North Carolina organizes misdemeanors into four categories: Class AI misdemeanors are the most serious type, while Classes 1, 2, and 3 are less serious offenses. Class 3 offenses are the least serious type of misdemeanor crime.
For information on more serious crimes (felonies), see North Carolina Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
For a court to determine the sentence for someone convicted of a misdemeanor in North Carolina, it must take into consideration both the class of misdemeanor and the person's prior conviction level. Additionally, the judge can specify what type of "time" the defendant will do—from incarceration to community service.
For each class of misdemeanor, a court can impose a range of sentences. Each range is further divided into three sets, which correspond to the defendant's prior conviction level, as explained just below.
(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.23 (2019).)
Everyone convicted of a misdemeanor offense in North Carolina is categorized into one of three prior conviction levels. Those in Level I have not been previously convicted of a crime, while those in Level III have been convicted of five or more crimes. The prior conviction level is one of the two key factors a court will use to determine a sentence.
(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.21 (2019).)
Once a court has determined someone's prior conviction level, it can impose a sentence that falls within the range of penalties for that class and level. In other words, each class of misdemeanor has three subclasses, which correspond to the three prior conviction levels. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.23 (2019).)
For example, someone who has a Level I prior conviction level and who has committed a Class 2 misdemeanor faces one to 30 days of community punishment. On the other hand, someone convicted of the same class of misdemeanor but who has a Level III prior conviction level faces one to 60 days of either community, intermediate, or active punishment at the court's discretion.
The court can impose any sentence within the outlined range. So, someone convicted of a Class 2 misdemeanor with a Level I prior conviction level might receive a sentence of a single day of community punishment, or as many as 30 days of community punishment, as the court deems appropriate.
In addition to specifying the length of the sentence, North Carolina provides for three ways that these sentences may be served. Those convicted of misdemeanors can be sentenced to active, intermediate, or community punishment. Active punishments are jail sentences, while intermediates and community punishments allow the judges to impose alternate penalties.
For example, someone sentenced to an intermediate punishment might have to serve a period of house arrest or spend time in a drug treatment facility, while someone sentenced to community punishment might have to serve probation, participate in an educational or vocational skills program, or perform community service.
For any misdemeanor sentence that requires or allows for incarceration, the court can also order someone to pay a fine. Unless otherwise stated under a specific law, courts can impose up to the following maximum fines for misdemeanors:
Courts can order a fine in addition to any community, intermediate, or active punishment. If any sentence authorizes only community punishment, the court can sentence a person to pay a fine instead. In addition, unless a specific statute states otherwise, a person convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor who has no more than three prior convictions on his or her record will be punished by a fine only. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.23 (2019).)
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. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15-1 (2019).)
Although many North Carolina misdemeanors might not result in significant jail sentences or large fines, it is always in your best interest 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 preserve your legal rights.