Under a law that existed from late 1994 to late 1998, North Carolina defendants sentenced to life without parole for offenses committed during that window are entitled to a judicial review after 25 years of imprisonment. I wrote about it here a few years ago, noting that the window for reviews would open in late 2019. Here we are. Continue reading
Tag Archives: parole
North Carolina did away with parole for most crimes with the adoption of Structured Sentencing in 1994. Parole is still permitted in certain impaired driving cases, but infrequently granted in practice. Still, there are over 1,300 persons on parole in North Carolina. They are mostly former inmates who served time for serious offenses under Fair Sentencing (effective from 1981 to 1994) or other prior law. There are also over 2,000 inmates in prison serving sentences that are now or will one day be eligible for parole. Today’s post considers the law of how often those inmates are considered for parole. Continue reading →
In North Carolina, probationers, post-release supervisees, and parolees are subject to warrantless searches—sometimes by a probation-parole officer, sometimes by law enforcement officers. The statutory conditions that apply to each type of offender and officer are not identical. Today’s post collects them all in one place. Before getting into any of the complicated issues about the constitutionality of a warrantless search of a supervised offender, a sensible starting point is a careful look at the language of the search condition itself. Continue reading →
Do DWI sentences really get cut in half? Can DWI inmates be paroled? What happens when the minimum and maximum sentence for a DWI are the same? These questions and more are answered in today’s video post.
A few months ago, I taught a session on DWI sentencing to a group of judges. As part of that session, I reviewed the rules for determining the parole-eligibility of a defendant convicted of impaired driving under G.S. 20-138.1 and sentenced to an active term of imprisonment under G.S. 20-179. The upshot of those rules, which Jamie Markham described in detail in this post, replete with illustrative examples, is that a defendant sentenced to the maximum punishment for a Level One DWI—24 months imprisonment—becomes eligible for parole after serving 2.4 months imprisonment if he or she (1) receives a full award of good time credit, and (2) (i) has obtained a substance abuse assessment and has completed any recommended treatment or training program or (ii) is paroled into a residential program.
After patiently listening to me explain the rules for calculating parole-eligibility, several judges asked about their practical application. Specifically, they wanted to know how frequently defendants sentenced to active terms of imprisonment were paroled and how soon that occurred after the defendant became parole eligible. In other words, were the defendants they sentenced to two-years’ imprisonment routinely released after serving fewer than three months?
The short answer is no. According to this 2009-2010 report by the North Carolina Department of Correction, the 3,188 non-structured sentencing misdemeanants released from prison during that period served an average of 6.5 months and 48 percent of the sentence imposed “due to good time, gain time and parole eligibility rules.” (North Carolina Department of Correction, 2009-2010 Annual Statistical Report at 26.) DOC reported that the majority of these prisoners were serving time for DWI convictions. If the numbers of convictions for non-structured sentencing act offenses are any indication, defendants sentenced under G.S. 20-179 were the vast majority. The only misdemeanor offenses other than offenses sentenced under G.S. 20-179 that are excluded from structured sentencing act provisions are failures to comply with public health control measures sentenced under G.S. 130A-25 and misdemeanors committed before October 1, 1994. See G.S. 15A-1340.10. Far more defendants are convicted of impaired driving offenses sentenced under G.S. 20-179 than public health control violations each year. In 2010-2011, for example, more than 40,000 defendants were convicted of offenses sentenced under G.S. 20-179 and fewer than 50 of offenses sentenced under G.S. 130A-25. Given that good time alone can reduce a sentence of imprisonment under G.S. 20-179 by 50 percent, these statistics indicate that defendants infrequently are released on the earliest date at which they are parole-eligible. Moreover, because defendants sentenced for covered offenses must have either completed substance abuse treatment or training or be paroled into a residential treatment program, defendants who are paroled before their outright release date typically are paroled into DART-Cherry’s 90-day treatment program (for men) or the Black Mountain Substance Abuse Treatment Center for Women. According to another DOC report, in 2009-2010, parolees made up 38 percent of the participants in DART Cherry programs. The Black Mountain Substance Abuse Treatment Center for Women opened in May 2010, and I haven’t yet come across any reports describing its population. In any event, this type of parole might not be the kind of “early release” contemplated by the public. After all, as Jamie notes here, confinement at DART-Cherry has been deemed sufficiently restrictive of participants’ liberty to count as confinement under G.S. 15-196.1.
Readers, if you have statistical or even anecdotal evidence about parole for defendants convicted of impaired driving, please share it using the comment feature.
A life sentence has not always meant a person’s natural life in North Carolina—probably. Under G.S. 14-2 as it existed for offenses committed after April 8, 1974, but before July 1, 1978, a “sentence of life imprisonment shall be considered as a sentence of imprisonment for a term of 80 years in the State’s prison.”
The General Assembly arguably enacted this provision as a corollary to the then-existing rule that life sentences became parole eligible after 20 years. Defendants sentenced prior to 1978 generally became parole eligible after serving one-fourth of their maximum prison term, and 20 is one-fourth of 80. The Court of Appeals, however, recently held in State v. Bowden, __ N.C. App. __, 668 S.E.2d 107 (2008), that under the plain language of G.S. 14-2 as it existed during that time frame, a life sentence must be considered 80 years for all purposes, including calculation of outright release date.
Not only does a life sentence from that era have an expiration date before, um, expiration, it could also theoretically be reduced from 80 to 40 years under DOC’s “day-for-day” good time credit rule for certain pre–Structured Sentencing cases. The day-for-day credit rule reduces a sentence by one day for each day the inmate serves without infraction. (The same rule still applies, by the way, for DWI sentences—regardless of whether they are served in jail or prison—to the extent that the reduction does not drop the sentence below the mandatory active time. I can post on that later if people are interested.) A life sentence could be further reduced by an additional 20 percent or so for “gain time,” depending on the quality and quantity of the inmate’s work in prison. So, a well-behaved, hard-working defendant sentenced to “life” in 1975 could theoretically reach his or her date of unconditional release before 2010.
All of this comes with a caveat. The North Carolina Supreme Court granted the State’s motion for a temporary stay in the Bowden case on November 21, 2008. 362 N.C. 683 (2008). I’ll update this post with a comment when the high court weighs in.
So how do you measure a life? If the justices agree with the Court of Appeals—and with apologies to fans of Rent—the answer is 42,048,000 minutes. Minus applicable credits, of course.