Crime Victims in North Carolina
Reporting a Crime and Criminal Charges
- How can I report a crime against me?
If you are in immediate danger or there is crime in progress, you should call 911. If you are not in immediate danger, or the alleged crime is not in progress, you should contact your local law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number in order to request an investigation.
In some cases, law enforcement might advise you to begin the charging process, yourself. The way to do that depends on whether the offense involved a possible juvenile delinquent - an offender under the age of 16 at the time of the offense - or a person who was 16 or older.
If you believe that the person who committed the offense might have been under the age of 16 at the time of the offense, that matter must be handled as a juvenile delinquency case. See the Juvenile Delinquency Help Topic for information about how to file a complaint and what those cases will involve. The questions and answers in the rest of this FAQ discuss only the rights and involvement of victims in criminal cases against persons charged and prosecuted as adults, meaning persons aged 16 or older at the time of the offense.
- How do I take out criminal charges at the magistrate’s office?
If you know the identity of the person who committed the offense, you can appear before a judicial official in the county where the offense occurred and ask the official to issue charges against the person who committed it (the “perpetrator”). This official usually will be a magistrate, but it could be a judge or a clerk of court. For simplicity, this FAQ will refer only to a “magistrate” as the judicial official involved in the early stages of a criminal case.
The magistrate will place you under oath and ask you to describe the events that you believe amounted to a crime. You might have to write out your description of the events and swear to that writing, called an “affidavit.” You instead can make an “affirmation” of your testimony, if you have a religious or other significant objection to swearing an oath, but testimony given by affirmation is the same as testimony given under oath: it must be truthful. A deliberate falsehood told or written under oath could subject you to prosecution for the crime of perjury.
The magistrate might find from your testimony that the perpetrator’s conduct amounted to a crime, which is called finding “probable cause” of the offense: that it probably occurred, and the person named probably committed it. If the magistrate finds probable cause, he or she might issue charges against the person for that offense. For some offenses, particularly more serious felonies, the county’s local policies instead might require that the magistrate refer you to a law enforcement agency to investigate the crime, so they can determine the appropriate criminal offenses to be charged. If the events described in your testimony do not amount to a crime or infraction, the magistrate cannot issue charges, but you might have other remedies against the perpetrator like a civil lawsuit.
- Will the defendant be arrested?
Possibly. If the magistrate finds probable cause based on your testimony (or testimony by an investigating law enforcement officer), the magistrate can issue either a warrant for arrest or a criminal summons against the perpetrator (who then becomes the “defendant”). Both a warrant and a criminal summons officially charge the defendant with any crimes or infractions for which the magistrate found probable cause. The magistrate will decide between a criminal summons and a warrant based on the statutes (laws) that describe when each should issue.
If a warrant is issued, law enforcement will attempt to find and arrest the defendant. Once arrested, the defendant will need to satisfy certain conditions that the magistrate will impose before he or she can be released from jail to await trial on the charges. If the magistrate issues a criminal summons, law enforcement will serve the person by giving him or her a copy of the summons but will not arrest the person. The criminal summons instead sets a court date on which the defendant must appear in court to answer the charges.
- What are the basic steps in the adult criminal justice process?
The following is a simplified version of the basic steps of the adult criminal justice process, provided by the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.
- Offense – Crime is committed.
- Investigation – Continues throughout the process.
- Arrest – Defendant is charged. Bond is set after the arrest and can be reviewed at any court hearing.
- First Appearance – Bond is reviewed. Defendant advised of rights.
- Probable Cause Hearing – Felony cases only. Possible grand jury indictment.
- Entry of Plea – Plea negotiations and guilty pleas can happen any time before a verdict.
- Trial – Misdemeanor cases are generally tried in district court. Felony cases are presented in superior court.
- Sentencing – If convicted, the defendant will be sentenced by a judge.
- Appeal to a Higher Court – Not all cases are appealed.
What are my rights as a victim of crime?
The exact rights to which a victim is entitled will depend on the criminal charges against the defendant. All victims of criminal offenses have the rights listed here. Many of those rights fall into broad categories, like:
- The right to be notified of important events in the case, like trial dates or the date a defendant is released from prison;
- The right to some participation in the criminal case, like the ability to consult with the District Attorney (also called a “prosecutor”) or provide a statement to the court at the defendant’s sentencing;
- The right to be present during most court proceedings involving the case; and
- The right to information from law enforcement agencies or the prosecutor about other resources for victims, like civil remedies you might have against the defendant or how to apply to the State for compensation for any harm you suffered as a result of the crime.
