Reforming North Carolina’s Sentencing Laws

South Carolina is reforming its sentencing laws to reduce the number of people sent to prison for lengthy sentences involving non-violent crimes.

People convicted of nonviolent crimes account for nearly half of the state’s 25,000 inmates, and nearly one in five inmates are imprisoned for drug crimes, according to the commission’s February report.

The bill’s highlights include:

1. More focus on drug dealers. The bill deletes mandatory minimum sentences for a first conviction on simple drug possession, allows the possibility of probation or parole for certain second and third drug possession convictions, and removes sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine possession.
2. More home confinement. The bill will call for home detention for third-offense driving under suspension. This would relieve some prison crowding. The bill also increases penalties if someone driving with on a suspended license injures someone.
3. More violent crime. More penalties. The bill changes the status of two dozen crimes from nonviolent to violent – including sex crimes involving children – meaning those inmates can’t be paroled until they serve at least 85 percent of their time.

North Carolina should undertake sentencing reform. One recommendation would be to modify its Habitual Felon statute. The statute counts for habitual purposes any felony, including very low level and non-violent drug possession and drug sale convictions. These convictions can very easily mount, making people who have never committed a violent or even assaultive felony against another person eligible for 10 years or more in prison.

As with South Carolina, North Carolina has a very high percentage of non-violent people in prison, which costs the state tens of millions of dollars, and deprives these people of freedom. Yes, we all agree drug use is bad. The question is whether someone should be in prison for 10 years for four drug possession or drug sale convictions.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.