How Prior Convictions Affect Misdemeanor Sentencing

by | Sep 13, 2019 | Blog Posts, NC Criminal Defense

How do prior convictions affect misdemeanor sentencing? We have written previous blogs on North Carolina’s misdemeanor sentencing guidelines. This blog is more narrowly tailored to address the specific topic of prior convictions as they relate to misdemeanor sentencing in North Carolina. This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense lawyer.

Overview of North Carolina’s Misdemeanor Sentencing Guidelines

As an overview, the number of prior convictions that a person has will determine their prior record level (a.k.a. prior conviction level). A prior record level affects the range of possible punishments that a person may receive. There are three prior record levels for misdemeanor sentencing purposes: level I, level II, and level III. First, we will break down what each of these levels means.

Prior conviction levels

A person with zero prior convictions will be sentenced as a prior record level I. A person with one to four prior convictions will be sentenced as a prior record level II. A person with five or more convictions will be sentenced as a prior record level III.

What convictions count?

Almost all criminal convictions count toward one’s prior record level for misdemeanor sentencing purposes (see below for exceptions). Unlike with felony sentencing, traffic convictions that constitute misdemeanor offenses count toward a person’s prior record level. Some examples of such convictions include reckless driving and DWLR. Unless your traffic conviction constitutes an infraction (e.g., low speed speeding convictions, improper equipment, expired registration), then it will typically count toward one’s misdemeanor sentencing level. Infractions do not count as prior convictions.

How are different convictions weighted?

Unlike with felony sentencing, all criminal convictions are weighted the same. Regardless of level or severity, each criminal conviction counts as one point. A reckless driving conviction would add one point, and a rape conviction would also add one point. While misdemeanors and felonies have some big differences, misdemeanors do matter.

Multiple convictions on one court date

Only one prior criminal conviction from a single session (generally, one day) of district court, or in a single week of superior court or court in another jurisdiction counts at a time. For example, if someone is convicted of three convictions in one session of district court, this counts as one prior conviction for purposes of prior record level.

PJC and conditional discharge

A prayer for judgment continued (PJC) for a criminal charge will count as a prior conviction for misdemeanor sentencing purposes.

A conviction that is subject to a conditional discharge will count as a conviction only during the probationary period. Once the charge is dismissed at the conclusion of the probationary period, it will no longer count as a prior conviction. Examples of conditional discharge include 90-96 conditional discharge and 15A conditional discharge.


A superior court conviction that is pending appeal to the appellate division counts as a prior conviction. However, a district court conviction that has been appealed to superior court does not count as a prior conviction.

Juvenile adjudications

Juvenile adjudications do not count toward one’s prior record level.


Contempt convictions do not count toward one’s prior record level.

Charges versus conviction

Only convictions count toward one’s prior record level. Pending charges do not. To read about the differences between a charge and a conviction, click here.

If you are in need of criminal defense legal services in North Carolina or South Carolina, contact us.

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