Probable Causing Hearings in North Carolina

Probable Cause Proceude

When someone is charged with a felony crime by law enforcement, the case is set in District Court. District Court is designed to hear misdemeanor cases, and does not have jurisdiction to hold a jury trial on a felony. So after a first appearance in District Court where the defendant is advised of the maximum possible punishment for the charged felony offenses and given the option to hire an attorney, ask for court-appointed counsel, or represent themselves, the matter is then for a Probable Cause Hearing. For the case to continue on to Superior Court, where felonies are properly handled and can proceed to a jury trial, the State has to show enough evidence at a Probable Cause Hearing to convince a judge to transfer the case to Superior Court.

Scheduling a Probable Cause Hearing

Probable Cause Hearings are required to be held no later than 15 business days (21 real days) from a defendant’s first appearance. For example, if the first appearance falls on the 1st of the month, then the PC hearing will most likely be scheduled on the 22nd as demonstrated in this image. Probable Cause hearings are not supposed to be continued beyond the 15 business days unless the defendant waives that requirement, the State has given advanced notice of “good cause” to continue, or the State demonstrates “extraordinary cause” if no prior notice was given of the continuance request..

Probable Cause Hearings Can Be an Opportunity

When a defendant is still under bond and stuck in custody, this Probable Cause Hearing can be significant. If a hearing is held, it can be an opportunity to get an early look at the State’s evidence. It can also be an opportunity to negotiate bond with the District Attorney’s office. For those out of custody, however, the State isn’t too interested in having a probable cause hearing. In Burke, Caldwell, and Catawba Counties, it is common for the DA’s office to “present no evidence” at the Probable Cause hearing, which means the case is dismissed (for now). The State can always revive the case later by sending it to a Grand Jury for a Bill of Indictment. That will put the case back in Superior Court and trigger a new Order for Arrest and bond for the Defendant.

To avoid re-arrest and the issuance of a new bond, instead of having a case dismissed at a Probable Cause (when the deferent is out of custody), it can worth continuing the Probable Causing Hearing by waiving the 15 business-day time requirement. That way, if the case is Indicted by a Grand Jury while the matter is still in District Court, the new indictment takes on the same case number and bond. At least that’s what is supposed to happen.

When sending a case to Grand Jury for Indictment, Prosecutors occasionally miss that there is a pending file number for the same case in District Court, or they issue more indictments than the current file number can handle. When this happens, a new order for arrest is triggered and the defendant will be given a new bonds (even though it’s the same case!). Contact us today so we can help you clear this up and prevent unnecessary re-arrests, new bonds, and jail time.

Purpose of a Probable Cause Hearing

So why do we have these hearings? Well, Probable Cause Hearings serve as a critical juncture in the criminal justice process, particularly in North Carolina District Courts. These hearings play a pivotal role in determining whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a felony case and transfer the prosecution of the matter to Superior Court. Understanding the procedures and significance of probable cause hearings is essential for comprehending the foundational principles of justice within the North Carolina legal system.

Standard of Proof

Probable Cause Hearings are designed to ensure that individuals are not deprived of their liberty without sufficient evidence supporting the charges against them. In North Carolina, probable cause is defined as a reasonable belief, based on facts and circumstances, that a crime has been committed and that the defendant likely committed it. This standard is much lower, and requires a lot less evidence, then the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required for conviction at trial but requires more than mere suspicion or possibility.

For more information about Probable Cause Hearings, check out the North Carolina Statute linked here. Or read about how prosecutors in the District Attorney’s office are taught to handle Probable Cause Hearings at the NC Pro prosecutor resource website.

During a probable cause hearing, the prosecution presents evidence in the form of witness testimony. The defense has the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and challenge the evidence presented. While the rules of evidence (like hearsay) are generally more relaxed than those in a formal trial, the presiding judge evaluates the credibility and relevance of the evidence before making a determination of whether Probable Cause exists.

Defendants in North Carolina have the right to legal representation at probable cause hearings. If they cannot afford their own attorney, one will be appointed to represent them. Additionally, defendants have the right to remain silent and not testify against themselves. This protection against self-incrimination is a fundamental aspect of the U.S. Constitution and applies at all stages of the criminal justice process, including probable cause hearings.

Determination of Probable Cause

Following the presentation of evidence and arguments from both the prosecution and defense, the magistrate or judge will make a decision regarding probable cause. If probable cause is found, the case will proceed to the next stage of the criminal process, which may include indictment by a grand jury and trial. If probable cause is not found, the charges against the defendant will be dismissed, and they will be released from custody if they have not made bond. Even though a judge finds “no probable cause” the State can still go back to a Grand Jury and indict the Defendant for the same criminal offense.

It’s always smart to have an experienced criminal defense attorney when charged with a crime. At Beyer & Lippert, PLLC, we have the only privately practicing specialists in North Carolina Criminal Law. Two of our attorneys are board certified in the field. Reach out to us to see how we can help you with your Probable Cause Hearing and the defense of your case.

Contact us to schedule a consultation

Main Office
301-A South Green Street
Morganton, NC 28655

Back Office
208-B East Concord Street
Morganton, NC 28655

Mailing Address
PO Box 2100
Morganton, NC 28680

NOTE: This site is for informational and advertising purposes only. Use of this site or the information contained herein does not create or constitute legal representation or an attorney-client relationship. Please schedule a consultation for legal advice. All consultations are confidential by law.

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