Like all states, North Carolina divides crimes by severity into felonies and misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies. North Carolina organizes misdemeanors into four categories: Classes A1, 1, 2, and 3.
This article will review the classifications, penalties, and sentencing grid for North Carolina misdemeanors. For information on more serious crimes, check out North Carolina Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
North Carolina organizes misdemeanor offenses into four classes, with Class A1 being the most serious and Class 3 the least. Below are the maximum sentences and examples of offenses for each class.
Class A1 misdemeanors carry a maximum sentence of 150 days in jail and a fine in an amount determined by the court. Examples of Class A1 misdemeanors include child abuse, sexual battery, and stalking.
The maximum penalty for a Class 1 misdemeanor is 120 days in jail and a fine in an amount determined by the court. Examples of Class 1 misdemeanors include domestic criminal trespass, petty larceny, and cyberbullying.
A person convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor faces up to 20 days' jail time and a $200 fine. Examples of Class 3 misdemeanors include public intoxication, open container violation, and possession of a small amount of marijuana.
A defendant who commits a misdemeanor hate, bias, or gang crime can face enhanced charges. Prosecutors can charge these offenses one or two classes higher depending on the enhancement. So, for instance, a Class 2 misdemeanor involving criminal gang activity bumps up to a Class 1 misdemeanor. In some cases, the enhancement results in felony charges.
(N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-3, 14-50.22, 15A-1340.11, 15A-1340.23 (2022).)
North Carolina uses a grid system for misdemeanor sentencing. The grid divides each misdemeanor class into three different sentencing ranges, which correspond to a defendant's criminal history (see "Prior Conviction Levels" just below). The more prior convictions a defendant has, the more severe the possible sentence and type of punishment will be. (More on "Types of Punishment" also below.)
A defendant will fall into one of these three levels based on how many prior convictions they have on record:
North Carolina law provides three different types of punishments—active, intermediate, and community (A/I/C) punishments. The type of punishment determines whether a judge may order a defendant to serve their sentence in jail, on probation, or in the community.
For all but Class 3 misdemeanors, the grid authorizes a sentence range and punishment type described above. A person convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor with a prior conviction Level I or II faces a fine-only penalty.
Using the misdemeanor sentencing grid, the judge will impose a sentence and punishment based on the defendant's prior conviction level (I, II, or III) and convicted offense level (Class A1, 1, 2, or 3). For example, a first-time offender (Level I) convicted of a Class 1 misdemeanor will face the lowest penalty for that class—1 to 45 days of community punishment. If that same offender had five prior convictions, they would bump up to Level III and face 1 to 120 days of active, intermediate, or community punishment. The same principles apply to other classes. The more prior convictions one has, the harsher the penalty will be—and vice versa.
(N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 15A-1340.21, 15A-1340.23, 15A-1343 (2022).)
A statute of limitations is the period of time during which the state must begin criminal prosecution. The statute of limitations begins to "run" when the crime occurs. In North Carolina, most misdemeanors have two-year statutes of limitations. If the prosecutor files charges after the limitations period expires, the defendant can ask the court to dismiss the charges. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15-1 (2022).)
Regardless of how much jail time one might serve, it's always best to speak to a local criminal defense lawyer if you're ever investigated for or charged with a crime. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to be treated in court, depending on the assigned judge and prosecutor, the law, and the facts of your case. Speaking to a lawyer as soon as possible is the best way to protect your legal rights.