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Structured Sentencing in North Carolina | How Much Time Am I Looking At?


Structured Sentencing came into effect for all offenses committed on or after October 1, 1994.  Before this was introduced, Judges had a lot of discretion in how to sentence a person.  These guidelines were mandated in order to ensure that each person was treated the same and received a similar sentence regarding convictions for the same crimes.  All felonies and misdemeanors in North Carolina now fall under Structured Sentencing with some exceptions like 1st degree murder, DWI, and a few others.  For the most part, Structured Sentencing will apply to your case.

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Misdemeanors Under Structured Sentencing

For the Court to determine how to sentence someone convicted of a misdemeanor, the Court must first determine what class it is.  For example, Assault on a Female is a Class A1 misdemeanor.  Once the class is determined, the Court must determine the prior conviction level of the defendant using the chart created by NCGS § 15A-1340.23 reproduced below:

§15A-1340.23.  Punishment limits for each class of offense and prior conviction level.

(a)        Offense Classification; Default Classifications. – The offense classification is as specified in the offense for which the sentence is being imposed. If the offense is a misdemeanor for which there is no classification, it is as classified in G.S. 14-3.

(b)        Fines. – Any judgment that includes a sentence of imprisonment may also include a fine. Additionally, when the defendant is other than an individual, the judgment may consist of a fine only. If a community punishment is authorized, the judgment may consist of a fine only. Unless otherwise provided for a specific offense, the maximum fine that may be imposed is two hundred dollars ($200.00) for a Class 3 misdemeanor and one thousand dollars ($1,000) for a Class 2 misdemeanor. The amount of the fine for a Class 1 misdemeanor and a Class A1 misdemeanor is in the discretion of the court.

(c)        Punishment for Each Class of Offense and Prior Conviction Level; Punishment Chart Described. – Unless otherwise provided for a specific offense, the authorized punishment for each class of offense and prior conviction level is as specified in the chart below. Prior conviction levels are indicated by the Roman numerals placed horizontally on the top of the chart. Classes of offenses are indicated by the Arabic numbers placed vertically on the left side of the chart. Each grid on the chart contains the following components:

(1)        A sentence disposition or dispositions: “C” indicates that a community punishment is authorized; “I” indicates that an intermediate punishment is authorized; and “A” indicates that an active punishment is authorized; and

(2)        A range of durations for the sentence of imprisonment: any sentence within the duration specified is permitted.

(d)       Fine Only for Certain Class 3 Misdemeanors. – Unless otherwise provided for a specific offense, the judgment for a person convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor who has no more than three prior convictions shall consist only of a fine.

PRIOR CONVICTION LEVELS
MISDEMEANOR

Greensboro Criminal Attorney

If we go back to our example, Assault on a Female, a Class A1 misdemeanor, we see only three possibilities: 1-60 days for a Level 1, which means no prior convictions; 1-75 days for a Level 2, which means between one and four prior convictions; or 1-150 days which applies to someone with five or more prior convictions.

After this determination is made, the court must then select from the categories of “C” Community, “I” Intermediate, or “A” Active.  If there is any restitution the Court will also consider it at this time.

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Felonies Under Structured Sentencing

The Court uses a similar, but more complex function to determine the sentence of someone convicted of a felony in North Carolina.  First, as in misdemeanor charges, the Court must determine the class of the felony.  For example, Assault with a Deadly Weapon Inflicting Serious Injury would be a Class E felony.

Next, as before, the Court must determine the defendant’s prior record level.  This is usually accomplished by completing an AOC-CR-600A worksheet from the Administrative Office of the Courts.  You can find one here.

