North Carolina Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences

North Carolina organizes felony crimes into 10 different lettered categories, from Class A to I.

North Carolina organizes felony crimes into ten different lettered categories, from Class A to I, with Class B felonies further divided into Class B1 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. If a statute states that a crime is a felony but fails to classify it, the offense is punishable as a Class I felony. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.17 (2019).)

For information on less serious crimes (misdemeanors), see North Carolina Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Sentence Range for Each Level

North Carolina has a grid that determines the sentence range for any felony offense. The sentencing 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.

Felony Classes

Every class of felony 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 with or 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

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.17 (2019).)

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 with or 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. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.14 (2019).)

Prior Conviction Points

In general, 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

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.14 (2019).)

Record Levels

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, as follows:

  • Level I: 0 to 1 point
  • Level II: 2 to 5 points
  • Level III: 6 to 9 points
  • Level IV: 10 to 13 points
  • Level V: 14 to 17 points
  • Level VI: 18 or more points

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.14 (2019).)

Dispositional Ranges

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 and 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 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.

For example, according to North Carolina’s sentencing grid a person who is convicted of a Class C felony, with a prior record level III could be sentenced as follows:

  • Presumptive range: 77 to 96 months
  • Aggravated range: 96 to 120 months
  • Mitigated range: 58 to 77 months

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.17 (2019).)

Sentence Length

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, and the sentencing grid specifies a corresponding maximum term. Once a person has served the minimum sentence, he or she becomes eligible for parole. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.17 (2019).)

For example, if a court sentences someone convicted of a Class E felony to a minimum of 18 months in prison, the sentencing grid states that the maximum term will be 34 months. That means that the person will serve a sentence of 18 to 34 months in prison and be eligible for parole after 18 months.

Active, Intermediate, and Community Offenders

Courts don’t always sentence felons to prison time in North Carolina. Depending on the class of the felony and the person’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, in a drug treatment center, performing community service, or some other punishment as allowed by law.

Fines

In addition to any sentence of imprisonment, the court may order a fine. The amount of the fine is left to the court’s discretion. If any sentence authorizes only community punishment, the court can sentence a person to pay a fine instead. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.17 (2019).)

Statutes 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.

Getting Legal Help

North Carolina’s felony laws impose very strict penalties. If you are being investigated for or have been charged with a felony, the best way to avoid a conviction is to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A good attorney will be able to tell you what to expect in court and how best to protect your rights.

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