The statutes in North Carolina classify criminal offenses as infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies. Chris Detwiler, a Raleigh-based criminal defense lawyer, is breaking down the differences between these criminal offenses and some of the options available to navigate the criminal justice system.
What is an Infraction?
Infractions are not criminal offenses. The only possible penalty for an infraction is payment of court costs and a fine. Infractions seldom lead to imprisonment and do not contribute to an individual's criminal record. In Wake County, infractions most commonly relate to minor traffic violations and regulatory offenses, like Speeding, Failure to Stop at a Stop Light, or Improper Equipment.
Infraction vs Misdemeanor: What Is the Difference?
Infractions are considered non-criminal violations of the law. These minor offenses are typically punished by fines rather than imprisonment. Unlike misdemeanors, infractions do not carry the weight of a criminal record, thereby minimizing the long-term consequences for the individual.
Misdemeanors represent a higher level of a criminal offense. They are more serious than infractions and can result in potential jail time, fines, probation, community service, or a combination thereof. Unlike infractions, misdemeanors do leave a mark on an individual's criminal record, which can have lasting consequences in terms of employment opportunities, housing, and other aspects of their personal and professional lives.
Misdemeanors cover a wide range of offenses, including petty theft, simple assault, driving under the influence (DUI), drug possession (in small amounts), and certain types of vandalism. Depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances surrounding the offense, misdemeanors are classified into different degrees or classes, each carrying its own set of penalties.
What is the Maximum Potential Punishment for a Misdemeanor in Raleigh, North Carolina?
As a general rule, the maximum potential punishment for a misdemeanor offense is 150 days in jail. This maximum punishment only applies to defendants convicted of A1 misdemeanors who have five or more prior convictions. Driving While Impaired cases are the exception to this general rule, however. DWI cases have a special sentencing statute that depends on a variety of factors, and the most serious misdemeanor DWI cases can result in jail sentences of up to three years.
How do Courts Calculate the Prior Record Level for Misdemeanor Cases in North Carolina?
For misdemeanor sentencing purposes, a defendant is either a prior record Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3. A defendant who is a Level 1 has no prior criminal convictions. A Level 2 prior record level applies to defendants with between one and four priors. If the defendant has five or more prior criminal convictions, then he or she is a Level 3. In addition to calculating the defendant’s prior record level, Wake County courts also will determine the class of misdemeanor of which the defendant was convicted.
What are the Classes of Misdemeanors for Cases in Wake County?
There are four different classes of misdemeanors: Class A1, Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3.
Class A1 Misdemeanors:
Misdemeanors classified as A1 generally relate to assaults that are aggravated in some way. Class A1 misdemeanors are one level below felony offenses, and the maximum possible punishment for a Class A1 misdemeanor is 150 days in jail. At the Law Office of Christopher R. Detwiler, PLLC, Chris regularly represents clients on these common Class A1 misdemeanors: Assault on a Female, Assault Inflicting Serious Injury, Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Assault by Pointing a Gun, Child Abuse, Misdemeanor Death by Motor Vehicle, and Sexual Battery.
Class 1 Misdemeanors:
The maximum potential punishment for a Class 1 misdemeanor is 120 days in jail. Chris handles a variety of Class 1 Misdemeanors at the Wake County Justice Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, including Forgery, False Imprisonment, Larceny, Domestic Criminal Trespass, Communicating Threats, Speed to Elude, Aggressive Driving, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.
Class 2 Misdemeanors:
In Wake County, Chris handles the following Class 2 misdemeanors regularly: Simple Assault, First Degree Trespass, Indecent Exposure, Disorderly Conduct, and Reckless Driving. The maximum punishment for Class 2 misdemeanor convictions is sixty days in jail.
Class 3 Misdemeanors:
Common Class 3 misdemeanors handled in Raleigh include Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Marijuana Paraphernalia, Second Degree Trespass, Intoxicated and Disruptive in Public, and Driving While License Revoked (Not Impaired Revocation). A defendant convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor faces nothing more than court costs and a fine if he or she has three or fewer prior convictions. A defendant with four prior convictions may receive an intermediate punishment, which generally would mean probation if convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor. The maximum potential punishment for a Class 3 misdemeanor is 20 days in jail, and this maximum only applies to defendants with 5 or more prior convictions.
How are Misdemeanor Cases Usually Resolved in Wake County, North Carolina?
Misdemeanor cases handled at the Wake County Justice Center in Raleigh are generally resolved in one of five ways. First, Chris convinces the Assistant District Attorney handling the case to dismiss the case. The case is more likely to be dismissed when the defendant has a good record, and when the defendant has strong potential defenses.
Second, the State of North Carolina will dismiss the charges against the Defendant if the necessary witnesses do not appear in court enough. If the charging law enforcement officer, or another necessary witness, is not present on multiple court dates, then Assistant District Attorney may dismiss the case. Usually, a necessary witness will have to miss court two or three times before a dismissal occurs on these grounds in Wake County.
Third, Chris may negotiate a deferral for his client to resolve the misdemeanor case. Deferrals typically involve an admission of guilt and an agreement between the defendant and the State. The defendant agrees to stay out of trouble, complete community service or a class, and sometimes pay court costs fines, and fees. In exchange, the Wake County District Attorney’s Office agrees to dismiss the case upon compliance with the conditions of the deferral.
Common misdemeanor deferrals for drug and alcohol cases involve a sixteen-hour class, and up to $433 in court costs, fines, and fees. The defendant has six months to complete the class and meet the financial obligation, but the court may grant more time in special circumstances.
Common misdemeanor deferrals for cases that are not traffic offenses and that are not related to drug and alcohol use focus on community service. Chris often negotiates somewhere between ten and seventy-five hours of community service in exchange for dismissal on these types of deferrals. Like deferrals involving drugs and alcohol, there is potentially a financial obligation of up to $433.
Do I Need an Attorney on a Misdemeanor Case in Raleigh, North Carolina?
While some defendants chose to represent themselves on minor traffic offenses and low-level misdemeanors, defendants with attorneys receive multiple benefits. First, an experienced criminal defense attorney like Chris provides his clients with legal advice. There often are a variety of important decisions that defendants must make during a case, and having an attorney who knows the law and understands the situation in the courtroom will help defendants make the right calls on how to proceed. The two most important decisions that clients have to make are whether to take their case to trial and whether to accept the plea offer from the Wake County District Attorney’s Office. Chris knows when to try cases and when to negotiate, and this experience can prove invaluable in obtaining the best possible outcome in a case.
Second, the judges and the prosecutors often do not require the defendant to be present in court on certain offenses. These waivable offenses allow Chris to appear in Wake County District Court on behalf of his clients. Not having to miss work or arrange for childcare is a significant benefit of having an attorney.
Third, many people struggle with the anxiety associated with public speaking. The stress of a pending criminal case can make it even more difficult to communicate effectively in court. When clients hire Chris to handle the case in court, he does all of the talking, and he is extremely comfortable with speaking in public. It is what he does for a living.
Protect Your Criminal Record Against Traffic Violations and Other Criminal Offenses with a Complementary Case Review from Detwiler Law
If you are interested in having Chris serve as your criminal defense attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina, please call today to set up a free initial consultation. You make the call, and Chris will handle the rest. Call the office at (919) 526-7545 or fill out the form below.
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