Prior Record Level: What a Defendant Can and Cannot Stipulate To

Under G.S. 15A-1340.14(f), a defendant’s prior convictions can be proved by stipulation of the parties. And they often are. But that doesn’t mean every aspect of a person’s prior record level can be proved by stipulation. Today’s post collects the rules for what a defendant can and cannot stipulate to.

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Stipulating to Prior Convictions for Second-Degree Murder

In a previous post I wrote about State v. McNeil, a case that resolved the question of how to count prior convictions for possession of drug paraphernalia, in light of that crime’s 2014 division into Class 1 (non-marijuana) and Class 3 (marijuana) offenses. Today’s post is about prior convictions for second-degree murder—split into Class B1 and Class B2 varieties in 2012—in light of State v. Arrington, a case recently decided by the supreme court.

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Classifying Prior Convictions for Sentencing Purposes

When determining a defendant’s prior record level for felony sentencing, prior convictions count for points according to their classification as of the offense date of the crime now being sentenced. G.S. 15A-1340.14(c). That law helps modernize a person’s record, treating it according to present-day classification standards as opposed to those that existed at the time of the prior offenses themselves. The rule can cut in either direction. If the offense class of the prior conviction has increased between the time of the prior and present offenses, the prior counts for points according to the higher offense class. If the offense class has decreased, the prior counts at its new, reduced level.

The rule is simple enough to apply when an offense classification for a single crime is ratcheted up or down. What do you do, though, when a person has a prior conviction for an offense that has since been split into multiple offenses with different classifications? A recent case gives some guidance.

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Rule 403: Old Chief and Stipulations to Prior Convictions

Some crimes, such as felon in possession of a firearm, include as an element that the defendant has a qualifying prior conviction. When this is the case, the defense may seek to limit the prejudicial effect of the prior conviction by offering to stipulate to its existence and asking the trial judge to preclude the … Read more

Stipulations to Questions of Law for Sentencing Purposes

Defendants often stipulate to prior convictions for the purpose of establishing their prior record level. Form AOC-CR-600, the prior record level/prior conviction level worksheet, includes a section (Section III, at the top of Side Two) to note that that stipulation. The court of appeals said in State v. Hussey, __ N.C. App. __ (2008), that … Read more