Felonies must be handled with extreme care, as a felony conviction can change your life forever. Once you become a convicted felon, it is extremely difficult to get that off your record. In most cases, once a person becomes a felon, he or she remains a felon for the rest of his or her life. With a felony conviction on your record, you cannot vote. With a felony conviction on your record, every time you apply for a job, you have to explain to your potential employer why you have that conviction on your record. If your potential employer does not find your explanation satisfactory, your chance of obtaining the job diminishes. As a felon you cannot own a firearm – regardless of what purpose. Possession of a firearm by a felon itself is a specific felony offense – i.e., a Class G felony that carries a maximum penalty of 47 months in prison.
The North Carolina judicial system recognizes ten different types of felonies – from Class A, Class B1, Class B2, Class C, Class D all the way down to Class I felonies – based roughly on the seriousness of the offense. Located all the way at the bottom of the North Carolina felony chart are Class I and Class H property crimes. Common examples of these property crimes include breaking and entering a motor vehicle (Class I), felony larceny (Class H), obtain property by false pretenses (Class H), and felony breaking or entering a building (Class H). Notably, some drug-related offenses, such as simple possession of cocaine, where the amount of the narcotics is very small, are classified as Class I felonies. Located all the way up at the top of the same chart are Class A and Class BI felonies. There is only one type of Class A felony – i.e. first degree murder. First degree murder carries a maxim penalty of either life in prison or death. A Class B1 felony, too, carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Common examples of a Class B1 felony include first degree rape and first degree statutory sex offense.
Examples of mid-level felonies – i.e., Class C, Class D, Class E, and Class F felonies – include assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury (Class C), robbery with a dangerous weapon (Class D), first degree burglary (Class D), assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury (Class E), and trafficking in narcotics. Each of these offenses comes with a considerable length of prison time as its maximum penalty. Class A, Class B1, Class B2, Class C, and Class D felonies each come with mandatory prison sentences. That is, if you receive a conviction for any of these types of offenses, the sitting judge has to impose a prison sentence on you, while the length of the prison sentence is to be determined by the class of your offense and the length of your prior conviction history, for the most part. If you receive a conviction for one of the remaining types of felonies (i.e. Class E through Class I), a prison sentence is not mandatory. A judge can suspended the prison sentence arising from your conviction and place you on supervised probation for a period of time. In some exceptional cases, a judge can place you on unsupervised probation after the payment of the court cost, a fine and, possibly, a restitution.
While there is no single right way to approach a felony charge or charges, a skilled and experienced attorney can assess the facts of your case and the nature of your charges and advise you on the right course of action. Depending on the severity of the charges and your prior criminal history (or the lack thereof), you or your lawyer can in some cases negotiate a misdemeanor plea agreement with a prosecutor. That is, pursuant to a plea deal, your original felony charge or charges may be reduced to misdemeanors and your case may be resolved in district court. However, if your case is not disposed of in district court, it will most likely be transferred to superior court through a grand jury indictment process. Once your case is in superior court, you or your lawyer may still be able to settle it through plea negotiations. A plea negotiation is a process centered on the concepts of compromise and judicial economy where you are expected to make some concessions in exchange for the concessions the prosecutor representing the State of North Carolina offers. Depending on your circumstances, you may elect to reject any plea offer extended by a prosecutor and request a jury trial. If you request a jury trial, your case will be tried before a jury consisting of twelve persons selected from your community.