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New North Carolina Law Allows Sentencing Flexibility in Non-Violent Offenses

In October 2019, the North Carolina Senate passed legislation titled the First Step Act. The law allows North Carolina judges to use more flexibility in mandatory minimum sentences for certain types of drug-related offenses. The law will allow current prison inmates to file Motions for Appropriate Relief, asking the court to reduce their sentences.

Proponents of the new law contend that it will prevent mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes from becoming life sentences. Legislatures modeled the North Carolina law on federal legislation that passed last year. If you or a loved one has been charged with a North Carolina drug offense, or you are serving time for drug-related offenses, Arnold & Smith, PLLC can help. Contact our Charlotte law firm today to schedule your free criminal defense consultation and learn how we can help you attempt to reduce your sentence.

How Does the First Step Act Work?

Per the text of the First Step Act, North Carolina judges will now have the discretion to reduce sentences for certain drug offenses. Qualifying inmates who received prison sentences for drug crimes now have the option to file a Motion for Appropriate Relief (MAR) with the court. After the submission of the motion, North Carolina judges will now have the discretion to reduce their sentences.

Judges will reduce the sentence for the crime when the judge determines that the prison sentence is not necessary to protect the public. When sentencing defendants for drug crimes, judges often must impose lengthy jail sentences because they are bound to follow North Carolina’s mandatory minimum prison sentences. These laws can result in extremely long prison sentences for minimal drug offenses. The judge must also determine that the enforcement of the standard minimum sentence for the crime would result in substantial injustice.

How Will the First Step Act Affect State Policies?

Proponents of the new law have stated that the law will save taxpayers significant money. The law will result in reducing the sentences of nonviolent, low-level drug offenders. The fewer non-violent offenders in the prison systems, the more money saved by the taxpayers. The law received a large amount of support from politicians on both sides of the aisle. The Justice Action Network also supported the law along with other state and national advocacy groups.

Who can Receive Relief From the First Step Act?

Only certain drug offenders will benefit from the First Step Act. The law protects defendants charged with the following drug crimes:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Conspiracy to commit a violation of drug trafficking

The current drug trafficking laws impose the following minimum and maximum sentencing for those convicted of drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit drug trafficking:

  • Class C Drug Trafficking: Minimum 225 months; maximum 282 months
  • Class D Drug Trafficking: Minimum 175 months; maximum 222 months
  • Class E Drug Trafficking: Minimum 90 months; maximum 120 months
  • Class F Drug Trafficking: Minimum 70 months; maximum 93 months
  • Class G Drug Trafficking: Minimum 35 months; maximum 51 months
  • Class H Drug Trafficking: Minimum 25 months; maximum 39 months

Mandatory fines for North Carolina drug trafficking convictions range from $5,000 to $250,000. Per the chart above, a judge must impose a minimum of 225 months of prison time for a defendant convicted of a Class C Drug Trafficking charge. Now, when a judge finds substantial assistance, the judge has the authority to suspend the sentence in its entirety or enter any sentence within its discretion.

Filing a North Carolina Motion for Appropriate Relief (MAR)

The First Step Act allows a defendant serving an active prison sentence to file a Motion for Appropriate Relief. Only those serving sentences for drug trafficking or conspiracy to commit trafficking may file a MAR motion. The MAR must ask a judge to modify their original sentences under the authority of the First Step Act. North Carolina must respond to the MAR within 60 days of the date the defendant filed it. The new law requires courts to hold a hearing on the issue within 180 days of the filing of the MAR.

We can Help

If you or a loved one are serving a prison sentence for drug trafficking or conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, we can help. The attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC have an in-depth understanding of North Carolina laws. We can help you fight for your rights for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act. Contact our Charlotte law firm today to find out how we can help you.