How Does Felony Sentencing Work In NC?

Like misdemeanor sentencing, felonies in North Carolina are sentenced according to structured sentencing, which bases your punishment on a grid that measures the severity of the crime against your criminal history. If you rank high in both those categories, your sentence will be much worse than if you rank low in those categories.

Unlike misdemeanor sentencing, the grid is much larger and more complex; the points that create your punishment record level are calculated differently; and the sentences fall into one of three ranges depending on the existence of aggravating or mitigating factors.

The Grid

The felony sentencing grid is found in North Carolina General Statute section 15A-1340.17(e1). It looks like this:

I                II                III               IV                 V                 VI

0-1 Pt        2-5 Pts         6-9 Pts      10-13 Pts      14-17 Pts       18+ Pts

A         Life Imprisonment With Parole or Without Parole, or Death, as Established by Statute

A                A                 A                A                  A                  A             DISPOSITION

240-300     276-345       317-397      365-456        Life Imprisonment                  Aggravated

Without Parole

B1   192-240     221-276       254-317      292-365        336-420        386-483      PRESUMPTIVE

144-192     166-221       190-254      219-292        252-336        290-386                  Mitigated

A                A                 A                A                  A                  A             DISPOSITION

157-196     180-225       207-258      238-297        273-342        314-393              Aggravated

B2   125-157     144-180       165-207      190-238        219-273        251-314      PRESUMPTIVE

94-125      108-144       124-165      143-190        164-219        189-251                  Mitigated

A                A                 A                A                  A                  A             DISPOSITION

73-92        83-104         96-120       110-138        127-159        146-182              Aggravated

C       58-73         67-83           77-96         88-110         101-127        117-146      PRESUMPTIVE

44-58         50-67           58-77          66-88           76-101          87-117                   Mitigated

A                A                 A                A                  A                  A             DISPOSITION

64-80         73-92          84-105        97-121         111-139        128-160              Aggravated

D       51-64         59-73           67-84          78-97           89-111         103-128      PRESUMPTIVE

38-51         44-59           51-67          58-78            67-89           77-103                   Mitigated

I/A             I/A                A                A                  A                  A             DISPOSITION

25-31         29-36           33-41          38-48            44-55            50-63                Aggravated

E        20-25         23-29           26-33          30-38            35-44            40-50        PRESUMPTIVE

15-20         17-23           20-26          23-30            26-35            30-40                    Mitigated

I/A             I/A              I/A               A                  A                  A             DISPOSITION

16-20         19-23           21-27          25-31            28-36            33-41                Aggravated

F        13-16         15-19           17-21          20-25            23-28            26-33        PRESUMPTIVE

10-13         11-15           13-17          15-20            17-23            20-26                    Mitigated

I/A             I/A              I/A              I/A                 A                  A             DISPOSITION

13-16         14-18           17-21          19-24            22-27            25-31                Aggravated

G       10-13         12-14           13-17          15-19            17-22            20-25        PRESUMPTIVE

8-10           9-12            10-13          11-15            13-17            15-20                    Mitigated

C/I/A           I/A              I/A              I/A                I/A                 A             DISPOSITION

6-8            8-10            10-12          11-14            15-19            20-25                Aggravated

H         5-6             6-8              8-10            9-11             12-15            16-20        PRESUMPTIVE

4-5             4-6               6-8              7-9               9-12             12-16                    Mitigated

C               C/I                I                I/A                I/A                I/A            DISPOSITION

6-8             6-8               6-8             8-10              9-11             10-12                Aggravated

I           4-6             4-6               5-6              6-8                7-9               8-10         PRESUMPTIVE

3-4             3-4               4-5              4-6                5-7                6-8                      Mitigated

The alphabetically ranked letters in the column on the left designate the offense class. Each felony in North Carolina falls into one of these offense classes in the same way that each misdemeanor fell into a numerically labelled offense class. For example, murder is Class A felony, and comes with the highest possible punishment, while possessing with the intent to sell or distribute marijuana is a Class I, punishable by the lowest possible punishment. The letters C/I/A above the numbers in each section, like in misdemeanor sentencing, designate the type of punishment the judge is able to give you if you fall into that section.

