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Criminal Sentences in North Carolina – Part 3 – Punishment Ranges


In this third blog post about criminal sentences in North Carolina, we’re going to take a look at punishment ranges. Anyone convicted of a crime in North Carolina faces a wide range of potential penalties under the North Carolina sentencing statutes. To better understand what sentence you could face if convicted of a crime, it’s essential that you understand the range of penalties a court can impose.

Sentences – Felony Punishment Ranges

When someone is convicted of a felony offense in North Carolina, a court can impose a sentence in one of three ranges: presumptive, aggravated, and mitigated. Each range allows courts discretion in the kind of punishment they impose and is determined by the factors surrounding each case.

The law provides a list of what are called “aggravating” and “mitigating” factors that can be considered by the court to determine the appropriate sentencing range.  Aggravating factors are factual aspects of the case that make the crime worse.   Examples of aggravating facts include causing injury to a law enforcement officer during the commission of the crime or involving a person under the age of 16 in the offense.  Mitigating factors are ones that reduce the seriousness of the crime committed.  Those can include findings that a defendant supports their family or took responsibility for their actions at an early stage of the investigation.

In our previous posting, we described how punishments are based on a comparison of the class of the crime committed and the defendant’s prior record level to put them in a sentencing “box”.  Each box has an aggravated, presumptive and mitigated range of possible sentences.  The court must weigh any aggravating and mitigating factors that have been alleged by the prosecution and the defense and determine which range applies.  The actual punishment that a defendant receives would be chosen from within that sentencing range for their “box”.

Sentences – Misdemeanor Punishment Ranges

Misdemeanor offenses in North Carolina, unlike felonies, do not have punishments differentiated by presumptive, aggravated, and mitigated categories. Instead, a court that sentences someone for misdemeanor conviction will look at the person’s prior conviction level and the class of the misdemeanor offense in order to determine the range of potential punishments it can give.

Punishment Ranges and Final Outcomes

As we finish the series on criminal sentences in North Carolina, it’s important to realize that the issues and topics we’ve covered here can be very complicated. Determining the potential penalty that could apply in each criminal case is only the first step. To get an understanding of what a court might actually do in any situation, you need to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney who has represented clients in area courtrooms.

Making any decision about a criminal case in North Carolina is not something you should ever do until you have taken the time to speak to an attorney about your case, and have all the information you need to make a knowledgeable choice.