Victims of certain, more serious crimes also have additional rights described in North Carolina’s Crime Victims Rights Act. If an offense committed against you is covered by that Act, the investigating law enforcement agency and prosecutor’s office will provide you with information about your rights under those statutes.
A crime victim's rights and resources
As a victim, you have certain rights. The following information is provided by the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.
- The RIGHT to be given information about the crime, how the criminal justice system works, the rights of victims and the availability of services.
The District Attorney has a staff of prosecutors, legal assistants and victim service coordinators to assist you through the process. To request services and further notifications, you should fill out and return the Victim Impact Statement to the District Attorney's Office.
- The RIGHT, upon request, to reasonable, accurate and timely notice of court proceedings.
If you want to be kept up to date on court proceedings, conviction, or sentencing of the accused, you must opt-in for notification services through the Victim Impact Statement and keep the District Attorney's Office up to date with your contact information.
You may find or search court dates by defendant name, and also subscribe to court date notifications for criminal cases (primarily district court) via email or SMS / text message.
- The RIGHT, upon request, to be present and heard at court proceedings involving the plea, conviction, sentencing, or release.
The District Attorney's Office can assist you in developing your Victim Impact Statement for the court.
- The RIGHT, upon request, to receive notification of escape, release, proposed parole or pardon or notice of a reprieve or commutation of the accused's sentence.
To receive information about a defendant's confinement or release, register with NC SAVAN (North Carolina Statewide Automated Victim Assistance and Notification) at 1-877-NC-SAVAN or www.ncsavan.org. NC SAVAN is a statewide notification system that will notify you should the defendant be released from jail.
To receive information about people on probation, in prison or on parole, contact the N.C. Department of Public Safety, Victim Services at 1-866-719-0108 to enroll in their notification program.
- The RIGHT to receive restitution when ordered by the court.
Your Victim Impact Statement should include any financial loss you have experienced. In the event of non-payment of restitution, contact the N.C. Department of Public Safety, Victim Services at 1-866-719-0108.
- The RIGHT, upon request, to receive information about the conviction, final disposition and the sentence.
If the defendant is found, or pleads guilty, and is sentenced to a confinement facility, you have a right to information about appeals and release dates. If the defendant appeals the case, upon your request, your information will be forwarded to the Attorney General for assistance through the appellate process.
If the defendant is found not guilty, your case is over and will not proceed any further.
- The RIGHT to reasonably confer with the District Attorney's Office.
Please contact the District Attorney's Office for assistance.
- The RIGHT to present the victim's views and concerns in writing, to the Governor or agency considering action, that could result in the release of the accused.
Where else can I get help?
For more general information about victims’ rights, see the websites of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys and the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office. Both sites provide additional information for crime victims and can help connect victims with community services and information about financial assistance. Specific information is available on the Attorney General’s website for victims of elder abuse, identity theft, consumer scams, domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.
The North Carolina Victim Assistance Network also provides information and assistance for crime victims, including a directory of local resources and statewide hotlines. You can find a directory of local domestic violence service providers here and a directory of local rape crisis centers here. You can also view the courts’ Victim Information Sheet online.
Working with the District Attorney
- Can I talk to the prosecutor outside court?
You may be able to talk to the prosecutor about the case outside of court, especially if the charges against the defendant are serious. District Attorneys’ offices have victim/witness coordinators on their staffs who are responsible for working with victims and witnesses. You should contact this person if, for instance, you have a scheduling conflict with a court date. You can reach the prosecutor or victim/witness coordinator by calling the District Attorney’s office in the county where the case was charged.
- What can I do to help with the case?
- Make sure the District Attorney’s office has current contact information for you, including a current address and phone number.
- You should attend all court dates, unless the District Attorney’s office tells you that you do not need to be present.
- You also can assist with the case by cooperating with requests from the District Attorney’s office and law enforcement, including providing them with documentation you have related to the crime, like pictures, social media screenshots, or receipts for medical bills or property losses/repairs that resulted from the crime.
- What is a Victim Impact Statement?
The District Attorney’s office might request a Victim Impact Statement from you to learn more about the effect that the crime had on you. This statement gives the prosecutor background about the case and helps him or her know what to ask you about. If you are unable to fill out this form, you can still discuss your case with the prosecutor.
