The Single Sentence Rule

When an inmate is convicted of multiple crimes and given consecutive active sentences, does the order in which the judge stacks them matter? A number of people have told me they spend considerable time thinking about the way consecutive sentences are ordered, based on a concern that the order affects the way the Department of Correction will calculate sentence reduction credits (for example, that DOC would only apply credit to the last sentence in a string).

Under G.S. 15A-1354(b), when a defendant is sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment, DOC must “treat the defendant as though he has been committed for a single term.” The minimum of that single term is simply the sum of all the minimum terms of the consecutive sentences. The corresponding maximum is the sum of all the maximum terms, less nine months for each of the second and subsequent sentences imposed for Class B1 through Class E felonies. That subtraction avoids overextending the maximum based on duplicative post-release supervision periods, which are built into the table of maximum sentences set out in G.S. 15A-1340.17(e)—an inmate serves only one period of post-release supervision, even if convicted of multiple serious felonies.

So, for example, if a person receives two Class F felony convictions of 13–16 months and they are run consecutively, DOC will total the minimums (13 + 13 = 26), total the maximums (16 + 16 = 32), and treat the defendant as though he or she received a single 26–32 month sentence. Depending on his or her disciplinary record, job, and program activity in prison, the defendant will have the opportunity to reduce the sentence from 32 months down to the 26-month minimum through Earned Time and Meritorious Time, described in DOC’s sentence reduction credit policy.

To provide a slightly more complicated example, suppose a person is convicted of multiple felonies and sentenced as follows: two Class C felonies (58–79 months each), a Class D felony (51–71 months), and a Class H felony (5–6 months)—all set to run consecutively. DOC will total the minimums (58 + 58 + 51 + 5 = 172), total the maximums (79 + 79 + 71 + 6 = 235), subtract 9 months each for the second and third Class B1–E felonies (235 – 9 – 9 = 217), and treat the defendant as though he or she has a single 172–217 month sentence. Again, the inmate will have the opportunity to work the sentence down from the maximum to the minimum through Earned and Meritorious time. And this defendant will be released nine months before reaching his or her maximum sentence (less any Earned Time) to serve a single 9-month period of post-release (unless any of the crimes require sex offender registration, in which case the post-release supervision period would be 5 years under G.S. 15A-1368.2(c)).

In both examples, because DOC will treat the aggregate sentence under the single-sentence rule (or, as one person at DOC Combined Records described it to me, a “one sentence theory”), the order in which the judgments are stacked doesn’t matter. The inmate will have a chance to earn credit up to the difference between the aggregate maximum and the aggregate minimum, not just the difference between the maximum and minimum of the last boxcar in the train.

5 thoughts on “The Single Sentence Rule”

  1. So if i have. 4 boxcar sentences with 9months post release on each if i violate i will only have to serve 9 months?

  2. So how does this work under the OLD Fair Sentencing law because there crime was committed in 1988 with someone who has a life sentence? a 20 year and 40 year to run consecutively?


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