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What are NC judges’ guidelines for misdemeanor punishments?

If you have committed a misdemeanor offense in North Carolina, the severity of your punishment depends on a number of different factors, including the discretion of the judge. However, no judge has the authority to set an unreasonable penalty. The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission explains that lawmakers have set some parameters for sentencing policies in the state, known as structured sentencing.

Judges work from a misdemeanor punishment chart when determining what the penalties will be for your offense. It is divided by class of the offense and by the number of prior convictions. Classes range from A1, which is most severe, down to one, two, and then three, which is least severe. Conviction levels begin with no priors, then one to four priors, and finally five or more.

If you are charged with the lowest class of misdemeanor, Class 3, with no prior convictions, your punishment may last no more than 10 days and is considered a community punishment. The judge may sentence you to community service, require you to pay restitution or a fine, or participate in some kind of training or rehabilitation program.

You may receive the harshest penalty if you are convicted of a Class A1 misdemeanor and you have five or more prior convictions. In this case, the judge has the option to sentence you to up to 150 days in jail, or put you on probation or under supervision for that long.

Even within this carefully defined system, judges have the responsibility to ensure that your sentence is in keeping with your actions, as well as comparing to sentences given in similar situations. Judges are encouraged to use light penalties rather than jail time if you are not violent and you have no prior record. This is general information, and many exceptions apply, so this should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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