  • C means Community Punishment and is anything from community service to a fine to supervised probation.
  • I means Intermediate punishment and is supervised probation.
  • A is active time in jail or prison.

How To Read The Grid

The numbers on the grid can get tricky. They signify the minimum number of months in jail to which you can be sentenced if you fall into that grid. The corresponding maximums for Class F through I felonies are in section (d) of the statute and look like this:

3-13       4-14       5-15        6-17       7-18       8-19      9-20       10-21

11-23    12-24      13-25     14-26     15-27     16-29     17-30     18-31

19-32    20-33      21-35     22-36     23-37     24-38     25-39     26-41

27-42    28-43      29-44     30-45     31-47     32-48     33-49     34-50

35-51    36-53      37-54     38-55     39-56     40-57     41-59     42-60

43-61    44-62      45-63     46-65     47-66     48-67     49-68

To arrive at your true minimum and maximum sentence, you use the first number from the top grid, and the corresponding number from the bottom grid. For example, let’s say you are convicted of a Class I felony at record level 1. You would fall into the bottom left box on the grid. Now let’s say you’re sentenced in the presumptive range (more on that later), which is 4-6 months. Your sentence is NOT 4-6 months. Those numbers indicate the minimum number of months a judge can give you. So if you fall in that box, a judge can sentence you to 4 months, 5 months, or 6 months as your minimum time in jail. Let’s say s/he sentences you to 4 months. To find out the maximum length of your sentence, look at the bottom grid and find the number 4. It reads 4-14. That means if a judge sentences you to 4 months minimum using the top grid, then your maximum sentence is 4 to 14 months.

For felonies in classes B1 through E, the maximum grid is found in section (e) of the statute and looks like this:

15-30              16-32            17-33           18-34          19-35          20-36          21-38           22-39

23-40              24-41            25-42           26-44          27-45          28-46          29-47           30-48

31-50              32-51            33-52           34-53          35-54          36-56          37-57           38-58

39-59              40-60            41-62           42-63          43-64          44-65          45-66           46-68

47-69              48-70            49-71           50-72          51-74          52-75          53-76           54-77

55-78              56-80            57-81           58-82          59-83          60-84          61-86           62-87

63-88              64-89            65-90           66-92          67-93          68-94          69-95           70-96

71-98              72-99           73-100         74-101        75-102        76-104        77-105         78-106

79-107           80-108          81-110         82-111        83-112        84-113        85-114         86-116

87-117           88-118          89-119         90-120        91-122        92-123        93-124         94-125

95-126           96-128          97-129         98-130        99-131       100-132      101-134       102-135

103-136        104-137        105-138       106-140      107-141      108-142      109-143       110-144

111-146        112-147        113-148       114-149      115-150      116-152      117-153       118-154

119-155        120-156        121-158       122-159      123-160      124-161      125-162       126-164

127-165        128-166        129-167       130-168      131-170      132-171      133-172       134-173

135-174        136-176        137-177       138-178      139-179      140-180      141-182       142-183

143-184        144-185        145-186       146-188      147-189      148-190      149-191       150-192

151-194        152-195        153-196       154-197      155-198      156-200      157-201       158-202

159-203        160-204        161-206       162-207      163-208      164-209      165-210       166-212

167-213        168-214        169-215       170-216      171-218      172-219      173-220       174-221

175-222        176-224        177-225       178-226      179-227      180-228      181-230       182-231

183-232        184-233        185-234       186-236      187-237      188-238      189-239       190-240

191-242        192-243        193-244       194-245      195-246      196-248      197-249       198-250

199-251        200-252        201-254       202-255      203-256      204-257      205-258       206-260

207-261        208-262        209-263       210-264      211-266      212-267      213-268       214-269

215-270        216-272        217-273       218-274      219-275      220-276      221-278       222-279

