North Carolina organizes felony crimes into 10 different lettered categories, from Class A to I, with Class B felonies further divided into Class BI and Class B2. Class A felonies are the most serious crimes a person can commit, while Class I felonies are considered the least serious type of felony offense.
Sentence Range for Each Level
North Carolina has a sentencing grid that determines the sentence range for any felony offense. The grid is divided into rows (horizontal axis) and columns (vertical axis), with the class of the felony offense organized by row (horizontal), and the level of the offender’s prior record organized by columns (vertical). To determine what sentence applies for any felony conviction, you have to know the class of the felony, the convict’s prior criminal record level, and what the dispositional range is.
Class of felony
Every felony offense in North Carolina has a specific, though broad, range of incarceration penalties. Ignoring prior criminal record and dispositional ranges, the prison sentences by class of felony are:
- Class A felony: death or life without parole
- Class B1 felony: 144 months to life without parole
- Class B2 felony: 94 to 393 months
- Class C felony: 44 to 182 months
- Class D felony: 38 to 160 months
- Class E felony: 15 to 63 months
- Class F felony: 10 to 41 months
- Class G felony: 8 to 31 months
- Class H felony: 4 to 25 months
- Class I felony: 3 to 12 months
Prior record level ranges
For any felony offense other than Class A felonies, a North Carolina Court has to determine the convicted person’s prior criminal record level. (All Class A felonies have a sentence of death or life in prison without parole.)
Each prior conviction is worth a certain number of points. The court adds the points together from all prior convictions, and the sum determines the defendant's prior record level, which can be from I to VI. Someone with little or no prior criminal record will have a Level I record, while someone with an extensive criminal history will have a Level VI record.
Prior conviction points
For each prior conviction, the defendant is given points based on the following criteria:
- Each prior Class A felony conviction: 10 points
- Each prior Class BI felony conviction: 9 points
- Each prior Class B2, C, or D felony conviction: 6 points
- Each prior Class E, F, or G felony conviction: 4 points
- Each prior Class H or I felony conviction: 2 points
- Each prior misdemeanor conviction: 1 point
Once you add up all the prior convictions and determine how many points a person has, you can then determine that person’s prior record level.
- Level I: 0 to 1 point
- Level II: 2-5 points
- Level III: 6-9 points
- Level IV: 10–13 points
- Level V: 14–17 points
- Level VI: 18 or more points
A dispositional range is the potential length of the sentence a court can impose for any given felony conviction. To determine a person’s dispositional range, the court will use the person’s prior record level, the level of the felony convicted, and evaluate whether there are any aggravating or mitigating factors.
For each class of felony in any prior record level, there are three different possible dispositional ranges: the presumptive range, the aggravated range, and the mitigated range.
- Presumptive range. Presumptive ranges are the standard sentences for any felony conviction. Unless the court finds there are aggravating or mitigating circumstances present, the court will order a prison term within the presumptive range.
- Aggravated range. A court will give a sentence that falls within the aggravated range if it finds aggravating factors are present in the case. There are numerous possible aggravating factors a court can consider, such as whether a defendant was hired to commit the crime; the offense was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel; or if the victim was very old or very young.
- Mitigated range. If the court finds there are mitigating factors in the case, it will give a sentence that falls within the mitigated range. Like aggravating factors, there are number of mitigating factors the court can consider. Mitigating factors include, for example, whether the defendant supports his or her entire family, believed the conduct was legal, or has accepted responsibility for the criminal conduct.
Here is an example from the North Carolina grid: Sentencing Ranges for a Class C Felony, Prior Record Level III:
- Presumptive range: 77 to 96 months
- Aggravated range: 96 to 120 months
- Mitigated range: 58 to 77 months
Once the court determines the sentencing range, the judge will then sentence the felon to a minimum and maximum sentence length. The minimum will fall somewhere in the determined sentencing range, while the maximum will be 20% longer than the minimum plus a period of post-release supervision. Once a person has served the minimum sentence, he or she becomes eligible for parole.
Active, intermediate, and community offenders
Not all felons are sentenced to prison time in North Carolina. Depending on the class of the felony and the felon’s prior record, the court can impose an active, intermediate, or community sentence. Someone sentenced to an active sentence must serve their time in prison, while those sentenced to an intermediate or community sentence must serve their time under house arrest, a drug treatment center, performing community service, or some other punishment as allowed by law.
Examples of Crimes in Each Level
There are many felony offenses in North Carolina. The following list represents a small sample of crimes in each felony level.
- Aggravated child molestation
- Conspiracy to commit a Class A or B1 felony
- Aggravated assault
- Armed robbery
- First-degree arson
- Child molestation
- Malicious throwing of corrosive acid or alkaline
- Involuntary manslaughter
- Human trafficking of an adult
- Intimidating or interfering with witnesses
- First-degree forgery
- Use of a laser device towards an aircraft
- Making terroristic threats
- Larceny of a dog
Statute of Limitations
Most states have laws, known as statutes of limitations, which give prosecutors a limited amount of time in which to file criminal charges. Once someone commits a crime, prosecutors must file criminal charges within the legally established time limit. Once that time is up, state prosecutors can no longer file criminal charges in the case.
However, North Carolina is one of the few states that do not impose such a time limit on felony offenses. For a more complete explanation of the North Carolina law, read North Carolina Criminal Statute of Limitations.
Find a Lawyer
North Carolina’s felony laws impose some very strict penalties. To properly evaluate your case, understand what evidence the prosecution has to show, and determine the possible sentences you face, you need to speak to an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney. Only attorneys with personal experience dealing with cases in the local courts can give you legal advice about your case.