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Felonies, Misdemeanors and Infractions in North Carolina

Legal offenses can be divided into three main categories under the North Carolina justice system: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Infractions are non-criminal or petty offenses while misdemeanors and felonies are the two main types of criminal offenses. These three offenses vary in nature and penalties given, as provided by the North Carolina criminal law. Summarily, North Carolina crimes are tried on the basis of these categories.

What is a felony in North Carolina?

A felony is a grievous crime that is viewed harshly by the public and deemed as a “felony” by statute or common law and excludes misdemeanors and infractions. It carries the most severe types of penalties in North Carolina and may be punishable by imprisonment or death sentences in compliance with state laws (N. C. Gen. Stat. § 14–1).

A North Carolina felony conviction can bring out different prison terms and may also include fines and probations. However, punishments vary based on the class of felony committed, the person’s prior criminal records, severity of the crime, and other mitigating circumstances like mental health, age, criminal history, attacking in self defense, and so on.

Classes of Felonies in North Carolina

Majority of crimes and offenses in North Carolina are categorized using a structured sentencing scheme. In 2016, North Carolina passed a sentencing reform (effective 12/1/2017) that increased the sentences for some offenses of the classification of felony offenses. Felonies are divided into ten classes - Class A to Class I - with Class B having two parts and Class A having the most severe punishments. The felonies have mitigated (least), presumptive (average), and aggravated ranges of incarceration penalties depending on the sentencing and prior record levels. The ranges of sentencing, according to the mitigated and aggravated sentencing as well as the lowest to highest prior record levels of each class are:

  • Class A Felonies: This is the most serious crime category in North Carolina with maximum punishment of death sentence or life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
  • Class B1 Felonies: Class B1 felonies punishments range from 144 months imprisonment to life sentence without parole.
  • Class B2 Felonies: Punishments for Class B2 felonies range from 94 months to 484 months imprisonment.
  • Class C Felonies: A Class C conviction punishment ranges from 44 months to 231 months incarceration.
  • Class D Felonies: Class D felonies punishments range from 38 months to 204 months.
  • Class E Felonies: These crimes have punishment ranging from 15 months to 88 months.
  • Class F Felonies: A Class F felony conviction penalty ranges from 10 months to 59 months.
  • Class G Felonies: Punishments for Class G felonies range from 8 months to 47 months.
  • Class H Felonies: Class H felonies punishments range from 4 months to 39 months.
  • Class I Felonies: This is the least severe category of felonies with imprisonment ranging from 3 months to 24 months.

In summary, Class A, B1, B2, C and D are high-level felonies. Class E, F, and G are mid-level felonies. While Class H and I are low-level felonies which may not carry jail terms but probation, counseling, community service, or house arrests.

Note: Prior records are used to determine the sentence to give to a convicted felon and may add to or reduce prison time. They are calculated as points (0–18+) or levels (I-VI). Someone with zero or one criminal history is level I or 0–1 points.

What are some examples of felonies in North Carolina?

Examples of felonies in North Carolina according to class include:

  • Class A felony: First-degree murder
  • Class B1 felony: First-degree forcible or statutory rape, first-degree forcible sexual offense
  • Class B2 felony: Second-degree murder
  • Class C felony: Second-degree forcible rape, first-degree kidnapping, habitual felons, embezzlement ($100,000 or more).
  • Class D felony: Voluntary manslaughter, first-degree arson, first-degree burglary, armed robbery, drug trafficking (to minor).
  • Class E felony: Second-degree kidnapping, incest by parent or custodian, discharging weapon in occupied property, drug peddling within 1000 feet of a school.
  • Class F felony: Possessing a weapon of mass destruction, involuntary manslaughter, habitual DWI, patronizing a prostitute (minor).
  • Class G felony: Second-degree burglary, second-degree arson, common law robbery, identity theft.
  • Class H felony: Assault by strangulation, embezzlement (less than $100,000), possession of cocaine, possessing stolen goods, breaking and entering buildings.
  • Class I felony: Breaking and entering motor vehicles, possession of marijuana, forgery of notes, checks, securities.

Can I get a felony removed from a court record in North Carolina?

Yes, a felony can be removed, obscured, or expunged from a court record in North Carolina depending on the class of the felony and certain other conditions. Records on Class A to G felonies, sex related or violent crimes are generally excluded. However, eligibility under the NC expungement law includes:

  • Persons who have no previous records of violent or sex related felonies.
  • If the offender was under 18 at the time the crime was committed (non-violent crimes only).
  • Certain drug related and toxic vapor offenses committed before 21 years of age.
  • Dismissed charges or charges remanded for juvenile adjudication as well as pardoned offenders and victims of identity theft.
  • Certain gang related offenses committed before the age of 17.

Under the new expungement law, eligible offenders will have to wait for a period of 10 years (instead of the previous 15) from the day of conviction, before filing for expungement of records at the county courthouse where they were charged.

The expungement or expunction process may take between 9 to12 months and will involve meeting several criteria and may also include the following process:

  • Checking out the eligibility status of the offense and criteria for application
  • File the petition for expungement
  • Wait for the court to process and review petition
  • Getting the judge’s decision or court order

Once charges have been expunged by the state, they are no longer open to the public and can only persecutors and law enforcement personnel can access the record.

Is expungement the same as sealing court records in North Carolina?

