North Carolina's Structured Sentencing Undergoes Overhaul

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North Carolina has revamped its Structured Sentencing system for the second time in two years, reports Raleigh criminal lawyer Damon Chetson. The changes create additional criminal liabilities for people charged with crimes, including low level felonies.

Raleigh Criminal Lawyer Damon Chetson

Raleigh Criminal Lawyer Damon Chetson

Basically, every felon in North Carolina will be eligible for a 13 month prison sentence as of December 1, 2011. This means that, under the U.S. v. Simmons ruling, every state felon is a felon for federal purposes.

For the second time in two years, the North Carolina General Assembly has changed the way defendants may be punished in North Carolina, said Raleigh criminal lawyer Damon Chetson yesterday.

The changes increase the potential punishments for people charged and convicted of felonies in North Carolina.

Mr. Chetson said that the changes were occasioned by a recent federal decision handed down in August by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"There has long been disagreement between various federal Courts of Appeals about how someone can be defined as a felon under federal law," said Mr. Chetson. "That disagreement was resolved in the Fourth Circuit earlier this year."

In United States v. Simmons, No. 08-4475, the Fourth Circuit decided that, for federal sentencing purposes, a person's status as a felon was determined not by state classifications nor by the maximum theoretical punishment for the crime."

"The Fourth Circuit essentially said that a person is a felon for federal purposes if the person could've been sentenced to at least 12 months in prison by a state judge given the person's prior record level and given the class of the crime," said Mr. Chetson. "That rule affects the way certain people convicted of low level felonies may be sentenced in federal court."

North Carolina's General Assembly resolved the issue by increasing the punishment levels so that everyone classified as a felon under North Carolina law will be a felon for federal purposes.

"Basically, every felon in North Carolina will be eligible for a 13 month prison sentence as of December 1, 2011," said Mr. Chetson. "This means that, under the U.S. v. Simmons ruling, every state felon is a felon for federal purposes."

This is only the third time in 16 years that the state's structured sentencing grids have been modified.

Mr. Chetson, a criminal lawyer in Raleigh, said that the law will affect federal cases involving low level state felons who may have possessed a firearm.

"If you're someone convicted of a Class I felony under North Carolina's laws, then it's very unlikely, given the current sentencing grid, that you'd be a felon as federal law defines the term," said Mr. Chetson. "Consequently, if you were charged with a federal felon in possession charge, the federal government would be unable to prove your felon status in light of U.S. v. Simmons."

Mr. Chetson said that while it's unfortunate that the state has sought to toughen sentencing laws, other changes by the General Assembly this year have been positive.

"We've had enhancements to Driving While Impaired laws and to the structure sentencing grids," said Mr. Chetson. "Those will cost the state money and do little to improve safety, in my view. But other changes are going to save the state money and probably improve criminal justice."

Disclaimer: While The Chetson Firm works hard to achieve the best possible results in every case it handles, no outcome can be guaranteed. Past results do not guarantee future results. Each case is different. If you are facing a criminal investigation or arrest, seek the immediate assistance of a criminal lawyer licensed in your state. The Chetson Firm's lawyers are licensed to practice in the state courts of North Carolina and in the federal courts of the Eastern District of North Carolina.

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