Unlike misdemeanors, which have only 3 Levels, felonies have 6 Levels. Level I through Level VI.  A defendant’s prior record level is decided by how many total points the defendant has accrued.  As with misdemeanors, the higher the level, the harsher the sentence.  Points are assigned different ways.  In our earlier example, the Class E Assault with a Deadly Weapon Inflicting Serious Injury, if that were a previous conviction, it would be assigned a point value of 4.  The AOC-CR-600A at the top of the form has the points values for each class of prior felony convictions.  Prior misdemeanor convictions only count toward point value if they were Class A1 or Class 1 convictions or misdemeanor death by motor vehicle or impaired driving or commercial impaired driving.  Class 2 and Class 3 misdemeanors do not add points in felony sentencing. NCGS §  15A-1340.14 reproduced below, birthed the creation of the AOC worksheet.

§15A-1340.14.  Prior record level for felony sentencing.

(a)        Generally. – The prior record level of a felony offender is determined by calculating the sum of the points assigned to each of the offender’s prior convictions that the court, or with respect to subdivision (b)(7) of this section, the jury, finds to have been proved in accordance with this section.

(b)        Points. – Points are assigned as follows:

(1)        For each prior felony Class A conviction, 10 points.

(1a)      For each prior felony Class B1 conviction, 9 points.

(2)        For each prior felony Class B2, C, or D conviction, 6 points.

(3)        For each prior felony Class E, F, or G conviction, 4 points.

(4)        For each prior felony Class H or I conviction, 2 points.

(5)        For each prior misdemeanor conviction as defined in this subsection, 1 point. For purposes of this subsection, misdemeanor is defined as any Class A1 and Class 1 nontraffic misdemeanor offense, impaired driving (G.S. 20-138.1), impaired driving in a commercial vehicle (G.S. 20-138.2), and misdemeanor death by vehicle (G.S. 20-141.4(a2)), but not any other misdemeanor traffic offense under Chapter 20 of the General Statutes.

(6)        If all the elements of the present offense are included in any prior offense for which the offender was convicted, whether or not the prior offense or offenses were used in determining prior record level, 1 point.

(7)        If the offense was committed while the offender was on supervised or unsupervised probation, parole, or post-release supervision, or while the offender was serving a sentence of imprisonment, or while the offender was on escape from a correctional institution while serving a sentence of imprisonment, 1 point.

For purposes of determining prior record points under this subsection, a conviction for a first degree rape or a first degree sexual offense committed prior to the effective date of this subsection shall be treated as a felony Class B1 conviction, and a conviction for any other felony Class B offense committed prior to the effective date of this subsection shall be treated as a felony Class B2 conviction. G.S. 15A-1340.16(a5) specifies the procedure to be used to determine if a point exists under subdivision (7) of this subsection. The State must provide a defendant with written notice of its intent to prove the existence of the prior record point under subdivision (7) of this subsection as required by G.S. 15A-1340.16(a6).

(c)        Prior Record Levels for Felony Sentencing. – The prior record levels for felony sentencing are:

(1)        Level I – Not more than 1 point.

(2)        Level II – At least 2, but not more than 5 points.

(3)        Level III – At least 6, but not more than 9 points.

(4)        Level IV – At least 10, but not more than 13 points.

(5)        Level V – At least 14, but not more than 17 points.

(6)        Level VI – At least 18 points.

In determining the prior record level, the classification of a prior offense is the classification assigned to that offense at the time the offense for which the offender is being sentenced is committed.

(d)       Multiple Prior Convictions Obtained in One Court Week. – For purposes of determining the prior record level, if an offender is convicted of more than one offense in a single superior court during one calendar week, only the conviction for the offense with the highest point total is used. If an offender is convicted of more than one offense in a single session of district court, only one of the convictions is used.

