The new budget contains provisions that will impact misdemeanor sentencing and the appointment of counsel. This change will effect thousands of cases each year.
Republican leaders in both chambers have endorsed the bill. The General Assembly is expected to approve it in the next two days, and Governor McCrory is expected to sign it.
Change to Structured Sentencing grid.
Section 18B.13.(a) of the budget changes the misdemeanor Structured Sentencing grid as follows, effective for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2013:
Many Class 3 misdemeanors will only be punishable by a fine. The same section states that “[u]nless otherwise provided for a specific offense, the judgment for a person convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor who has no more than three prior convictions shall consist only of a fine.” Fines for Class 3 misdemeanors generally may not exceed $200. G.S. 15A-1340.23(b).
In addition to changing the punishments for Class 3 misdemeanors, the budget also creates more of them. Section 18B.14 reclassifies a number of misdemeanors – most currently Class 2 – as Class 3 offenses. The new Class 3 misdemeanors include:
» Obtaining property by worthless check, G.S. 14-106
» Simple worthless check, G.S. 14-107
» Failure to return hired property, G.S. 14-167
» Conversion by bailee, G.S. 14-168.1
» Failure to return rental property with purchase option, G.S. 14-168.4
» DWLR, G.S. 20-28 (unless revoked for DWI, then still Class 1)
» Certain motor vehicle misdemeanors that were Class 2 under G.S. 20-35, including: » Most NOLs, G.S. 20-7
» Failure to tell DMV of address change by driver, G.S. 20-7.1
» Allowing vehicle to be driven by unlicensed person, G.S. 20-34
» Certain motor vehicle misdemeanors that were Class 2 under 20-176, including: » Failure to carry registration card in vehicle, G.S. 20-57(c)
» Failure to sign registration card, G.S. 20-57(c)
» Failure to tell DMV of address change by vehicle, G.S. 20-67
» Certain license plate/registration violations, G.S. 20-111
» Window tinting violations, G.S. 20-127(d)
» Misdemeanor speeding, G.S. 20-141(j1)
» No insurance, G.S. 20-313(a)
» Repeat fishing without a license, G.S. 113-135(a) (referring to 113-174.1 and -270.1B)
Also, section 18B.15 of the budget reclassifies a number of boating safety offenses from Class 3 misdemeanors to infractions.
A main goal of these provisions was to save money on court appointed counsel for indigent defendants. The report states that IDS’s budget (the agency that provides money for court appointed lawyers) will be reduced by $2,000,000 annually because the budget “[r]eclassifies low-level misdemeanors that rarely result in incarceration as Class 3 misdemeanors or infractions and modifies the sentencing structure for Class 3 misdemeanors so that the first three charges are fineable offenses. With no possibility of incarceration, these offenses do not require legal counsel.”
The changes made by the budget will provide that a defendant charged only with a Class 3 misdemeanor, and who has no more than three prior convictions, will be facing a potential sentence of a fine of $200 or less.