Felony Sentencing and Calculating Prior Record Level

Sentencing in North Carolina is an extremely complex calculation that takes a person's previous criminal history and the specific facts of a case into account. Although it is understandably one of the first things a person wonders when they are charged with a crime, determining your possible sentencing range is a multi-step process with many factors. Any past convictions accrue points that will make your applicable sentence range increase. These enhancements are most crippling when dealing with felony charges. If you are being charged with a felony it is critical to have experienced defense representation.

Felonies in North Carolina charged at the state level are divided up into ten classes: Classes A, B1, B2 and C through I. The court will then use the state's structured sentencing system to calculate what is called a defendant's "prior record level." Your prior record level, depending on how many points it is, places you into one of six point categories that corresponds with the class of felony. This provides the court with a range of allowable sentences for your current charge.

Calculating Your "Prior Record Level"

Each felony conviction from your past receives a certain point value. These are added up to create your overall point level. Note that certain misdemeanor violations and other circumstances can also affect your point calculation for felony sentencing purposes.

Class of prior felony convictionPoints added to your "prior record level"
Class A10
Class B19
Class B2, C, or D6
Class E, F or G4
Class H or I2
  • Class A1 and 1 non-traffic misdemeanor
  • Impaired driving
  • Impaired driving in a commercial vehicle
  • Misdemeanor death by vehicle
If all the elements of your current charge were present in another offense for which you were convicted in the past1
If the current charge occurred while you were on supervised or unsupervised probation or parole, or while you were serving a sentence of imprisonment1

If a defendant is convicted of more than one offense within the same 7 days, or even the same session of court, only the conviction for the offense with the highest point value counts towards prior record level. This makes it critically important if you are facing multiple charges to have a skilled defense attorney who can move the court to consolidate your charges into the same case or court week.

Calculating Minimum Sentencing Range

Once you have calculated your prior record level, the North Carolina felony structured sentencing charts will provide you with three possible ranges of the minimum sentence available for your class of charge for someone with your prior record level. These potential ranges are: Aggravated, Presumptive and Mitigated. The range a judge will decide to apply depends on any aggravating or mitigating factors in the circumstances of your case. Aggravating factors increase the potential minimum sentence range. One common example is the presence of a weapon. A mitigating factor, on the other hand, can reduce the minimum potential sentencing range. One example of a mitigating factor is acting under coercion.

For simplicity's sake, the chart below shows the presumptive sentencing range only. The full version of North Carolina's felony sentencing charts can be found here

NOTE: The figures below are in months.

Class of FelonyPrior Record Level
(0-1 point)
(2-5 points)
(6-9 points)
(10-13 points)
(14-17 points)
(18+ points)
ADeath penalty or life without parole
(Life with or without parole if defendant was under 18 when the offense occurred)
Maximum Sentencing Range

You are still not done: now that you have your minimum range calculated, you have to look at another chart to determine the main question in someone's mind when they're facing criminal charges: what is the potential maximum sentence?

For Class B1 through E felonies, a sampling of minimum sentences and their corresponding maximum sentences is below. Since you do not know what exact number from your minimum range the court will choose, you can pick the middle number in your minimum range just to give you an idea of the potential maximum. This is only a portion of North Carolina's maximum offense structured sentencing calculation chart but serves to give an idea. The full sentencing chart can be found here. Maximum sentence year values are rounded off to the nearest decimal below.

To calculate the maximum sentence for a Class B1 through E felony that is a registerable sex offense, you multiply the minimum sentence by 1.2 and add 60. This makes it especially critical that you have experienced defense counsel if you are you are charged with a sex offense.

Maximum Sentences for Class B1 Through Class E Felonies in NC

Minimum Sentence (in months)Maximum Sentence (in months)
15 (1.25 years)30 (2.5 years)
24 (2 years)41 (3.4 years)
36 (3 years)56 (4.7 years)
48 (4 years)70 (5.8 years)
60 (5 years)84 (7 years)
72 (6 years)99 (8.3 years)
84 (7 years)113 (9.4 years)
96 (8 years)128 (10. 7 years)
108 (9 years)142 (11.8 years)
120 (10 years)156 (13 years)
132 (11 years)171 (14.3 years)

Class F through Class I felonies, meanwhile, are less serious charges with a less extreme maximum range calculation. A sampling of minimum sentences for Class F, Class G, Class H and Class I felonies and their corresponding potential maximums is below.

Maximum Sentences for Class F Though Class I Felonies in NC

Minimum Sentence (in months)Maximum Sentence (in months)
Effect of Convictions From Other States

Because of variances in state law, a crime that is classified in one state as a misdemeanor can sometimes be considered a felony in a state next door. In response to this, the defense is allowed to prove that a charge classified as a felony in another state is "substantially similar" to an offense that is a misdemeanor in North Carolina. If the defense satisfactorily proves this to the court, the defendant's prior record level will be treated as a misdemeanor for the purposes of calculating the person's prior record level. Similarly, the State is allowed to prove that a charge classified as a misdemeanor in another state is substantially similar to a felony offense in North Carolina. This counts the old conviction as a felony in calculating prior record level.

As you can see, the process of calculating your potential sentence for a crime can be overwhelmingly complex. This is one of the many reasons it is imperative to have a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing criminal charges, especially felony ones. Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a criminal defense, traffic violation defense and civil litigation law firm based in Charlotte, Mooresville and Monroe. Contact us today for a free initial consultation on your criminal case.