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What You Need To Know About North Carolina’s New First Step Act

On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Drug Charges on Saturday, January 9, 2021

Wooden gavel in court during appeal feature photo

Are you or a loved one being charged with drug trafficking or conspiracy to commit drug trafficking? If convicted, you face a mandatory minimum prison sentence. But now, there is a new and very limited exception, which may allow you to avoid a lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentence..

The First Step Act created a narrow exception to North Carolina General Statute 90-95(h), which is the law that describes drug trafficking penalties. It added 90-95(h)(5a) as a limited exception. Instead of a mandatory minimum prison sentence, the judge can use North Carolina’s standard sentencing rules.

If you or your loved one are eligible, you could avoid a harsh mandatory minimum. The best way to find out is to talk with a criminal defense lawyer. When Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys handles your case, our goal is to avoid a conviction. But in some cases, the best thing to do is to mitigate the consequences of a sentence. We carefully review the facts and your criminal history. If you are eligible, we ask the judge to give you a lenient sentence.

You can call Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys at (980) 237-4579, or you can use the online form to request a free consultation.

The Judge Has Limited Discretion

North Carolina’s First Step Act requires a hearing so the prosecution can present evidence about you and your conduct. The judge also hears from your defense attorney and judge determines whether you meet the 11 conditions, required under the First Step Act, to be sentenced below the mandatory minimum punishment.

If the judge determines you meet them all, they have some discretion in deciding the sentence. The judge can reduce the mandatory fine and/or minimum sentence you’re facing under North Carolina’s Statutory punishment guidelines for drug trafficking offenses.

The judge has to follow the sentencing grid based on the offense level and your prior record level, meaning the judge can’t decide on any sentence they want.

The 11 Requirements Under North Carolina’s First Step Act

After hearing the evidence presented, the judge must find that:

  1. You have accepted responsibility for your actions.
  2. You haven’t been convicted of a felony under N.C.G.S. 90-95 before.
  3. You didn’t use violence, threaten violence, or possess a gun or other dangerous weapon during this crime.
  4. You didn’t use violence, threaten violence, or possess a gun or other dangerous weapon during any other crime
  5. You admitted you have a substance abuse disorder and completed a treatment program.
  6. The mandatory minimum prison term would result in substantial injustice.
  7. The mandatory minimum prison sentence isn’t necessary to protect the public.
  8. You’re being sentenced for trafficking, or conspiracy to commit trafficking, as a result of possessing a drug only.
  9. There isn’t substantial evidence that you ever transported, sold, manufactured, or delivered drugs or intended to.
  10. To the best of your knowledge, you have reasonably assisted in identifying, arresting, or convicting anyone else involved in the crime.
  11. You’re being sentenced for trafficking or conspiracy for the lowest amount category for which you can be convicted for trafficking that drug.

The Important Threshold Requirements

Some of these conditions greatly limit how often the First Step Act will apply. For example, under number eight, you can only be convicted of trafficking by possession. If you are convicted of trafficking based on manufacturing, delivering, or transporting drugs, you’re ineligible.

The amount matters a lot because of number 11. To be charged with trafficking, you had to possess a certain amount. But higher amounts correspond to more severe sentences.z

For example, the threshold amount for marijuana trafficking is 10 pounds. If you had between 10 and 50 pounds, you faced at least 25 months in prison. There are harsher sentences for over 50 pounds or 2,000 pounds. You must have possessed less than 50 pounds to qualify for this exception.

Resentencing Is Possible

If you or a loved one are already in prison for trafficking, call us right away. You can ask the court to resentence you, but you have to file within three years of Dec. 1, 2020.

The first step is talking with a lawyer. A criminal defense lawyer will review whether you’ve met all of the requirements. If you do, then your lawyer will file a motion in court.

The prosecution has the right to argue that you don’t meet the criteria. That’s why it’s essential to have representation. A prosecutor might oppose you receiving a lighter sentence. It would help if you were prepared to defend your right to a new sentence based on the law.

We Are Here To Help

Whether you’re currently facing trafficking charges or were previously convicted, Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys is here to help. You can set up a free consultation online or by calling (980) 237-4579.