(e)        Classification of Prior Convictions From Other Jurisdictions. – Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, a conviction occurring in a jurisdiction other than North Carolina is classified as a Class I felony if the jurisdiction in which the offense occurred classifies the offense as a felony, or is classified as a Class 3 misdemeanor if the jurisdiction in which the offense occurred classifies the offense as a misdemeanor. If the offender proves by the preponderance of the evidence that an offense classified as a felony in the other jurisdiction is substantially similar to an offense that is a misdemeanor in North Carolina, the conviction is treated as that class of misdemeanor for assigning prior record level points. If the State proves by the preponderance of the evidence that an offense classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony in the other jurisdiction is substantially similar to an offense in North Carolina that is classified as a Class I felony or higher, the conviction is treated as that class of felony for assigning prior record level points. If the State proves by the preponderance of the evidence that an offense classified as a misdemeanor in the other jurisdiction is substantially similar to an offense classified as a Class A1 or Class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina, the conviction is treated as a Class A1 or Class 1 misdemeanor for assigning prior record level points.

(f)        Proof of Prior Convictions. – A prior conviction shall be proved by any of the following methods:

(1)        Stipulation of the parties.

(2)        An original or copy of the court record of the prior conviction.

(3)        A copy of records maintained by the Department of Public Safety, the Division of Motor Vehicles, or of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

(4)        Any other method found by the court to be reliable.

The State bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a prior conviction exists and that the offender before the court is the same person as the offender named in the prior conviction. The original or a copy of the court records or a copy of the records maintained by the Department of Public Safety, the Division of Motor Vehicles, or of the Administrative Office of the Courts, bearing the same name as that by which the offender is charged, is prima facie evidence that the offender named is the same person as the offender before the court, and that the facts set out in the record are true. For purposes of this subsection, “a copy” includes a paper writing containing a reproduction of a record maintained electronically on a computer or other data processing equipment, and a document produced by a facsimile machine. The prosecutor shall make all feasible efforts to obtain and present to the court the offender’s full record. Evidence presented by either party at trial may be utilized to prove prior convictions. Suppression of prior convictions is pursuant to G.S. 15A-980. If a motion is made pursuant to that section during the sentencing stage of the criminal action, the court may grant a continuance of the sentencing hearing. If asked by the defendant in compliance with G.S. 15A-903, the prosecutor shall furnish the defendant’s prior criminal record to the defendant within a reasonable time sufficient to allow the defendant to determine if the record available to the prosecutor is accurate. Upon request of a sentencing services program established pursuant to Article 61 of Chapter 7A of the General Statutes, the district attorney shall provide any information the district attorney has about the criminal record of a person for whom the program has been requested to provide a sentencing plan pursuant to G.S. 7A-773.1.

After the Court determines the prior record level in felony sentencing, the court must now determine the aggravated and mitigating factors.  These factors help determine what range the sentence falls into: aggravated, presumptive, or mitigated. These ranges of punishments are represented on the following sentencing grid found here.   This chart was made with reference to  NCGS § 15A-1340.17 which is provided below:

§15A-1340.17.  Punishment limits for each class of offense and prior record level.

(a)        Offense Classification; Default Classifications. – The offense classification is as specified in the offense for which the sentence is being imposed. If the offense is a felony for which there is no classification, it is a Class I felony.

(b)        Fines. – Any judgment that includes a sentence of imprisonment may also include a fine. If a community punishment is authorized, the judgment may consist of a fine only. Additionally, when the defendant is other than an individual, the judgment may consist of a fine only. Unless otherwise provided, the amount of the fine is in the discretion of the court.

(c)        Punishments for Each Class of Offense and Prior Record Level; Punishment Chart Described. – The authorized punishment for each class of offense and prior record level is as specified in the chart below. Prior record levels are indicated by the Roman numerals placed horizontally on the top of the chart. Classes of offense are indicated by the letters placed vertically on the left side of the chart. Each cell on the chart contains the following components:

(1)        A sentence disposition or dispositions: “C” indicates that a community punishment is authorized; “I” indicates that an intermediate punishment is authorized; “A” indicates that an active punishment is authorized; and “Life Imprisonment Without Parole” indicates that the defendant shall be imprisoned for the remainder of the prisoner’s natural life.