223-280        224-281        225-282       226-284      227-285      228-286      229-287       230-288

231-290        232-291        233-292       234-293      235-294      236-296      237-297       238-298

239-299        240-300        241-302       242-303      243-304      244-305      245-306       246-308

247-309        248-310        249-311       250-312      251-314      252-315      253-316       254-317

255-318        256-320        257-321       258-322      259-323      260-324      261-326       262-327

263-328        264-329        265-330       266-332      267-333      268-334      269-335       270-336

271-338        272-339        273-340       274-341      275-342      276-344      277-345       278-346

279-347        280-348        281-350       282-351      283-352      284-353      285-354       286-356

287-357        288-358        289-359       290-360      291-362      292-363      293-364       294-365

295-366        296-368        297-369       298-370      299-371      300-372      301-374       302-375

303-376        304-377        305-378       306-380      307-381      308-382      309-383       310-384

311-386        312-387        313-388       314-389      315-390      316-392      317-393       318-394

319-395        320-396        321-398       322-399      323-400      324-401      325-402       326-404

327-405        328-406        329-407       330-408      331-410      332-411      333-412       334-413

335-414        336-416        337-417       338-418      339-419


The Points

Points that create your felony record level are calculated much differently than those that comprise your misdemeanor record level. Remember that in misdemeanor sentencing, each felony or misdemeanor conviction gave you only one point. Simple. In felony sentencing, different classes of felonies give you different points. Your total number of points determines into which column of punishment options you fall on the felony grid. To calculate them, there is a sentencing worksheet found in AOC Form AOC-CR-600B that you can here: http://nccourts.org/Forms/Documents/145.pdf . That form will tell you that for each prior conviction for a Class A felony, you get 10 points. For each prior conviction for a B1 felony, you get 9 points. For each prior conviction for a Class B2, C, or D felony, you get 6 points. For each prior conviction for an E, F, or G felony, you get 4 points. For each prior conviction for an H or I felony, you get two points. And for each prior conviction for a Class A1 or Class 1 misdemeanor, you also get 1 point, which means that, theoretically, you could arrive at the maximum number of felony points without having ever committed a felony.

You also receive 1 additional sentencing point if: (1) all the elements of the current offense are contained in a prior conviction; (2) you committed the new offense while on supervised or unsupervised probation; (3) you committed the new offense while in jail; or (4) you committed the new offense while on escape from jail or a correctional institution. Numbers (2) and (3) rarely happen. However, committing new offenses while already on probation for a different offense is quite common. To determine whether (1) is met, consult with an attorney to discuss your record level and whether (1) applies to your case.

The Ranges

Unlike misdemeanor sentencing, felony sentences fall into one of three ranges: (1) aggravated; (2) presumptive; and (3) mitigated. The presumptive range is the sentencing range that is standard.  However, when certain facts can make your sentence worse (aggravating factors) and certain facts can make your sentence better (mitigating factors). Judges use aggravating and mitigating factors as reasons to sentence outside the presumptive range for each block on the grid.

A list of aggravating factors is found in North Carolina General Statute section 15A-1340.16(d). In order to use an aggravating factor against you to increase your sentence, the State must provide written notice of its intent to prove specific aggravating factors at least 30 days prior to trial or plea, unless you waive the right to receive that notice. A list of mitigating factors is found in North Carolina General Statute section 15A-1340.16(e). A defendant generally presents as many as may apply to his case at sentencing and he must be given the opportunity to do so. No written notice is required to present mitigating factors. Once all the aggravating and mitigating factors are considered, a judge decides whether they affect your sentence. It is entirely in the judge’s discretion to decide whether to sentence outside the presumptive range, even if the aggravating and/or mitigating factors outweigh each other one way or another.

Don’t Go It Alone! Call An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Possibly the most important take-away from this is the complexity of felony sentencing. Before accepting a plea deal or pleading guilty, consult an attorney at Jetton & Meredith to make sure you know all the factors potentially affecting your sentence.

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