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North Carolina is one of the handful of states that uses structured sentencing—a method of sentencing and punishing criminals where courts look at the severity of the crime and any previous criminal record in order to decide on an appropriate punishment and length of sentence.

Structured sentencing is different from the indeterminate sentencing system used by most other states, where courts have wide discretion when determining a sentence. With indeterminate sentencing, offenders are sentenced to a term of imprisonment that reflects a range, such as one to five years. With structured sentencing, on the other hand, offenders are given a precise sentence, such as three years.

North Carolina’s structured sentencing system separates punishments into three different categories—active, intermediate, and community—outlined below.

Active. Active punishments involve incarceration in either a local jail or state prison. Typically, misdemeanor offenders are incarcerated in local jails, while felons must be incarcerated in state prisons.

Greensboro Criminal DefenseIntermediate. Intermediate punishments involve supervised probation, where offenders must abide by stern rules, pay restitution, work, and enroll in treatment programs. Intermediate punishment may include one or more of the following conditions:

  • Special probation, which involves a period or periods of both incarceration and probation
  • Drug treatment court, where the offender participates in a court supervised treatment program
  • House arrest with close electronic monitoring through a computerized system
  • Community service
  • Substance abuse treatment, monitoring, or assessment
  • Educational or vocational skills development program
  • Satellite-based monitoring

Community. Community punishment generally involves a more basic probation, and could include house arrest with electronic monitoring, community service, periods of confinement in a local jail, a substance abuse treatment program, educational or vocational skills development, or satellite-based monitoring. This type of punishment could also include a fine, restitution, or other probationary condition.

How Do Courts Determine the Type of Punishment?

Courts impose active punishments on felons who have been convicted of high-level felony crimes, as well as felons with a history of committing serious crimes. Courts impose intermediate or community punishments for felons convicted of low-level offenses crimes without a high prior record level. If an offender falls somewhere between these groups, courts may choose between active and intermediate punishments.

For offenders convicted of Class A1 misdemeanors, courts may choose from active, intermediate, or community punishments. Courts impose community punishments for offenders convicted of Class 1, 2, or 3 misdemeanors—but only if they do not have a record of past convictions. For the majority of other misdemeanor offenders, courts may assign an active, intermediate, or community punishment.

In order to determine punishment options, courts refer to felony and misdemeanor punishment charts, which provide information on the type and length of sentence based on offense class and prior record level. You can visit the North Carolina Court System website to see the most current felony and misdemeanor punishment charts.

Whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges, the consequences for any type of criminal conviction in North Carolina are unpleasant. If you manage to avoid incarceration, you still could find yourself subject to harsh penalties like strict supervision and substance monitoring.

Don’t risk your future, freedom, and reputation by fighting a misdemeanor or felony charge on your own. Consult with a North Carolina criminal attorney willing to put forth an aggressive defense, and who can help you understand our state’s complex structured sentencing laws. With a skilled lawyer on your side, you may be able to have the charges against you reduced or dropped entirely.

About the Author

Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.


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