You’ve been charged with a felony, now what?

First Appearance (North Carolina General Statue § 15A-601). If you are charged with a felony in North Carolina, you are entitled to a "first appearance" before a district court judge. Unless you are charged with a capital offense, this may be conducted in person or by an audio-visual transmission.

If you are incarcerated, you are entitled to a first appearance hearing within 96 hours of when you are taken into custody.

The defendant may continue the first appearance, but he may not waive it. If the defendant has counsel, he does not need to personally appear at the first appearance.

While you are not entitled to counsel at this stage, you may have counsel present. If you do have counsel, you can confidentially communicate with them at this stage.

What happens at your first appearance

· Right to remain silent (North Carolina General Statute § 15A-601). Unless you are with counsel, the judge must tell you about your right to remain silent and that anything you say can be used against you.

· Right to counsel (North Carolina General Statute § 15A-603). At your first appearance before a judge, the judge must check if you have retained counsel or have been assigned counsel if you are indigent. If you want to waive the right to an attorney, the judge must inform you that you have "important legal rights which may be waived unless asserted in a timely and proper manner and that counsel may be of assistance to the defendant in advising him and acting in his behalf."

o If you choose to waive your right to counsel, then the judge must inform you that you have a choice to have counsel at your probable cause hearing. North Carolina General Statute § 15A-606 (e).

· Sufficiency of the charge (North Carolina General Statute § 15A-604). The judge will determine if the charge or charges are a criminal offense and within the original jurisdiction of the superior court. If the judge determines that the charge does not meet these requirements, then he may dismiss the charge; allow the prosecutor to amend the charge; continue the proceeding for 24 hours; or set the case for trial in district court with the consent of the prosecutor.

· Charges against you. (North Carolina General Statute § 15A-605 (1)). The judge must inform you of the charges against you.

· Copy of process and order (North Carolina General Statute § 15A-605 (2)). The judge must assure that you or your counsel have a copy of your process and order (paperwork).

· Determine eligibility for bail (North Carolina General Statute § 15A-605 (3)). The judge must determine your eligibility for bail

· Schedule probable-cause hearing (North Carolina General Statute § 15A-606). The judge must schedule a probable-cause hearing unless the defendant waives his right to a probable-cause hearing in writing.

o If the defendant waives a probable-cause hearing, then the district court judge must bind him to superior court for further proceedings.

o If the defendant does not waive a probable-cause hearing, then the judge must schedule that hearing within 15 working days (does not include holidays or weekends) of the first appearance. The probable-cause hearing must not take place within 5 working days after the first appearance unless the prosecutor and defendant agree that it may.

o The probable-cause hearing may be continued for good cause. A motion for a continuance must be made at least 48 hours prior to the time set for the probable cause hearing, except in extraordinary circumstances.

The criminal justice system is complex. The above procedures can happen in a matter of minutes. While it is important that you pay attention to the rights a judge reads to you, the best way to ensure those rights remain protected and are not accidentally waived is to be represented by counsel.