What Should I Do If I Get a Criminal Summons?
On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Criminal Defense on Tuesday, May 12, 2020
If you receive a criminal summons, we recommend you contact a Charlotte criminal lawyer right away. A summons, while similar to a citation and does not require a formal arrest, is an official charging document requiring you to appear in court on a specific date and time because you are accused of a crime or traffic citation.
It’s important to realize a criminal summons is an order, not a request. After being served with a criminal summons, the failure to go to court on the specified date could have serious consequences, which is why we recommend speaking with an attorney about your options.
Our Charlotte criminal defense attorneys at Randall & Stump, PLLC are here to help. Contact us online or call (980) 237-4579 to schedule a free initial consultation. We will determine what this criminal summons is about, explain your options, and advise you of the best course of action.
North Carolina Law on Criminal Summons
Under North Carolina General Statute §15A-303, a criminal summons includes a statement of the crime or infraction of which you are accused of and an order telling you to appear in court to respond to the charges against you.
A criminal summons must be based on a showing that there is probable cause you committed the offense. Probable cause is a relatively low standard. It is not a finding of guilt. Instead, it simply means that there are facts that support the conclusion you committed the offense.
You may receive a criminal summons instead of getting arrested. Because you have not been arrested, you might assume the charges are not a big deal. However, a criminal summons can be used for very serious charges, not just traffic tickets. The law does not distinguish how your criminal matter started. The statute defining the defense and the potential penalties remain the same, whether you were initially arrested after being served an arrest warrant or simply issues a criminal summons.
You should always take a criminal summons very seriously and retain a Charlotte criminal defense attorney as soon as possible—preferably before the court date. It is best to be represented when you appear in court.
When is a Criminal Summons Issued in NC?
A criminal summons is issued when an individual alleges you committed an offense. The private individual can verbally describe the allegations to a magistrate who determines if there is sufficient information to warrant charges. Prior to June 2018, North Carolina law required private individuals to swear to the facts in writing. But now, verbal descriptions are enough.
North Carolina General Statute §15A-304(d) determines what constitutes a showing of probable cause. A judge or magistrate can issue a criminal summons or arrest warrant if there is sufficient information to support probable cause. Sufficient information can be derived from an affidavit, oral testimony under oath or affirmation, or oral testimony under oath or affirmation by a sworn law enforcement officer by means of audio or video evidence.
What You Should do if You Get a Criminal Summons
If you receive a criminal summons, our team recommends you:
- Read the document carefully. What offense are you accused of committing? When and where is the court date?
- Do not ignore the summons. Shoving the paperwork in a drawer and ignoring the order to appear in court is a bad idea. Never ignore a criminal summons.
- Make work, childcare, and transportation arrangements. Note the date and time of the court appearance and immediately arrange to have that time off work. If you would normally be caring for your children at the time, make other childcare arrangements. Also, make sure you have reliable transportation to and from the courthouse.
- Gather any evidence you have proving your innocence. If you are familiar with the underlying circumstances that led to the charges, gather any exculpatory evidence you have on hand.
- Contact and Hire a Charlotte Criminal Defense Lawyer. You should not appear in court without legal counsel. You will be at a disadvantage without an attorney.
What Happens if You Ignore a Criminal Summons?
The criminal summons will tell you that if you fail to appear in court on the date and time provided, then a warrant for your arrest may be issues for failing to appear in court. In addition to a warrant for your arrest being issued, failing to appear in court, as ordered, may further complicate your case and will certainly delay resolving your case in a timely manner.
How is a Criminal Summons Different From a Civil Summons?
Criminal and civil summons are similar, but there are important differences. A criminal summons is based on you being charged with a crime. A civil summons is related to some type of litigation filed against you, such as breach of contract allegations or a personal injury claim. In a civil case, you face monetary penalties—not incarceration.
How is a Criminal Summons Different From a Warrant?
A criminal summons requires you to appear in court. You will not automatically be arrested, though you could be arrested if you refuse to appear in court when required. A warrant, however, specifically calls for your arrest. A law enforcement officer may appear at your work or home and take you into custody. You will be brought before a judge and then may be released on bond and other conditions.
How is a Criminal Summons Different From a Subpoena?
A subpoena is similar to a criminal summons in that it is a court order requiring you to do something. However, a criminal summons is typically for the defendant of a case. A subpoena can be for individuals other than a defendant or party to a lawsuit.
A subpoena is a demand to produce evidence or appear in court to testify as a witness. It may require you to appear in court to testify regarding an ongoing matter or to undergo a pre-trial deposition. Or, it may require that you provide certain tangible evidence, such as a document or video.
Call Randall & Stump, PLLC After You Receive a Criminal Summons in NC
It’s normal not to know what to do when you unexpectedly receive a criminal summons. That’s why the best step to take is to call a lawyer who will know what to do. Our Charlotte criminal defense lawyers at Randall & Stump, PLLC are here to defend you in state or federal court against misdemeanor or felony charges.