Criminal Defense Attorneys in Raleigh & Asheville North Carolina
Before delving into structured sentencing, it is important to remember that there is a long road between being charged with a crime and being sentenced. If you are facing a criminal charge, do not go into it alone. Most all criminal lawyers offer free consultations – use them! Even if you did commit the crime, take the time to have your case evaluated. It may be more difficult to prove than you thought it would be.
If you are convicted, this is what structured sentencing looks like in North Carolina. Note: DWIs do not fall under structured sentencing, for DWI sentencing information, click here.
Sentencing Guidelines Are Complex
What can you expect out of the court system once you have been charged? Immediately following an arrest (within the first few hours), the defendant will be seen by a magistrate to determine the initial conditions of release — also known as the bond. In setting a bond, magistrates will consider factors such as the seriousness of the charge, the criminal history of the defendant, ties the defendant has to the community, any history of failure to appear in previous court matters, and the like. The focus in setting a bond is twofold: (1) ensuring the defendant’s presence in court and (2) the safety of the community.
The first court appearance after someone is charged with a felony is appropriately called a first appearance. The purpose of the first appearance is for the court to advise the defendant of the charges, the maximum penalty for those charges, and to inquire as to whether the defendant wishes to apply for a public defender. The first appearance is also when the court may review the bond that was set by the magistrate.
How To Read Sentencing Guidelines
Our lawmakers made these things unnecessarily complicated to read and understand – but these are the basics. You need to know what your individual sentencing level you are. For misdemeanors this is fairly easy. If you have no prior convictions, you are a level 1. 1-4 prior convictions, you are a level 2. 5 or more convictions and you are a level 3. For felony sentencing, it’s a bit trickier because not just the number of prior convictions, but also the type of prior convictions needs to be considered. To determine your level for felony sentencing, we use these charts:
The Complexity Of Sentencing Means A Lawyer Should Help
Just to throw you for a curveball, there is a trick. The State can only count one conviction per court session against you. This is best explained in illustration.
Suppose you were charged with DWI. A few weeks later, while the charge was still pending, you were arrested for simple possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. These three cases are continued for several months and finally resolved on the same court date. You didn’t get a very good lawyer so you ended up pleading guilty to the marijuana change and the DWI and you get the paraphernalia charge dismissed as part of your plea.
You would think that you would have 2 prior convictions, right? You have two separate incidents and two separate convictions but they only count legally as one prior conviction for future sentencing purposes because you pled guilty to them both during the same session of court.
Lets suppose that we know what our sentencing level is going to be – how do we read those charts? We need to know what the classification of the crime will be. There is a big difference between being sentenced for an H felony and being sentenced for a D felony – and it’s more than just a numbers thing. When you look at the chart you will see numeric ranges (in days for misdemeanors and months for felonies) but you will also see letters associated with each block like A, C, or I. These are important. If there is only an A – it means that only an active prison sentence is allowed. An I block means that the judge can impose an intermediate punishment. Intermediate punishments include split sentences (some active time and some probation) or possibly house arrest among other options. C means that only community punishment is allowed – aka probation at the worst. Sometimes you will see a block with I/A or C/I or C/I/A – in these blocks the judge can choose (or the State and the Defendant can agree) as to which type of punishment is appropriate.
The numbers in the chart are the range of minimum sentences – and a wide range it often is. To determine the maximum, you need to look on the back or bottom of the chart. Determining whether your case will be aggravated, presumptive, or mitigated requires a consideration of whether aggravating factors or mitigating factors are present in your case – and if so, how strongly they will be considered. A list of aggravating and mitigating factors can be found here.