Spring is just around the corner. Daffodils. Daylight saving time. Filling out your bracket. And reading the annual Structured Sentencing Statistical Report for Felonies and Misdemeanors from the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission. Today’s post collects some of the highlights of the report.
This year’s report, available here, covers sentencing episodes from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017. That’s 28,985 felonies and 94,150 misdemeanors. The number of felony sentences was up slightly from last year, while misdemeanors continued their decade-long decline. (There were 164,000 misdemeanor sentences in 2007!) Remember, always, that the report is based on sentencing episodes, defined as the most serious conviction for a defendant on a given day of court.
Most common grid cell. As usual, Class H/Level II was the most frequently used cell on the felony sentencing grid. That grid cell alone accounted for 12.4 percent of all felony sentences.
Convictions by district. Wake County had—by far—the greatest number of felony convictions (2,306). Mecklenburg had the second most (1,619), followed closely by Guilford (1,540). The fewest felony convictions (134) came from District 30A (Macon, Clay, Cherokee, Graham, and Swain). The second fewest (138) came from District 6B (Hertford, Northampton, and Bertie). Those numbers are interesting, but a new feature in this year’s report (Appendix C, Table 1 on page 60) shows what may be an even more helpful metric: the number of convictions per 1000 adults in each district. By that measure, District 29A (McDowell, Rutherford) has the highest per capita conviction rate, while Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Union, and several others are tied for the lowest. Of course, be careful not to read too much into what happens in the counties with the smallest populations. Small numbers can yield unhelpful statistics. (The Vatican City has a population of just over five popes per square mile.)
Wake also had the most misdemeanor convictions (7,249), far outpacing second-place Forsyth (4,749), which was followed by Guilford, District 25 (Burke, Catawba, Caldwell), District 4 (Sampson, Duplin, Jones, Onslow), and then Mecklenburg (3,238 convictions). District 9A (Caswell, Person) had the fewest (650). The per capita numbers are available in Appendix E, Table 1 (page 77). There, you’ll see that Rowan and Mecklenburg have the highest and lowest rates, respectively.
The misleading dispositional breakdown. The dispositional breakdown for felonies is 37 percent active, 34 percent intermediate, and 29 percent community. However, I continue to think that breakdown is the product of a reporting glitch that vastly understates the number of intermediate sentences. Over 3,500 of the sentences scored as community came from grid cells that don’t have a “C” in them. That’s 43 percent of all community punishments. My theory is that the court system computers don’t fully know the post–Justice Reinvestment definition of an intermediate punishment. Seven years after Justice Reinvestment, the computer will still score a sentence as community if it doesn’t include at least one of the six probation conditions (special probation, intensive supervision, electronic house arrest, day-reporting center, residential program, or drug treatment court) that, before December 1, 2011, had to be imposed to make a sentence intermediate. For the last half decade, the only requirement for a sentence to be intermediate is supervised probation. If someone knows my theory to be incorrect, please post a comment.
Class H and I felonies in district court. As usual, a quarter of all Class H and I felony convictions resulted from guilty pleas entered in district court.
Bench trials. Six convictions resulted from bench trials in superior court (about the same as in the two previous years).
Average probation length. The average probation length for all felonies was 26 months. The average probation length for misdemeanors was 16 months.
Habituals. Habitual felons are up (946 convictions, compared to 914 last year and 873 the year before that). Habitual breaking and entering is down (109 convictions, compared to 158 last year and 154 the year before that). There was 1 violent habitual felon conviction and two armed habitual felon convictions.
ASR. Advanced supervised release (ASR) climbed to 93 sentences from 79 last year.
Trafficking. There were 452 drug trafficking sentences, which is slightly more than last year (435). It looks like 78 (17 percent) of those sentences were to probation, which means they were either entered in error, or the judge mitigated the sentence based on a finding that the defendant provided substantial assistance.
Firearm enhancement. For the second year in a row, the firearm enhancement was not used a single time.
I’ve barely scratched the surface on all the helpful and interesting information in the report. As always, I thank the Commission staff for their thoughtful and careful work on it.