- Can I dismiss the charges?
No. In criminal cases, the District Attorney prosecutes violations of the State’s laws on behalf of the State, not for any individual victim. If you do not wish to pursue the case, you should inform the prosecutor of that fact, but the prosecutor is not required to dismiss the charges upon your request.
- Is the prosecutor my attorney?
No. Many people are confused by this, because the prosecutor represents the victim’s “side” of the case. However, as noted in the previous question, the prosecutor represents the interests of the State, not just an individual victim. The prosecutor will talk to you about the case and take your wishes into consideration, but a prosecutor is not required to abide by all of your wishes regarding the outcome of the case. In some cases, the ethical rules that lawyers must follow might require that the prosecutor dismiss the case, even if you wish to move forward, or move forward with the case, even if you wish to dismiss.
- Can I hire my own attorney?
The parties to a criminal case are the government (usually referred to as “the State”) and the defendant. If a victim chooses to hire an attorney, there will not be an official role for that attorney in the criminal case. Some victims choose to hire attorneys to protect their interests, such as by ensuring that they do not make incriminating statements, but most do not.
Although a private attorney cannot prosecute the criminal case for you, you might wish to consult an attorney early in the criminal case to determine whether or not you might be able to file a separate, civil case against the defendant.
- Can the defendant’s attorney talk to me about the case?
The defendant’s attorney can contact you, either in court or outside of court, and ask to speak to you about the case. You are not required to speak to the defendant’s attorney, but the attorney might issue you a subpoena to appear and testify or to provide him or her with records or other evidence related to the case. For more information about subpoenas, see the question below, “I received a subpoena. What does this mean?”
- What can I do if I am afraid of seeing the defendant at court?
Discuss your concerns with the victim/witness coordinator or prosecutor in advance. There may be an alternative place in the courthouse where you can wait until the case is called. If you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, your local domestic violence or sexual assault agency may have a court advocate available to come to court with you for support. You can find a directory of local domestic violence service providers here and a directory of local rape crisis centers here.
- The defendant or his family and friends are harassing me. What can I do?
Contact the District Attorney’s office. If the defendant was ordered by the court not to have contact with you (whether directly or by asking others to do so), violating that order can affect the defendant’s pretrial release or probation. If the defendant was not ordered not to have contact with you, the prosecutor can ask the court to order it. You also might want to report the harassment to the police or the magistrate, because the harassment might be a new crime with which the harasser should be charged.
- Can I file for a restraining order?
Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking can file for Domestic Violence Protective Orders or Civil No-Contact Orders against the perpetrator. This is separate from any criminal case and does not require you to take out criminal charges. See the Domestic Violence Help Topic for more information.
- How can I get notice if the defendant is released?
You can call 1-877-627-2826 (1-877-NCSAVAN) to sign up for the Statewide Automated Victim Assistance and Notification system, known as NC SAVAN. This program provides information about certain defendants in custody, like the facility holding them or when they are released. Make sure you keep your contact information updated with NC SAVAN and with the District Attorney’s office to ensure that you receive all notifications related to the case.
- Can I keep the defendant and his family from finding out where I live?
Some information about witnesses and victims might be part of the court’s public record, in which case you should talk to the prosecutor about any safety concerns you have. For victims of certain crimes - domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking - the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office runs the Address Confidentiality Program to keep the addresses of victims out of public records. You can learn more about this program and sign up by calling (919) 716-6785 or visiting the program’s website. If you are a victim of domestic violence, your local domestic violence agency also may be able to assist you in signing up for this program.
Going To Court
- When is my court date?
You can look up court dates for criminal cases here. Court dates are listed under the name of the defendant, not the name of the victim.
- What should I expect in court for misdemeanors?
The management of misdemeanor court varies by county. There typically will be a large number of cases scheduled for the same date. The prosecutor or judge generally will begin court by calling the names of the defendants who have cases scheduled. The prosecutor might ask victims and witnesses to respond, if they are present, or may call victims’ and witnesses’ names separately. The prosecutor typically will speak to you at some point during court about what happened and about what you want to happen with the case against the defendant. You should bring with you any evidence you want the prosecutor to see, such as pictures or documents. Misdemeanor court can last all day, and you should plan to be in court for the entire session. If there are too many cases to be resolved on that single day, many will be “continued,” or postponed, to another day. If that happens in the case in which you are involved, you should make sure you know the next court date before leaving the courtroom.
