.  This is true even if the cops find a lot of evidence of a crime, because if they failed to follow the proper rules that evidence can be excluded.

Criminal procedure also governs how a case is handled in court and provides the rules that the court follows both before and during a trial.  The point is to ensure that a person accused of a crime gets a fair trial and that each case is handled under the same set of legal principles.  Sometimes people refer to these ideas as “technicalities” and it is common for folks to complain about a person “getting away with it” or “having their case dismissed on a technicality.”  This viewpoint demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of criminal procedure.  The Constitution is not a “technicality”, and the rules derived from the Constitution are there to protect the rights of citizens to be free from unreasonable interference by the government.

Understanding your rights under federal and North Carolina criminal law is very important.  Having an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side means having one who understands how to handle both the facts of your case and the legal procedures that will likely decide what happens in court.