A New North Carolina Bill Could Reform Criminal Sentencing Reduction

At Tarlton Polk we receive many requests to consult on post-conviction relief options, as we do our best to evaluate eligibility and help clients obtain such relief for themselves or loved ones. However, there are circumstances where we have to tell people that they or their loved one simply do not meet the criteria for relief at they time they are contacting us. Under these circumstances, we instead advise on potential options in the future.

When we look at post-conviction options to better serve at clients, we pay careful attention to potential upcoming bills that will reform parts of criminal sentencing. There are several of these bills making their way through North Carolina’s legislature, but the one we are discussing in this article is House Bill 625.

felon behind bars, who can benefit from federal post-conviction relief

What is House Bill 625?

House bill 625 will add a new section to our legislation’s Article 83 – Imprisonment, which would allow for additional modifications to imposed terms of imprisonment. As of the current bill, this new section is titled “§ 15A-1357. Modification of an imposed term of imprisonment. If passed, anybody serving a term of imprisonment, except those in life imprisonment or specifically barred due to other laws, may file for a motion of appropriate relief if they meet served at least five years in prison and the court finds that they are not a danger to public safety. Determining risk to public safety is rather subjective, but the bill outlines elements to consider as follows:

  • The age of the defendant at the time of the offense.
  • The history and characteristics of the defendant.
  • Whether the defendant has significantly complied with the rules of the correctional facility.
  • Whether the defendant has complicated any educations, vocational, or other programs during imprisonment, if such programs were available.
  • Whether the defendant has demonstrated maturity, rehabilitation, and a fitness to reenter society.
  • Any statement provided, written or rally, by a victim of the offense for which the defendant is imprisoned, or by a family member of the victim if the victim is deceased.
  • Any report or recommendation received from the district attorney about the defendant.
  • Any reports of physical, mental, or psychiatric evaluations of the defendant conducted by a licensed health care professional.
  • The defendant’s family and community circumstances at the time of the offense, including any history of abuse, trauma, or involvement in the child welfare system.
  • The extent of the defendant’s role in the offense.
  • Whether the defendant was a juvenile when they committed the offense and would have had less culpability compared to an adult.

If a motion for appropriate relief is filed, a hearing will still be required for it to be granted or denied.

What Will This Change?

Under our current laws, a motion for relief is only used for purported errors in the legal proceedings. An “error”, in the legal sense, refers to mistakes made regarding the specific case facts, procedure, and rights of the defendant. Some examples of such errors include:

  • The defendant was not adequately informed of the ramifications of a guilty plea
  • The court misapplied the relevant law, or applied an incorrect law.
  • The evidence could not support the jury’s findings.
  • The defense attorney was ineffective in representing the defendant.
  • A new law has developed which retroactively affects the conviction.

As you can see, this list is a lot smaller than the previous one and is focused on issues in the process, not the qualities of the defendant. The new bill is not about challenging the original sentence court process, but making the court carefully consider if the defendant really is a threat to public safety and should be held in prison for the full extent of their sentence.

What Happens Next?

At the time of writing this article, this bill has passed its first reading in the house. It still has a long way to go in the house alone, with committee considerations to be made and several more readings and possible amendments before it goes to the Senate. The Senate essentially repeats the review process and may even amend the bill, returning it to the house or house committee to repeat the process. If the senate passes the bill, it will be sent to the secretary of state. If the bill is not subject to a veto from the governor, the secretary of state can sign it into law, otherwise the governor will have to sign the act or choose to veto it. Our expectation at this time is that the bill may very well make its way into law, though it may likely be changed on the way there. We will keep an eye on how it progresses and post new updates when anything significant changes.

If you are looking for a criminal defense attorney or post-conviction attorney in North Carolina, please call our office or fill out the contact form below.

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