Can a Private Citizen Initiate a Criminal Charge in North Carolina?

Unfortunately for many the answer is YES.  The North Carolina arrest warrant statute, G.S. 15A-304, requires only that a magistrate be “supplied with sufficient information, supported by oath or affirmation” to find probable cause. The statute doesn’t limit the source of that information to law enforcement officers. It is common in North Carolina for private citizens to seek the issuance of an arrest warrant or a summons.  We generally see this a lot for cases of communicating threats and assault charges.

Were you charged with a “citizen’s case” in Wake County?

The general rule in the United States is that private citizens can’t initiate criminal prosecutions. There turn out to be quite a few exceptions, but the general rule does seem to be that only government officials of various kinds can initiate criminal prosecutions.

How does the process work in North Carolina?

North Carolina does not have any limits on the type of charge allowed to be charged by statute. However, as a matter of practice, North Carolina magistrates impose restrictions and we usually just see minor charges from this process. Most North Carolina magistrates will not issue felony charges based on a citizen’s complaint alone. Some magistrates generally issue summonses rather than warrants in citizen-initiated cases. Some magistrates also ask citizen complainants to prepare a written statement of facts.

Should North Carolina allow this process to continue?

Is it a good idea to allow citizens to initiate criminal charges?  No.  It allows citizens who are so inclined to bring totally baseless charges more easily that if an officer were involved in the matter.  Generally we see a lot of cases that are totally bogus charges with no real proof other than “he said, she said.”  The downside for those accused of a crime is that as soon as those charges are filed they have a record of the charge that does not go away unless it can be expunged.  Once the summons is issued the District Attorney is generally required to prosecute these flimsy cases.

Contact Raleigh Defense Lawyer Wiley Nickel

If you were charged with a citizen initiated complaint in Wake County contact The Law offices of Wiley Nickel, PLLC at 919-585-1486 for a free consultation.  We will talk with you about the process to try to get the case dismissed and then expunged from your criminal record.  We handle Raleigh area misdemeanor criminal cases and out office is located in Cary, NC.


Wiley Nickel

Wiley Nickel lives and works in Cary, North Carolina. In 1998, he graduated from Tulane University with a major in Political Science and a minor in History. After college Wiley went to work for Al Gore and travelled with the Vice President as part of his national advance staff. Following the Gore campaign he earned his law degree from the Pepperdine University School of Law in 2005. While in law school Wiley worked as a law clerk in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office where he gained valuable criminal trial experience before taking and passing the California bar exam. His first job out of law school was for the Merced County District Attorney’s Office where he worked as a Deputy District Attorney with a focus on prosecuting DWI offenders. Wiley later joined the Law Offices of Joseph Uremovic where he focused on civil litigation and family law. When the opportunity came to join the Obama campaign in 2008 Wiley jumped at the chance. He spent three years travelling with President Obama as a member of his national advance team. In 2011 Wiley left his work for the White House to return to the practice of law. Wiley devotes the majority of his practice to the areas of criminal law, family law, traffic tickets and DMV issues. The Law Offices of Wiley Nickel was started with the goal of providing the best representation possible for all of his clients. Experienced, Compassionate, Aggressive Criminal Defense While defense attorney Wiley Nickel works as the primary attorney for all of his cases, he does have an associate attorney, a team of investigators, forensic consultants, and support staff to call on to help achieve the best possible result in every case. He limits his case load so that he can focus on providing the best possible legal defense to all of his clients. Every case is a top priority and the goal is to have your case dismissed with a focus on being able to expunge your charges at the end of the process. When he is not working, Wiley is an avid family man, distance runner and golfer. He loves North Carolina college sports and is hoping this is the year for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Wiley is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and California.