Alleging Aggravating Factors in a DWI Prosecution

A defendant charged in district court with the misdemeanor crime of driving while impaired cannot ascertain from the charging document whether he is subject to sentencing at Level A1 (the most serious level) or Level 5 (the least serious). That’s because the aggravating factors that lead to elevated sentencing aren’t considered elements of the offense and thus are not required to be alleged in the charging instrument. Yet because those factors can increase the maximum punishment a defendant may receive, they must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and, with the exception of prior convictions, be determined by a jury in superior court. And, for most charges of impaired driving prosecuted in superior court, the State must provide notice of its intent to seek aggravating factors. A case decided by the court of appeals last June, however, identifies an exception to this requirement for certain aggravating factors in driving while impaired prosecutions initiated in superior court.

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Presumptive Sentences in DWI Cases

Author’s Note:  The opinion discussed below was withdrawn on February 4, 2014 and replaced by an opinion discussed here.   How can a sentencing factor found by a judge that doubles a defendant’s maximum sentence not implicate Blakely?  I pondered this question a few years ago after the court of appeals in State v. Green, … Read more

Changes to Post-Release Supervision for Sex Offenders

I mentioned in my previous post that the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA) is not the only new legislation that impacts post-release supervision (PRS). This post looks at S.L. 2011-307, which changes the way PRS applies to sex offenders. (I also mentioned that I would talk about post-release supervision for certain impaired drivers under Laura’s Law, … Read more

Confrontation Rights Apply at Sentencing in Noncapital Cases

In 2002, David Hurt pled guilty to second-degree murder. Over the next several years his case bounced back and forth between the trial and appellate courts based on problems with his aggravated-range sentence. In the meantime, the United States Supreme Court decided Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). Hurt’s case was eventually remanded for … Read more

Juvenile Adjudications . . . Aggravating

An article in last Saturday’s paper talked about Governor Perdue’s proposed changes to the probation system. Part of her plan would give probation officers access to probationers’ juvenile records, which reminded me of a related issue I have been meaning to write about: using juvenile adjudications as an aggravating factor at sentencing. Under G.S. 15A-1340.16(d)(18a), … Read more

Consecutive Sentences, Not Put on Ice

A number of people have asked me whether the United States Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Oregon v. Ice (07-901) has any impact on North Carolina sentencing law. The short answer is, No. In Ice, the latest chapter in the Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), saga, a 5–4 majority of the Justices held … Read more