Methods of Reducing a Criminal Sentence in North Carolina

Being convicted of a crime, either a misdemeanor or a felony, and facing a sentence is extremely stressful. Once convicted, the sentencing occurs where the court decides what it thinks is an appropriate consequence for the defendant’s crime. In most cases, the court’s decision is the final decision. However, there are legal methods of reducing a criminal sentence. Together, with an experienced Raleigh criminal lawyer, you can explore these options to see if there is an approach that can apply to your case. Our attorneys and legal team at Sandman, Finn, & Fitzhugh are seasoned in fighting for the rights you deserve.

Criminal Sentences

Criminal sentences are legal punishment for a crime. Penalties for committing a misdemeanor or felony can include:

  • Fines
  • Incarceration
  • Probation
  • Parole
  • Community service

There are court rules whereby the defendant can request a sentence modification. Typically, there is a 14-day timeframe in which clerical corrections can be requested. For example, a clerical correction might be needed if the sentence called for a probation period of 12 months and the clerk mistakenly entered a 24-month probation.

Other limited circumstances where a sentence might warrant changing or correcting include a judicial error or a mistake made by the court. For example, if evidence was excluded that should have been allowed there would be the need to make a correction that could alter the sentence. The defendant and his/her lawyer must be proactive during the legal process in looking at ways to reduce the sentence and the time that will be spent away from family, friends, and freedom.

Ways of Reducing a Criminal Sentence in NC

There are strategies an attorney can use when working to reduce their client’s sentence.

Motion for Modification of Sentence

A defendant’s attorney can file a “motion for modification of sentence” when asking for a more lenient sentence. This motion includes information regarding why the request should be granted, e.g., if new information is available that was not available at the time of the trial. After filing the motion, the court sets a hearing to allow the defendant an opportunity to argue the merits of the request to modify the sentence. 

Plea Bargains

In an attempt to avoid time-consuming and expensive trials, prosecutors will offer to make a deal with an alleged offender. This method has the defendant plead guilty (the “plea”) and the prosecutor will try to persuade the judge to lay down a lighter sentence (the “bargain”). If, as the defendant, the case against you is strong and you want to plead guilty, the plea bargain might be a good option to take in that the court may be merciful and go with a lighter sentence due to your cooperation.

However, a plea bargain is not a guarantee that you will get a lighter sentence. The judge may still choose a harsher sentence, no matter that you are cooperating. Additionally, a plea cannot be reversed. Once you plead guilty, depending on the crime, the guilty plea can remain on your criminal record permanently. 

Mitigating Circumstances

Mitigating circumstances are factors that help to lessen the guilt of an offender and advocate for the judge to be more lenient in the sentencing. North Carolina courts recognize many mitigating circumstances. Your attorney can use several different tactics when arguing that the crime does not deserve a hard penalty. 

There are two types of mitigating circumstances:  1) positive mitigation and 2) negative mitigation. If the prosecution is in a position of strength and a guilty verdict seems inevitable, proving mitigating circumstances may help in getting a lighter sentence.

Positive Mitigation

Positive mitigation is when an attorney attempts to show a positive picture of the defendant. Speaking of their devotion to family and hard work are ways to employ positive mitigation, effectively showing that the defendant has positive traits and the illegal action was out of character.

Negative Mitigation

When an attorney highlights any hardships or difficult circumstances the defendant has endured that would cause him/her to commit the crime, they are employing negative mitigation. For example, showing that the defendant grew up in an abusive home or has a history of mental illness is using negative mitigation as a defense in the hopes of arguing for a lesser sentence.

Examples of Mitigating Circumstances

The following is a partial list of mitigating factors. An entire list of mitigating factors can be found in North Carolina G.S. 15A-1340.16(e). The following are examples of factors that can be used if the defendant:

  • Committed the offense while being coerced, threatened, suffering duress
  • Played an insignificant role in the crime
  • Had a mental or physical condition that reduced his/her responsibility for wrongdoing
  • Assisted in the arrest or conviction of another felon
  • Testified on behalf of the prosecution
  • Made substantial or full restitution to the plaintiff (victim)
  • Was provoked into the criminal act
  • Reasonably believed their conduct was lawful
  • Voluntarily acknowledged the commission of the offense before the arrest or early on in the criminal process
  • Is a minor and has reliable supervision
  • Has a good reputation in the community
  • Has accepted responsibility for his/her wrongdoing
  • Did not harm another individual in committing the crime
  • Has shown high levels of cooperation

Contact Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh for Criminal Defense

When you are charged with a crime such as a gun charge, assault, larceny, or a federal crime, you need an experienced Raleigh criminal attorney to represent you. Our attorneys know the strategies to use in asking for a reduction in a criminal sentence and when to use them. Contact our legal team to schedule a consultation today. Complete the form to the right or call us at (919) 887-8040.