Am I Going to Prison?

Legally reviewed by:
King Law
March 19, 2020

North Carolina uses a sentencing scheme called Structured Sentencing. Structured Sentencing applies to essentially all offenses except impaired driving offenses and drug trafficking. As with any other charge, if you have been charged with one of these special sentencing charges, you should contact our offices immediately.

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Structured Sentencing in North Carolina was designed to embrace certain principles such as rationality, truthfulness, consistency, and priority of resources. It is a method of sentencing that classifies offenders based on the severity of their crime and their prior criminal record. Based on these two factors, judges are provided with certain types and lengths of sentencing options.

If you have been charged with a felony that is not one of the above exceptions, refer to General Statute 15-A-1340.17(c). Felonies are classified into letter classes from A to I depending on their seriousness, with A being the most serious. Crimes involving victim injury are typically the most serious while crimes involving things such as property that do not involve a risk of victim injury are normally less serious.

Next, offenders charged with a felony are classified into one of six prior record levels, I through VI. The category you fall under depends on the extent and severity of your record.

For example, if you have many prior convictions and they involve violence, you will likely be assigned a higher level class.  Once classified, you fall into one or more of three types of punishment: active, intermediate, and community. This means your type of punishment depends on your classification. Active punishment means prison or jail time. Intermediate punishment means supervised probation along with other punishment such as a split sentence (some jail time), drug or educational treatment or programs, house arrest, and/or other confinement. Community punishment is any other sentence such as supervised or unsupervised probation that is of less severity. Under community punishments, an offender may be held in contempt and later sentenced to jail if he fails to obey the required punishment conditions.

A judge is required to impose an active punishment for felons convicted of high offense crimes or for felons who have high prior record levels. However, if the felony is a low offense crime, and you have a low prior record level, a judge must impose intermediate or community punishment. A judge has discretion when the classification falls somewhere in the middle.

Designated sentence lengths are also provided depending on your classification, and the presence of any aggravating or mitigating factors. The judge selects a sentence term from one of three ranges: aggravated range, presumptive range, or mitigated range. Aggravated means there are additional factors which make your offense worse and mitigated means there are additional factors which make your offense less bad. The range chosen establishes a minimum and maximum sentence length. A felon must serve the entire minimum sentence but his conduct while serving determines whether the maximum will be imposed.

For a felony punishment chart, please click here (Opens in a new window).


If you have been charged with a misdemeanor that is not one of the above-listed exceptions, refer to General Statute 15A-1340.23.  North Carolina Structured Sentencing works much the same for misdemeanor offenses. Misdemeanors are classified into four classes, A1, 1, 2, and 3, with A1 being most serious. Offenders charged with a misdemeanor are classified into one of three prior convictions levels depending on how many prior convictions you have. The same sentencing types (active, intermediate, and/or community) are designated to your classification. If you fall under more than one sentencing type, the judge has the discretion to choose what type. Unlike felony offenses, only one sentence range is available for misdemeanors. The judge selects a single term from this range, rather than a minimum and maximum, which specifies the sentence length.

For a misdemeanor punishment chart please click here (opens in a new window).
No matter what, if you have been charged with a crime, you should contact any one of our experienced attorneys. This blog may give you a brief overview of what would happen at sentencing, but there are many more steps before sentencing, including your right to a trial.

Legally reviewed by:
King Law
Carolina Attorneys
March 19, 2020

This blog post has been reviewed and verified by legal experts at King Law. Our team is dedicated to providing premium legal services with compassion, innovation, trust, and advocacy. Serving Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina, we offer flexible meeting options and strive to exceed client expectations with high-quality legal representation and exceptional client relationships.

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