North Carolina sentencing law allows multiple convictions to be consolidated for sentencing. Consolidation of felonies is governed by G.S. 15A-1340.15(b); G.S. 15A-1340.22(b) covers misdemeanors. The rule is the same for both types of crimes: when you consolidate offenses for judgment, the court imposes a single judgment, with a single sentence appropriate for the defendant’s most serious conviction. It’s a pretty extraordinary thing when you think about it. Notwithstanding all the fine-tuned, mandatory math that goes into the sentencing of a single offense under Structured Sentencing, the law allows virtually unfettered discretion to disregard all but the most serious offense for a defendant convicted of multiple crimes. Today’s post collects some of the rules for consolidation.
First, consolidation is permissible only for defendants who are convicted of more than one offense at the same time. G.S. 15A-1340.15(b). That means that convictions from different sessions of court or different districts may not be consolidated for judgment. It also means that a new conviction may not be consolidated with a prior sentence activated upon revocation of probation. The old and new sentences generally may be run concurrently, of course, but they may not be consolidated into a single judgment.
When multiple offenses are consolidated for judgment, the defendant must receive a sentence appropriate for the most serious offense. Sometimes it will be obvious which of a defendant’s convictions is the most serious. Sometimes it will not. I discussed that issue in this prior post.
Consolidated sentences are functionally similar to concurrent sentences, but probably preferable to concurrent sentences from the defendant’s point of view. Among other things, it is generally understood that only one set of court costs attaches to a consolidated judgment, regardless of the number of convictions it contains. (There may be room for argument about that, given the statement in G.S. 7A-304(a) that costs shall be assessed in every criminal case “wherein the defendant is convicted.” (emphasis added)) Similarly, a defendant who receives a consolidated sentence for multiple trafficking convictions probably faces only one mandatory fine. With respect to probation, a defendant will likely prefer a consolidated suspended sentence to concurrent sentences, because the concurrent sentence could later be set to run consecutively. See State v. Hanner, 188 N.C. App. 137 (2008). A consolidated sentence, by contrast, cannot be deconsolidated upon revocation.
The non-lead offenses in a consolidated judgment are not, however, entirely harmless to the defendant. They may, for example, be used as prior convictions in a habitual felon indictment, State v. Truesdale, 123 N.C. App. 639 (1996), leaving the lead conviction to count for prior record points.
Finally, remember that there are special rules for consolidation of impaired driving sentences. In short, multiple DWIs may not be consolidated with one another, but a DWI may sometimes be consolidated for judgment with a non-DWI. Shea discussed those issues here.