Yes, for most parts, an expunged record in North Carolina is sealed from public access. Once the court grants an individual an expungement, there will be a court order instructing law enforcement agencies or courts to clear or close the particular record of any arrest, criminal charges or conviction.

Therefore, expunged charges cannot show in a background check on criminal history, done by private individuals or employers. However, other types of information like news articles and implicatory stories can be obtained online.

How long does a felony stay on your record in North Carolina?

A felony conviction in North Carolina can stay on the offender record forever until the individual petitions the court for expungement and the court grants the petition.

What is a Misdemeanor in North Carolina?

A misdemeanor in North Carolina is an offense that carries lesser gravity than felonies but is more severe than an infraction. Misdemeanors carry penalties of fines and/or imprisonment of a period not exceeding one year, in accordance with state laws (N. C. Gen. Stat. § 14–1.). There are four major classes of misdemeanors in North Carolina and the penalty for each class may differ based on the nature of the crime and other aggravating or mitigating factors like circumstances surrounding the crime, age, criminal history, and so on.

Classes of Misdemeanors in North Carolina

Misdemeanors in North Carolina are categorized into four: Class A1, Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 misdemeanors with Class A1 having the most severe penalties. Penalties for misdemeanors may be active, intermediate, or community punishments. Active punishment means incarceration or jail time while intermediate punishment may involve fines and reduced jail time, house arrests, or educational or counseling programs. Lastly, community punishment may involve supervised or unsupervised service and probations.

Similar to felonies, for a court to impose sentences, it must determine prior conviction level (I-III), and the range of punishment applicable to the class of offense. The classes of misdemeanors and their ranges of punishment are:

  • Class A1 misdemeanors: from 1 day to 150 days of active, intermediate, or community punishment and discretionary fines.
  • Class 1 misdemeanors: from 1 day to 120 days of punishment and discretionary fines.
  • Class 2 misdemeanors: from 1 day to 60 days of punishment and fines not exceeding $1,000
  • Class 3 misdemeanors: from 1 day to 20 days of punishment and fines not exceeding $200

What are some examples of misdemeanors in North Carolina?

  • Class A1 misdemeanors: Violation of a protective order, assault inflicting serious injury, assault on a female, assault on a child under 12 years old, and other assaults
  • Class 1 misdemeanors: Larceny or property (not exceeding $1,000), breaking and entering, communicating threats, possession of drug paraphernalia, etc.
  • Class 2 misdemeanors: Cyber stalking, disorderly conduct, carrying concealed weapons, first-degree trespass, indecent exposure, etc.
  • Class 3 misdemeanors: Failure to return rental property, second-degree trespass, worthless check (not exceeding $2,000), etc.

Can I get a misdemeanor removed from a record in North Carolina?

Yes, misdemeanors can be removed from North Carolina records depending on some conditions. Misdemeanors with non-guilty verdicts or dismissed charges are immediately eligible for expungement or expunction. However, guilty misdemeanor charges usually require a waiting period of 5 years for most non-violent charges under the expungement law. Exemptions include:

  • Larceny committed before the age of 18 can be expunged after 2 years.
  • Drug charges committed when the offender was under 22 years old can be expunged after the successful completion of the 90–96 drug program.

Violent misdemeanors and certain DWI misdemeanours may take longer to be expunged or may not be eligible for expungement by courts in North Carolina.

Note: The court processing of expungement may take from 9 months to one year

Can a DUI be expunged in North Carolina?

Yes, North Carolina permits the expunction of DUI or DWI charges that were dismissed and found not guilty. It should be noted that DWI in North Carolina does not have a distinct classification; neither do you have to be drunk to be guilty of impaired driving. In addition, severity of DWI can range from felonies to misdemeanors. However, expungement also can be done on minor traffic violations, depending on the circumstances of the case and on certain eligibility criteria as provided by the state laws (N. C. Gen. Stat. § 14–1.). Also, individuals whose DWI records have been expunged are permitted by law to “hide” the fact about having a criminal record.

Note: There is a 7-year lookback period for DWI offenses which means that records will be open for this period and any further driving offenses within this time will be considered as a second offense and is liable to more severe penalties.

What constitutes an infraction in North Carolina?

An infraction or petty offense in North Carolina is a non-criminal violation against any law or statute in the state. Infractions are not punishable by imprisonment (N. C. Gen. Stat. § 14–3.1) and are the least severe type of legal offenses. Penalties for infractions can be in the form of warnings, sanctions, or fines not exceeding $100.

Persons charged with infractions may be summoned, charged, or detained temporarily in order to issue a citation. Moreover, the court hearing of infractions will be done in the county where the offense was committed and the fees obtained from the payments of infractions fines will be paid to the same county and will be used by public schools.

What are some examples of infractions in North Carolina?

Infractions in North Carolina are mainly violations of a violation of an ordinance in a county, city or town. Some common examples include:

  • Attempt to consume of alcohol by underage
  • Boat violation
  • Campsite violation
  • Certain permit violations
  • Failing to lease pet while walking
  • Fishing without a license
  • Illegal parking
  • Littering
  • Noise violation or disturbing the peace
  • Operating certain businesses without a permit

Can infractions be expunged from a North Carolina criminal court record?

Infractions in North Carolina do not count as a criminal court record and the state does not record the proceedings at infraction hearings because they are non-criminal offenses (N. C. Gen. Stat. § 15A–1114)..

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