Criminal Charges and Sentencing

There are two main categories of offenses under North Carolina criminal law: misdemeanors and felonies. These are very general categories and the severity of offenses contained within in them can vary considerably.

Misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail (not prison) and fines.

Though not as serious as a felony, any misdemeanor conviction can result in possible jail time, significant fines, and will appear on a criminal background check, which could follow you for life.

Felonies are punishable by more than one year in prison and the classification of being a convicted felon.

Felony charges are categorized in classes, with a Class A Felony as the most serious, down to a Class J felony which is the least serious. See the chart on sentencing guidelines (below) for details on potential sentences.

Convicted felons must deal with that label, typically, for the rest of their life. It affects your right to vote and your ability to find employment. Unfortunately for those people who make a felonious mistake, it will follow them forever.

Sentencing Procedures

You’ve gone through the trial process and the only thing left is for the court to determine your punishment. You are probably unsure of what to expect at sentencing time, and you are likely frightened about the prospect of large fines and potential prison time.

Pre-Sentence Report

More than likely, a pre-sentence investigation will be ordered by the judge prior to sentencing. The pre-sentence investigation and subsequent report is a tool to assist the judge in determining the appropriate sentence in your case.

A probation officer employed by the State of North Carolina, completes the pre-sentence investigation through background investigations and interviews. You, your family, employer, and any potential victims may be interviewed for this report.

The pre-sentence report can include a wide variety of information including:

  • Family history
  • Psychological evaluation or history
  • Connections in the community
  • Employment history
  • Criminal history
  • Victim statements
  • Circumstances of the offense

Finally, the pre-sentence report will include a sentencing recommendation from the investigating officer. Although the judge does not have to follow this recommendation, he will, no doubt, take it into consideration.

Structured Sentencing

North Carolina adopted structured sentencing for felonies and misdemeanors in 1994 in an effort to minimize sentencing disparities and streamline the sentencing process. Judges must look at these guidelines and utilize them when determining your sentence.

Structured sentencing classifies each case based on the severity of the crime committed as well as any past criminal convictions. For each offense and sentence guideline, a chart sets forth a range that the judge may sentence within.

Felony offenses are classified into levels based on severity. For example, Class A felonies are the most serious and Class I are the least.

How A Past Criminal Record Affects Sentencing

If you any criminal history of convictions in your past, it affects the charges you are currently facing.

Past criminal convictions are assigned points, the more serious your prior record, the more points you have. Those points dictate what record level you are at. For instance, if you have no prior criminal convictions, you are classified as a record Level I. However, if you have a significant criminal history (19 or more points) you would be classified as the most serious record level, a Level VI.

Points are generally assigned this way:

  • For each prior felony Class A conviction, 10 points.
  • For each prior felony Class B1 conviction, 9 points.
  • For each prior felony Class B2, C, or D conviction, 6 points.
  • For each prior felony Class E, F, or G conviction, 4 points.
  • For each prior felony Class H or I conviction, 2 points.
  • For each misdemeanor, not otherwise stated in statue, 1 point.

North Carolina Criminal Felony Charge – Penalties

This chart represents just a portion of sentencing guidelines for felonies in North Carolina:

History LevelFelony Clas Level I0 points Level II1-4 points Level III5-8 points Level VI19+ points
Class A Felony

Life In Prison or Death

Class B1 Felony 242-300192-240

144-192

288-360230-288

173-230

336-420269-336

202-269

Life384-480

288-384

Class B2 Felony 157-196125-157

94-125

189-237151-189

114-151

220-276176-220

132-176

313-392251-313

188-251

Class C Felony 73-9258-73

44-58

100-12580-100

60-80

116-14593-116

70-93

168-210135-168

101-135

Class D Felony 44-5864-80

38-51

60-8077-95

46-61

70-9382-103

61-82

146-183117-146

88-117

Class E Felony 25-3120-25

15-20

29-3623-29

17-23

34-4227-34

20-27

59-7447-59

35-47

Class F Felony 16-2013-16

10-13

19-2415-19

11-15

21-2617-21

13-17

39-4931-39

23-31

Class G Felony 13-1610-13

8-10

15-1912-15

9-12

16-2013-16

10-13

29-3623-29

17-23

Class H Felony 6-85-6

4-5

8-106-8

4-6

10-128-10

6-8

20-2516-20

12-16

Class I Felony 6-84-6

3-4

6-84-6

3-4

6-85-6

4-5

10-128-10

6-8

Top: Aggravated

Middle: Presumptive

Bottom: Mitigated

Within each box on the grid are three ranges, in months. The middle range is what is known as the presumptive sentence. However if there are circumstances of your case that worsen the severity of it, or if there are convictions in your past that make this new offense more serious, the judge can sentence you to the higher range, known as the aggravated sentence.

As your attorney it is our job to point out to the court any mitigating factors about you and your case. This means that we will show the court all of the positive things about you and do our best to minimize the severity of the offense. If the court sees things our way, you may be sentenced within the lower range, or the mitigated sentence.

Probation

For many offenses, a suspended sentence is possible. What this means is your prison sentence will be “suspended” or put on hold while you serve probation within the community. If you successfully complete the probation, you will not have to serve time.

While under probation in North Carolina you are required to abide by a variety of conditions. Probation conditions can include such things as random drug testing, maintaining employment, and regular appointments with a probation officer.

If you violate the terms of your probation you may be brought back to court and risk having your original prison sentence activated.

Get Help Understanding North Carolina Criminal Charges and Potential Penalties

We are concerned, as we know you are, about the prospect of you going to prison. We will make it our mission to do everything possible to convince the judge you are a good candidate for community supervision. As experience defense attorneys we have succeeded at this many times and have also successfully defended clients against probation violations.

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