Private Warrants: aka Citizen Initiated Criminal Process

Private Warrants

Often, my clients are shocked to find out that any private citizen can go before a magistrate and swear out a private warrant for criminal charges against anyone else, at any time.  This is common practice in North Carolina and can create some difficulties.  Typical private warrants involve verbal and physical assault related allegations.  Usually, the parties know one another and have some type of history together.

Private warrants have the same effect as a warrant from a law enforcement officer.  Most of the time, no law enforcement officer observed the alleged criminal acts contained in the warrant and therefore it is a matter of “he said vs. she said”.  Some counties currently allow a simple sworn statement from the “victim” in order to grant the private warrant.  Other counties require a written sworn statement from the “victim” before allowing the warrant to be granted.  As a defense attorney, I prefer the counties that require the written sworn statements, because I can then use the written statements when cross-examining the “victim” if the case goes to trial.

Recently, the North Carolina legislature changed some laws regarding private warrants.  These changes go into effect on December 1, 2017.  On that date, private citizens will be required to fill out a sworn affidavit, in lieu of oral affidavits.  Additionally, the law has been amended to allow the issuance of a criminal summons in lieu of an arrest warrant.  This distinction is important because it means that someone who is accused of a crime in a private warrant, won’t necessarily be arrested when they are served with the paperwork.  They will just be required to appear in Court to defend against the allegations.

For a more detailed summary of the legislative changes, click on: https://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/new-restrictions-citizen-initiated-criminal-process/