(2)        A presumptive range of minimum durations, if the sentence of imprisonment is neither aggravated or mitigated; any minimum term of imprisonment in that range is permitted unless the court finds pursuant to G.S. 15A-1340.16 that an aggravated or mitigated sentence is appropriate. The presumptive range is the middle of the three ranges in the cell.

(3)        A mitigated range of minimum durations if the court finds pursuant to G.S. 15A-1340.16 that a mitigated sentence of imprisonment is justified; in such a case, any minimum term of imprisonment in the mitigated range is permitted. The mitigated range is the lower of the three ranges in the cell.

(4)        An aggravated range of minimum durations if the court finds pursuant to G.S. 15A-1340.16 that an aggravated sentence of imprisonment is justified; in such a case, any minimum term of imprisonment in the aggravated range is permitted. The aggravated range is the higher of the three ranges in the cell.

PRIOR RECORD LEVEL

Winston Salem Criminal Attorney

(d)       Maximum Sentences Specified for Class F through Class I Felonies. – Unless provided otherwise in a statute establishing a punishment for a specific crime, for each minimum term of imprisonment in the chart in subsection (c) of this section, expressed in months, the corresponding maximum term of imprisonment, also expressed in months, is as specified in the table below for Class F through Class I felonies. The first figure in each cell in the table is the minimum term and the second is the maximum term.

Greensboro Felony Attorney

(e)        Maximum Sentences Specified for Class B1 through Class E Felonies for Minimum Terms up to 339 Months. Unless provided otherwise in a statute establishing a punishment for a specific crime, for each minimum term of imprisonment in the chart in subsection (c) of this section, expressed in months, the corresponding maximum term of imprisonment, also expressed in months, is as specified in the table below for Class B1 through Class E felonies. The first figure in each cell of the table is the minimum term and the second is the maximum term.

Winston Salem Felony Attorney

(e1)      Maximum Sentences Specified for Class B1 through Class E Felonies for Minimum Terms of 340 Months or More. – Unless provided otherwise in a statute establishing a punishment for a specific crime, when the minimum sentence is 340 months or more, the corresponding maximum term of imprisonment shall be equal to the sum of the minimum term of imprisonment and twenty percent (20%) of the minimum term of imprisonment, rounded to the next highest month, plus 12 additional months.

(f)        Maximum Sentences Specified for Class B1 Through Class E Sex Offenses. – Unless provided otherwise in a statute establishing a punishment for a specific crime, for offenders sentenced for a Class B1 through E felony that is a reportable conviction subject to the registration requirement of Article 27A of Chapter 14 of the General Statutes, the maximum term of imprisonment shall be equal to the sum of the minimum term of imprisonment and twenty percent (20%) of the minimum term of imprisonment, rounded to the next highest month, plus 60 additional months.

By using the above chart, the Court can properly select the minimum and maximum sentence range. The Court must then determine the disposition of the sentence: Active, Intermediate, or Community.  Active is an active prison term; Intermediate involves supervised probation with other conditions; Community involves either supervised or unsupervised probation and may have other conditions attached.  At this point the Court may also order restitution.

Deviations from Structured Sentencing

The Court does deviate from Structured Sentencing for certain provisions.  These provisions include Class A Felonies (these are always death or life without parole); Habitual Felons (a status one obtains by having three prior felony convictions); Violent Habitual Felons; Habitual Breaking and Entering.  Other deviations from Structured Sentencing include crimes involving Habitual Impaired Driving; Firearms or deadly weapons; Sex offenders; B1 felonies against children under 14 with a prior B1 conviction; using a Bullet proof vest while committing a felony; Drug Trafficking; and others.  That is the basics of Structured Sentencing in North Carolina.  This is difficult stuff; speak to a Winston-Salem or Greensboro Criminal Defense Lawyer at LAWSMITH, The Law Offices of J. Scott Smith, PLLC for a free initial consultation to discuss your legal needs.