- The DA says I might have to “go to mediation.” What is that?
Some cases are referred to “mediation,” in which the defendant and any victim meet with a neutral, trained mediator (a kind of negotiator) to see if they can resolve the case outside of court and without an actual conviction. The procedures for mediation can be a bit different from one county to the next, so if your case is referred to mediation, the prosecutor or judge will explain the process to you at that time.
- What should I expect in court for felonies?
It depends on whether the case is being resolved in District Court or in Superior Court, and whether the case is being resolved by a defendant’s guilty plea or by a trial. Felony cases typically take longer to resolve than misdemeanors. As the case progresses through the courts, the defendant might have several court dates for which you do not need to appear, unless you want to speak to the prosecutor about the case at court. The district attorney can tell you when it is necessary for you to be present for a court date. Felony trials often take multiple days. So, make sure the district attorney is aware of any scheduling conflicts you might have in the week or weeks that the trial is scheduled.
- I received a subpoena. What does this mean?
This means that you are required to attend court on the date listed on the subpoena. It also might require that you produce documents or other evidence for the party that issued the subpoena. If you are unable to attend court on the date listed in the subpoena or otherwise have questions about what it requires, you should contact the District Attorney’s office as soon as possible. If you do not appear in court as directed in a subpoena, you could be held in contempt of court, which can result in a fine or jail time.
- Will there be a trial?
Few criminal cases go to trial. Many cases are resolved through guilty pleas or deferral agreements, while some cases are dismissed by the prosecutor. The prosecutor typically will talk to you about any plea deal that he or she intends to make with the defendant.
- Will there be a jury?
It depends. Misdemeanor trials in District Court are held before a judge, not a jury. If the defendant is convicted by the judge in District Court, the defendant may appeal the case to Superior Court for a new trial. Those misdemeanor appeals and felony trials in Superior Court typically are before a jury, but they might be only before a judge, if the defendant waives his right to a jury trial.
- What should I expect in a trial?
If there is a trial, the prosecutor will talk to you about the facts of the case and often will call you as a witness. The State also might present other witnesses and evidence to the court. If you are called as witness, you will have to swear an oath (or an “affirmation”) to tell the truth. The prosecutor will ask you questions about the incident or incidents for which the defendant was charged. The defendant’s attorney (or the defendant if he or she does not have an attorney) will also have the opportunity to ask you questions. The defendant will also have the opportunity to testify and call witnesses.
- What if I miss court?
In some cases, particularly misdemeanors, the case against the defendant may be dismissed if you fail to appear in court. In other situations, the case may be continued to another court date. There can be serious consequences for missing court if you received a subpoena but did not appear. You should contact the District Attorney’s office in advance if you will be unable to attend court.
- Will I get restitution from the defendant?
If the defendant is convicted, the court can order that he pay restitution for things like medical bills, lost income, property damage, or funeral expenses that resulted from the crime. When deciding whether to award restitution to a victim, the judge also must consider the defendant’s ability to pay, which might affect the total amount the court orders the defendant to pay.
- How can I make sure the judge orders the right amount of restitution?
Before the defendant is sentenced, you should provide documentation of any injuries or other damages to the District Attorney’s office, like receipts for medical bills or for property that was damaged, stolen, or destroyed. The court cannot order restitution without some evidence to support the amount ordered.
- When will I receive restitution?
This depends on the circumstances of your case. Judges can order restitution to be paid on a specific date or over time. In many cases, restitution must be taken from a defendant’s earnings in prison, or the defendant might be ordered to pay restitution gradually over a period of probation.
- What can I do if the court doesn’t order the defendant to pay the full amount?
For certain offenses, generally those involving serious injury, sexual assaults, domestic violence, or homicide, you can request compensation from the North Carolina Victim Compensation Program. The Victim Compensation Program is a program run by the State of North Carolina to help compensate victims of crime, even in some cases for which the defendant is not convicted. You can learn more about this program and submit an application for assistance by visiting the program’s website. If you are a victim of domestic violence, your local domestic violence agency also may be able to assist you in signing up for this program.
- What if I do not receive the restitution that the court ordered?
If the defendant completes his or her sentence without paying restitution, you might be able to file a civil lawsuit to collect the money from the defendant, but you may wish to consult a private attorney early in the criminal case to determine whether or not you should pursue this step earlier. See the Lawsuits Help Topic for more information about judgments and collections.