Seven years ago next week, my now ex-wife had me arrested on false charges of having a girl watch X-rated movies and threatening to beat her up if she told anyone about it. I have wondered for years how this could have happened, despite several obvious red flags that suggested this affair should have never gotten anywhere near as far as it did. Well, I recently found out how--North Carolina's process by which individuals can swear out warrants is fundamentally flawed, to the point that it allows obviously bogus cases to make it to court.
The self-initiated warrant process is spelled out in Section 15A-304 of the North Carolina General Statutes.
(d) Showing of Probable Cause. - A judicial official may issue a warrant for arrest only when he is supplied with sufficient information, supported by oath or affirmation, to make an independent judgment that there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the person to be arrested committed it. The information must be shown by one or more of the following:The problem? There is no criteria for what constitutes "sufficient" information. This makes it possible for a person to be arrested based on someone lying to a magistrate.
(2) Oral testimony under oath or affirmation before the issuing official; or
(3) Oral testimony under oath or affirmation presented by a sworn law enforcement officer to the issuing official by means of an audio and video transmission in which both parties can see and hear each other. Prior to the use of audio and video transmission pursuant to this subdivision, the procedures and type of equipment for audio and video transmission shall be submitted to the Administrative Office of the Courts by the senior regular resident superior court judge and the chief district court judge for a judicial district or set of districts and approved by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
If the information is insufficient to show probable cause, the warrant may not be issued.
My ex filed the false charges on the same night that my ex's son was arrested--literally hours after the arrest, in fact. That alone should have raised eyebrows. Indeed, my lawyer--a former DA himself--realized within literally seconds of reading the charge sheet that this was clear retaliation. Had anyone bothered to look into the charges, they would have discovered that at the time my ex claimed to have finally discovered what I was supposedly doing, I was at work. And yet, because no one bothered to check them out, I not only had to endure four hours in jail, but two court dates and four months of having to call pretrial release every Monday.
I initially believed that this was a simple case of the DA not doing what any responsible DA would do--make sure that valuable courtroom time and taxpayer dollars aren't tied up with cases that are obviously false. After all, when my ex's son went to court for beating me up, the first time I even saw a DA was the day we went to court. But now I know there was a second factor at play--a warrant process that allows people to be arrested based on a lie. That process not only results in taxpayer dollars being wasted, but more importantly results in innocent people's rights being violated.
There's a petition out on Change.org calling for the scrapping of the current self-initiated warrant process. Sign here.