In North Carolina, felony sentencing is complicated. That’s because they use a system in the state that assigns a class to a crime and compares it with a person’s criminal history in order to determine the level of the sentence they can receive.
Every felony conviction comes with the possibility of prison or jail time. Depending on your criminal history, though, you may be able to avoid it.
Here’s what you need to know about felony sentencing in North Carolina to help you make sense of this very complicated system.
Why Does North Carolina Have This System?
The reasoning behind this complex sentencing structure in North Carolina is to embrace principles such as consistency, rationality, the priority of resources, and truthfulness into the criminal justice system.
It is believed that the currently used method of sentencing is fair since it takes into account not only the felony a person is facing but their prior convictions as well.
Based on these factors, judges are given options for lengths and types of sentences.
Sentence Range for Felony Classes
The North Carolina system is based on a grid that establishes the sentencing range for felony offenses. This grid is divided into columns and rows. The level of the offender’s prior criminal record is organized in the columns while the rows are organized by class of felony offense.
The classes of felonies in North Carolina (found in the rows of the sentencing grid) are:
- Class A felony: This is punishable by life in prison without parole or even death.
- Class B1 felony: This is punishable by up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
- Class B2 felony: This is punishable by up to 393 months in prison.
- Class C felony: This is punishable by up to 182 months in prison.
- Class D felony: This is punishable by up to 160 months in prison.
- Class E felony: This is punishable by up to 63 months in prison.
- Class F felony: This is punishable by up to 41 months in prison.
- Class G felony: This is punishable by up to 31 months in prison.
- Class H felony: This is punishable by up to 25 months in prison.
- Class I felony: This is punishable by up to 12 months in prison.
Ranges for a Prior Record
A felony offense outside of a Class A felony will take into account a prior criminal record for sentencing. All Class A offenses are punishable by either the death penalty or life without parole, the prior criminal history is not taken into account.
The prior convictions on a person’s record are worth a certain number of points. The court looks at the offense and the prior record and adds all the points together, the sum of which then determines the prior record level of the defendant.
An offender’s record ranges from an “I” to a “VI” level. A person with little to no criminal history falls into a Level I category, while someone with an extensive history of convictions can have a Level VI.
The general distribution for points for prior convictions are based on these criteria:
- Each conviction for a Class A felony = 10 points
- Each conviction for a Class B1 felony = 9 points
- Each conviction for a Class B2, C, or D felony = 6 points
- Each conviction for a Class E, F, or G felony = 4 points
- Each conviction for a Class H or I felony = 2 points
- Each conviction for a misdemeanor = 1 point
Record Level Assignment
These points are then translated into record levels. Once you add them up to find the number of points a person has, then the prior record level is found:
- 0 to 1 point – Level I
- 2 to 5 points – Level II
- 6 to 9 points – Level III
- 10 to 13 points – Level IV
- 14 to 17 points – Level V
- 18 points or more – Level VI
Length of Sentence Imposed
Once everything has been considered and added up on the grid, the judge then sentences the convicted felon to a minimum and maximum sentence.
The sentencing grid guides the judge for a maximum term of imprisonment, but once a minimum sentence has been served, then a person can be eligible for parole.
It’s important to remember that judges don’t always sentence someone to prison, especially if they have little to no prior criminal history.
A judge can impose an intermediate or community sentence that requires a person to be under house arrest for a certain period of time or participate in a drug treatment program. They can also impose community service.
Sentencing can be complicated in North Carolina, which is why understanding your rights is critical when you go before the court.