The New Felony Sentencing Grid

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For the first time since 1995 we have a new felony punishment chart for Structured Sentencing. Two pieces of legislation from the past session, S.L. 2009-555 and S.L. 2009-556, made changes that will become effective December 1, 2009 and apply to offenses committed on or after that date.

The first law restructures the point ranges for prior record level for felony sentencing. Perhaps most significantly, a person with one prior record point will, under the new law, still be considered Prior Record Level I for sentencing. The remaining levels are recalibrated so that each covers four points – under current law, Prior Record Level IV covers six points while the other levels cover four apiece. Defendants on the low end of the prior record scale will generally benefit from the change, whereas those with 14 or more points might find themselves in a higher level on the new grid.

The second law changes the minimum sentence durations for Class B1-G felonies so that they grow by a standard 15 percent increment as you move from left to right on the grid within a particular offense class. So, for example, if the minimum presumptive sentence for a Class E, Level I offender is 20 months, then the minimum presumptive sentence for a Class E, Level II is 15 percent greater than that (23 months); the minimum presumptive sentence for a Class E, Level III is 15 percent greater still (26 months); and so forth as you move across the grid. The range of minimum sentences in Prior Record Level I in each offense class is the same as under current law, and the ranges for Class H and I felonies remain unchanged. The effect of these changes on individual defendants varies depending on where they fall on the grid – sometimes the numbers are higher than they are under current law, sometimes lower.

This year’s changes to the law were motivated – at least in part – by the projected shortfall of prison beds in the state in the coming years, and a realization that prison building alone could not accommodate the increased population. The table below shows the Sentencing Commission’s projection of the combined estimated impact of the two bills. As you can see, on balance the changes result in a prison bed savings over the course of the next decade.

Fiscal year           Combined Impact

2010/11                -244

2011/12                -303

2012/13                -419

2013/14                -542

2014/15                -759

2015/16                -1,117

2016/17                -1,436

2017/18                -1,716

2018/19                -1,911

2019/20                -2,078

Longtime readers may recall that I wrote about these proposed changes back in February (here), noting that they stemmed from a Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission report from 2002. That report discussed additional alternatives (involving the habitual felon and post-release supervision laws) that were projected to save as many as 5,000 beds over a decade. The new laws will help, but they alone won’t be able to bridge the projected difference between population and system capacity – a gap expected to grow to nearly 7,500 by 2018, even with DOC employing its expanded operating capacity. You can learn more about the Sentencing Commission’s ridiculously accurate prison population projections here. You can also read about the broader costs of incarceration in a blog post by our Dean, Mike Smith.

A printable version of the new chart is here. (Thank you to the Sentencing Commission for providing it.)

10 comments on “The New Felony Sentencing Grid

  1. I would hardly call the changes to the grid, “sometimes higher … sometimes lower.” The General Assembly shaved a *huge* amount of time off of Level VI, the level where the worse offenders would fall, by as much as three or more years for B2 through D felonies. The only increases I saw were, at most, six months here and there in the IV and V levels.

    I find it reprehensible that Raleigh can find money to build bridges to nowhere and tea pot museums, but cannot build a few more prison beds to keep the worse offenders locked up. Sentencing in this state was a joke to begin with. The legislature just made it worse.

  2. And they put a dear man I know in 5-7 years for a 1/10 gram of cocaine cause this was his third strike. Never hurt a soul but himself and is housed with murderers rapist ( heinous crimes)
    Where in the hell is the justice in this?

  3. Shame on all you legislature people for letting this happen. He will never share a meal with his Mom as she is older and completely devastated. He is her only son and she needs him desperately so does his son, his grandchildren who their mother passed away and the closet thing they know to a parent is PaPa, serving 5-7 years. Everytime I say it, I want to vomit.

    • Hey barney boy…..he’s a good ole boy like my son who has 19 yrs to go for a crime he committed while he was on cocaine……k……so ur saying since all he did at this point was hurt himself he is better NOT……he is the same if he doesnt do his time he might go back for something alot worse next time he gets all jacked up on his little bit of coke!

  4. I totally agree with Barney Kirby!!!

    • so Marilyn u feel like some deserve punishment and others dont plz….get a grip i kno i live reality every day can my son plz have a pardon while ur doing all this pardoning of the coke heads………… ur research…..drugs and the use thereof are the reason that the prisons are full…….with these heinous crime actions being the end result of the abuse of crack/coke etc.

  5. Hello. Good report. I’m filming a documentary, tentatively entitled, “Prisons R Us” based on my experiences as the souse of a former Sec. of NC Dept. of Crime Control and Superior Court Judge, my 20+ years of managing political campagins (judges had a special place in my heart) and as a person who actively volunteers with several compassionate non-profit organizations in Raleigh.
    Would you be interested in talking with me on the record about structured sentencing and your views on America’s incarceration rates? Or, perhaps you could recommend someone to me from the UNC School of Government?
    Thank you for your reports. Please do let me know if you can offer any assistance on this project.
    MJ Clark

    • I don’t know if this material would interest you, but to make a long story short. I was in the Marines for 8 yrs and stopped 5 days before my plane left to go to Iraq w/ warrant served to the wrong address, repeatedly harassed by the det’s involved w/ proof and an audio recording of them lying at a sect 8 hearing to get my disabled mother kicked out of her home… I was dropped to the Inactive Ready Reserve w/ non recommendation for promotion pending the outcome of the case. It’s a class 2 misd I’m accused of using someone’s credit card for $5, finding it, using it, returning it and allegedly confessing to the officer. Witness specifically places someone else using the card and I’m still found guilty b/c the cop simply said I admitted to him I did it and even his notes/crime initially accused or the indictment doesn’t match the story come trial. Everyone admits it’s not a confession on transcripts, (judge, da & detective) yet it’s submitted to the jury and guilty of 2 class h felonies for 1 class 2 misdemeanor of $5. No prior record, cop lies on stand 13 times which are undeniable in black and white and 7 more that are somewhat deniable yet unbelievable… yet the whole case hinges on his word and destroys my life. My case was one of the only 20 decided last year whilst the State’s Attourney flat out lies in two of her arguments siting things that never even happened in court and NOBODY takes it into consideration or forces her to stop! I have a video review of the evidence at this site if you think I’m bullshittin’ ONE BIT. Is this something you could use? Any help whatsoever could help this poor young Marine out.

      • shut [edited] up…….a sin is a sin….a crime is a crime [edited] so the dear friend who did coke hung with them on the outside ne way feel me or he would of never had the hook ups to get the heinous coke/crack whatever these criminals have family and loved ones that feel the same way u do about ur dear friend……please give me a break [edited]? There are some in there that did these heinous crimes while under the influence of just a smidgen of coke…….like my son and he is a dear son……

  6. I think until the people who sit back and make this new guidelines become victims…they will never truly demostrate true fairness.

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