Being a habitual felon means more serious sentencing consequences. Generally, North Carolina’s sentencing for criminal defendants depends on prior criminal convictions. Having a habitual felon status means defendants are sentenced much more harshly than if they were otherwise not charged with this status.
HABITUAL FELON STATUS
N.C.G.S. § 14-7.1 defines a habitual felon as any person who has been convicted of or pled guilty to three felony offenses in any federal court or state court within the United States or combination thereof.
The state of North Carolina will not count more than one felony conviction that occurred when the defendant was under 18 years old towards a habitual felon status.
The status is determined by the number of court sessions, rather than just the number of prior felony convictions.
For example, if someone is convicted of 4 felonies in one case, the person is not automatically considered a habitual felon. That person would have to have been convicted of at least one felony in three different superior court sessions.
BEING CHARGED AS A HABITUAL FELON
A habitual felon indictment is not mandatory. It is based on a person’s prior criminal record and this is in the district attorney’s (prosecutor) discretion.
Upon indictment of an underlying felony, a separate indictment must occur for the State to try a case against a defendant as a habitual felon. This indictment must allege the previous felonies the defendant has been convicted of and the dates of these convictions.
Habitual Felon Trial Procedures:
1. UNDERLYING FELONY TRIAL PHASE
The Defendant is not to be unfairly prejudiced by the jury. Therefore, the Defendant’s status as a habitual felon, and the habitual felon charge, are not mentioned during jury selection. Additionally, the habitual felon charge is not referenced during the trial for the alleged felony or felonies the Defendant is being tried for at that time.
The habitual felon charge does not come into play if the Defendant is found not guilty. However, if the Defendant is found guilty of a felony, a second shorter trial begins to determine his or her status as a habitual felon.
2. TRIAL PHASE
If the defendant does not admit to his or her habitual felon status, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that under North Carolina Statutes, the defendant does in fact have the status.
If the defendant denies being a habitual felon, evidence must be presented establishing a record or records of prior convictions of felony offenses, and the original or a certified copy of the court record of the prior conviction.
The original or certified copy of the court record, with the same name as the defendant being charged, is prima facie evidence the defendant currently on trial is the same person as the defendant before the court, and shall be prima facie evidence of the facts set out.
Being designated and convicted as habitual felon in North Carolina means the defendant will be sentenced to a felony class level four classes higher than their underlying felony conviction. However, the defendant cannot be sentenced at a higher level than a class C felony.
Example: If a person is convicted of felony larceny (which is a class H felony), he or she is sentenced as someone convicted of a class D felony.
Which, in this example, leads to many more years of active prison time than would otherwise have been mandated.
If you are charged as a habitual felon or have questions about habitual felon status, contact us