What is a legislature to do when there isn’t a need for new laws? Change the specifics on old laws, of course.
This is exactly what North Carolina has done. Changes to three laws went into effect on December 1, 2011. This blog has already discussed Laura’s Law, which changed the way habitual drunk drivers are sentenced. We will be talking soon about the changes to habitual Breaking and/ or Entering sentencing, and this blog will address the changes to habitual felony sentencing.
With the revisions in effect, a felony for an offender considered habitual will be punished “at a felony class level that is four classes higher than the principal felony . . . but under no circumstances . . . higher than a Class C felony.” G.S. 14-7.6. What does this really mean? Class I felonies will be sentenced at the Class E level, Class H will be at Class D, and all others will be sentenced as Class C felonies.
An unusual aspect of the new enhancement is that Class I felons, facing Class E due to the habitual categorization, will fall into the I/A square of the sentencing grid (see image). Under the new changes to the sentencing law, a habitual felon could receive probation.
The possibility of probation could prove problematic. It is unclear how to apply the requirement of habitual sentences running consecutively to any sentence being served. Either the probation period itself will not be triggered until all other sentences being served are complete, or the suspended sentence, if activated, must run consecutively to other sentences being served.
The revised law is clear on one thing: changes are not retroactive. The new sentencing structure for habitual felons applies only when the principal (fourth or after) felony occurs on or after December 1, 2011.