Misdemeanor Sentencing in North Carolina
While misdemeanor sentencing may involve fewer considerations than felony sentencing, North Carolina still imposes a set and requirements for courts when handling felony convictions.
This came about ever since the North Carolina Structured Sentencing Act went into effect in 1994, judges are required to follow a set of guidelines and standards when sentencing a person for a criminal conviction. This came about when the state was suffering from a growing prison population with limited facilities to house convicts, and the growing concern that prison sentencing was not handled in a manner that was fair or reflected the danger or severity of the crimes committed.
1. Determine the Offense Class
There are four classes of misdemeanor offenses ranges from most serious to least: A1, 1, 2, and 3. The offense class for a misdemeanor crime is generally laid out in the statute defining the crime, though there are some statutes with no punishment listed. In this case, the offense is generally considered a class 1 misdemeanor if they are punishable for more than 6 months in prison, class 2 if less than 6 months but more than 30 days, and class 3 if thirty days or less.
Another general rule is that conspiracies and attempts to commit crimes are punished as one class below the main offense. There are also instances where misdemeanor crimes are raised to felonies. For example, misdemeanors crimes against the person that are motivated by the victim’s race, color, religion, or nationality are punished as either Class 1 misdemeanors or Class H felonies.
2. Establish Prior Record Level
After the offense class is established from the criminal conviction, criminal history becomes a factor in narrowing the sentencing range and punishments down. Misdemeanors have 3 prior conviction levels: I, II, and III, in order of least to most severe. Placement into one of these levels is based on the total number of prior convictions, where every conviction whether felony or misdemeanor counts as one conviction.
3. Selecting Sentencing Length and Disposition
While felonies consider additional mitigating and aggravating factors and calculate minimum and maximum sentencing ranges, misdemeanors are a bit more straight forward. After the prior record level and misdemeanor class is established, the judge can refer to North Carolina’s misdemeanor punishment chart and select a cell in the grid that matches, as shown below:
|Prior Conviction Level
|No Prior Convictions
|One to Four Prior Convictions
|Five or More Prior Convictions
(fine only unless otherwise provided)
(fine only unless otherwise provided or 4 prior convictions)
For example, if the defendant is found guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor and had 1 prior conviction, their sentence range will be between 1 and 45 days.
As you may have noticed, the grid also lists the letters “C”, “I”, and “A”. These letters refer to the sentencing “disposition”, or manner of which the sentence is to be served, and correspond to:
- Active Punishment (“A”): A continuous term of imprisonment. The maximum term of this imprisonment could be reduced by earned-time credits, but not below the minimum.
- Intermediate Punishment (“I”): Supervised probation involving at lease one of the following:
- Community service duties
- House arrest with electronic monitoring
- Local confinement for a total of no more than six days per month during any three separate months during the probation period.
- Participation in an education or vocational skills development program
- Submission to satellite-based monitoring (usually for sex offenders)
- Community Punishment (“C”): Unsupervised or supervised probation with no active term of imprisonment.
Generally, an active punishment is considered the most severe, while community punishment the lease, which is why more serious offenses include the possibility of active punishment while lower level ones do not.
The final step in misdemeanor sentencing is determining the restitution, or what damages the guilty party needs to compensate. While all felonies may require restitution, only the following misdemeanors may be subject to paying restitution to the victim:
- assault with a deadly weapon
- assault inflicting serious injury
- assault on a females
- simple assault
- assault by pointing a gun
- domestic criminal trespass
Additionally, the above only require restitution if the defendant and victim were in one of six kinds of “personal relationships“, indicating a domestic violence dispute.
Special Provisions and Circumstances
As with most things in the law, there are always unique circumstances that could take place that could require a slight deviation from the standard process. We have discussed a few cases of this, such as when a violent misdemeanor committed is motivated by prejudice against the victim’s protected class (e.g. race, religion), the crime may be punished more severely. There are other instances where sentencing is enhanced, such as committed a misdemeanor crime while involved with a gang can increase the sentencing class, potentially even to a felony.
If you are facing misdemeanor charges, it is best to contact an experienced attorney both for representation and to understand what potential punishment you may face if you are convicted.