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What is structured sentencing in North Carolina?

When you are facing criminal charges in North Carolina, you will probably wonder what sentence you could receive if convicted. Unlike some other states, North Carolina uses the structured sentencing method, which considers various factors when coming up with sentences for convictions. Understanding what this complex system means is important for those charged with crimes in North Carolina.

What factors matter for sentencing purposes?

The two primary factors are the person's prior criminal history and the classification of the crime. Those with lengthy criminal histories are more likely to face longer sentences than those without multiple convictions. Crimes resulting in victim injuries, such as rape or murder, have higher classifications than crimes without victim injuries, such as larceny.

What kinds of sentences are possible?

There are three possible sentence types — community, intermediate and active. Community sentences can include probation, substance abuse treatment, community service and other similar programs. Intermediate sentences include special probation, drug court and split sentences that include time in jail and probation. Active sentences are those that involve incarceration.

How long are the sentences?

North Carolina operates on the basis of truth in sentencing. This means that there isn't any parole. Instead, people convicted of crimes will serve at least the minimum sentence, but can also be held to the maximum sentence term. An early release is possible, but only after the minimum sentence has been served.

All of this can be difficult to decipher. If you have any questions about what sentence you are facing, be sure to get those questions answered before you start working on your defense. This can give you the information you need to decide which of the available options you are going to pursue.

Source: The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, "A Citizen's Guide to Structured Sentencing," accessed Jan. 13, 2017

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