Felony Sentencing in North Carolina

If you find yourself charged with a felony in North Carolina, your first question is probably going to be “How long can I go to jail for?” Under North Carolina’s structured sentencing guidelines, anyone can see what the potential punishments are for any felony, using a freely available felony sentencing chart, which you can find here.

The Four Steps to Determining a Sentence

There’s four steps that every lawyer, judge, and defendant can use to determine what type of sentence they’re facing. You first need to classify the felony, determine your prior record level, see the minimum sentence, and then find the corresponding maximum sentence.

1. Classifying the Felony

North Carolina felonies are divided into ten classes, with the worst felonies being in Class A, down to Class I felonies. Why are there ten classes when there are only nine letters between A and I? Because North Carolina divides Class B felonies into two levels, B1 and B2 felonies, depending on which elements of the crime the State thinks they can prove. It is not always easy to find what class each felony falls into, with drug crimes being notoriously difficult due to it depending on the type and weight of the drug. 

2. Prior Record Levels

How harsh a punishment you receive depends on what your criminal history looks like. Prior record levels run from 1-6, with 1 being little to no prior criminal history, to 6 being what we like to call “frequent flyers,” or people who spend almost as much time in the courtroom as their defense attorney. The level is determined by how many points you have. Your points are determined by both the quality and quantity of your criminal history. This record level does not go off of what you’re currently charged with, but what you’ve been convicted of in the past. Generally misdemeanor convictions are worth one point, while felonies are worth an increasing amount of points depending on the level of the felony. H & I felonies are worth 2 points each, while prior A felonies are worth 10 points. Of course, if you have any prior A felonies, you’re likely in prison for the rest of your life as it is so your record level probably isn’t a big concern for you. You then add up all the points you’ve earned, and those points correspond to prior record levels. 

3. Minimum Sentence

Once you’ve found your felony class and prior record level, you can easily see what your minimum sentence range will be. On the left hand side of the chart, find what class your felony is. Then, find the correct prior record level on the top of the chart. Find the cell where those two intersect, and you’ll find….. six sets of numbers. Each cell is broken down into three categories, a presumptive range, a mitigated range, and an aggravated range. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll stick with the presumptive range which is the middle set of numbers, conveniently bolded in the chart linked above. That range of numbers is not your sentence, but instead the minimum amount of months the judge can sentence you to. And while many judges may disagree, in our experience, there is very little rhyme or reason to what number any judge may pick within that range.

4. Corresponding Maximum Sentence

Now that you’ve found your minimum range, it’s time to find the maximum number of months. When it comes to the maximum number, you can’t actually determine what it will be until the judge sentences you. That’s because the maximum amount of months corresponds to the actual minimum number of months you are sentenced to. On the bottom of the chart linked above, you will take the minimum sentence imposed by the judge, find that number on the left side, and the hyphenated number next to it is the maximum number of months you can serve. Once you have that number, you can see what the judge is sentencing you to. As to how much of that range you will actually serve, that is a topic for another blog and involves some mystical algorithm applied by the Department of Public Safety in Raleigh.

If you’re facing a felony charge yourself, the important thing to remember is that each of those steps above can be challenged by a skilled criminal defense attorney at Morris & Fox, Attorneys at Law. Which class of felony you are convicted of and which convictions count towards your prior record level can all be challenged and argued by one of our defense lawyers. Our attorneys have experience representing people at ever level of felony, from Class A first-degree murder to Class I Simple Possession of Methamphetamine. Contact us today to see how we can best help you in your Statesville or Mooresville criminal case.