Structured Sentencing Changes

I’ve written here before about changes to North Carolina’s Structured Sentencing system. This is the second change in two years – the previous change went into effect on December 1, 2009.

As of December 1, 2011, there are two important changes to the Structured Sentencing system which governs how most offenses – except DWIs and drug trafficking – are sentenced following conviction.

In order to ensure that everyone who is convicted of a North Carolina felony is considered a felon for federal purposes, North Carolina’s General Assembly increased punishments for Class I and Class H felons so that all felons in North Carolina face at least 13 months of punishment.

Thirteen months is a magic number because under federal law, one is not a felon unless one can spend at least 12 months in prison for a crime. Under the old chart, certain low level North Carolina felons were not deemed to be felons for federal purposes because under state law they could not receive at least 12 months of prison. Now all felons can potentially receive 12 months of punishment, making everyone who is convicted of a felony in North Carolina a felon under federal law.

Also as of December 1, 2011, North Carolina has enhanced punishments for those convicted of reportable sex offenses. The enhancements involve changes to Structured Sentencing’s Min-Max chart, which creates the maximum punishment the person faces. For defendants who behave well in prison, they may be able to effectively work the time off to reach the minimum based on good behavior.

But for defendants who are held in jail awaiting trial, the new sentencing chart will punish them because they can receive no credit against the maximum sentence while spending time in local jails. Consequently, the change basically means they will spend more time, potentially, in jail than someone who pled early to a sex offense crime.

In addition, the min-maxes simply punish sex offenders more harshly.

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.