North Carolina Criminal Summons: What Is a Criminal Summons?

Imagine that you walk to your mailbox one day and open it to see an official form that appears to be from the government. You open it and discover that you are being accused of a crime!

A criminal summons is a legal document that orders the recipient to appear in court to face their allegations. It outlines some information about the situation and presents the date, time, and location in which you must appear in court. This is a serious document, and you need to know everything that you can about it in case you are ever faced with one yourself.

Defining a North Carolina Criminal Summons

Under North Carolina Law, a criminal summons is defined in the following way: 

“A criminal summons consists of a statement of the crime or infraction of which the person to be summoned is accused, and an order directing that the person so accused appear and answer to the charges made against him. It is based upon a showing of probable cause supported by oath or affirmation.”

This is a legal document, and the recipient is legally bound and required to answer it. Obviously, the person who receives such a document retains their legal right to obtain counsel, to retain their presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and all of their other Constitutional rights, but they must respond to the summons by appearing in court on the prescribed dates. It is strongly advised that they bring legal counsel with them when they attend these court dates.

What You Will See in a Criminal Summons in North Carolina

The criminal summons document that you receive may look a bit formal and difficult to interpret when you first receive it. This is because the document has been drafted by legal professionals over the years and is not necessarily easy to comprehend for the layperson. Put simply, here are a few of the elements that may be contained in the criminal summons: 

  • An official accusation of a crime
  • The legal definition of the law that you are accused of breaking
  • A warrant for your arrest
  • Dates for when you are to make an appearance in court
  • Instructions for how to respond to the summons (i.e. show up in court)

The warrant for your arrest means that any law enforcement officer may arrest you if they make contact with you and take you to jail to await trial. While this is truly terrifying for the average person, the probability of this actually happening is quite low for most crimes unless you happen to interact with a law enforcement officer for some other reason. In other words, if there is a warrant for your arrest and you are pulled over for a traffic stop, then they may bring you into jail on the warrant. However, if you do not come in contact with law enforcement before your court date, they are highly unlikely to pursue you unless the crime you are accused of is particularly severe. 

Criminal Summons vs. Civil Lawsuit

Often, criminal and civil cases are conflated by those who do not know much about law. They are very different matters, where criminal cases determine whether or not a person is guilty of a crime, and civil cases determine whether or not a person owes compensation, or damages, to another individual.

Common reasons why a civil lawsuit might be filed include: 

  1. A complaint of a breach of contract
  2. Suing someone over medical bills incurred as a result of a traffic accident that they caused
  3. A medical malpractice lawsuit
  4. A wrongful death lawsuit

The list goes on from there. Civil matters like this do not involve criminal penalties, and the burden of proof is far lower than in a criminal case. While the losing party in a civil lawsuit may be faced with the prospect of paying a considerable amount of money to the party that has sued them, they are not going to face the prospect of jail time even if they lose in court. 

A criminal summons is much more serious because it entails the possibility that the person who receives it could face jail time depending on how their case plays out. It is something that should be responded to immediately.

Why You Need a North Carolina Criminal Defense Lawyer to Help

There are several reasons to obtain legal counsel as soon as possible after receiving a criminal summons. The reasons include:

Your Lawyer Can Navigate You Through the System 

There are many elements of the legal system that are intentionally complex and challenging to understand. Lawyers go to school for a very long time to learn what various laws and definitions mean and how they impact their clients. Your lawyer can explain the things you do not understand in terms that make sense to you. 

Procedural Failures Could Land You In Jail

Not following the directions you are sent in a criminal summons could actually land you in jail. It is what is known as a Failure to Appear offense, and that alone could put you behind bars. You obviously do not want that, and that is why you need a powerful attorney to help you get through the system properly. 

You Are Entitled to an Advocate 

No matter what anyone says, you are innocent until proven guilty, and you are entitled to an advocate who can make your case for you in a court of law. The Constitution of the United States and of the state of North Carolina uphold a defendant’s right to an attorney, even if they are unable to afford one. Make sure you exercise this right if you are ever accused of a crime.

Reach Out to a North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney at King Law

Facing criminal accusations is never simple. Navigating the legal maze of potential defenses is near impossible for those not trained in legal matters. When it comes to issues so important, you need to contact a criminal defense attorney that you can trust and that will stand by you through the full process. 

At King Law, we are prepared to offer you support and answer any legal questions you may have while we guide you through your case. For more information, reach out to us at (888) 748-5464 (KING) or fill out our contact form. We look forward to hearing from you.