New Felony Sentencing Grid

It’s October 1 and a lot of new laws come into effect today. Among them is the portion of S.L. 2013-101 that amended the felony sentencing grid. The revised grid, effective for offenses committed on or after October 1, is available on the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission website. All of the old grids are there, too.

The latest changes are very minor. They correct three rounding errors in the maximum sentences set out in G.S. 15A-1340.17(e), stemming from the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2011. The maximum sentences corresponding to minimum sentences of 66, 86, and 216 months were each one month shorter than they should have been under the regular 120-percent-of-the-minimum-plus-12-months formula. Going forward they are correct. Judges sentencing offenses that occurred between December 1, 2011 and October 1, 2013 would probably be well advised to avoid those particular minimum sentences, as the miscalibrated maximums on the old grid could complicate the administration of post-release supervision in the case. Those minimum sentences are rare in any event, as only one of them (66 months) falls on one of the “spots” that judges tend to use when they sentence people (a phenomenon described here).

A different session law, S.L. 2013-410, made another small change to the sentencing felony grid. It amended the punishment provision for Class A felonies to reflect the possibility of a life with parole sentence for a first-degree murder defendant under the age of 18. With that change in place the grid now conforms with G.S. 15A-1340.19B, enacted last year in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), discussed here.

A new version of the misdemeanor sentencing grid is coming soon. It will reflect the requirement of a fine only sentence for Class 3 misdemeanants with three or fewer prior convictions, which Jeff described here. Those changes will be effective for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2013, so there’s a little extra time to prepare.

If you’re wondering what other laws come into effect today, you can review Bob Farb’s summary of legislation affecting criminal law and procedure, available here. For a broader summary of legislation of interest to court officials, including civil, family, and juvenile law, see this document, authored by several School of Government faculty members and compiled by my colleague Ann Anderson.

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