North Carolina criminal offenses are identified either as misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are lesser crimes, punishable by up to five months in jail for a repeat offender. Under the North Carolina structured sentencing guidelines, even the least serious felony by a first-time offender is subject to a three-month minimum prison sentence.

The court and the prosecutor have considerable leeway to classify many offenses either as felonies or misdemeanors. That further blurs the line between the two types of offenses. As North Carolina criminal defense attorneys, we often find that our clients are confused on this distinction. They frequently think a North Carolina felony conviction is “no big deal,” or just a small step away from the misdemeanor charges they have faced before. However, a felony charge is an enormous deal, with grave consequences for the rest of your life.

We highlight some of those consequences below:


As mentioned earlier, North Carolina misdemeanor and felony sentences are associated with different lengths of possible confinement. A misdemeanor offense can be punished by up to five months in jail, although most first-time offenders will receive shorter sentences or suspended sentences. Felony sentences can result in much longer periods of incarceration.


The judge has discretion to impose fines or demand restitution (recovery of the value of property stolen or expense incurred) from both misdemeanor and felony defendants. Because the value of any property involved in the offense will be greater in a felony case, the dollar amount of restitution will be greater.


Felony and misdemeanor convictions become part of the criminal record of every defendant in North Carolina. If that person is arrested again for a criminal offense, his past convictions will influence the range of punishments he faces. Under the North Carolina General Statues, the district attorney is required to give the judge a summary of a defendant’s criminal record before sentencing. Under the structured sentencing guidelines, previous offenses make the defendant more likely to receive a longer prison or jail term and to be denied a suspended sentence or alternative sentence. Prior felony convictions are given even more weight in later felony cases.


North Carolina’s “three strikes and you’re in” law applies to offenders who receive their third conviction for a Class A, B1, B2, C, D, or E felony. With the third conviction, the defendant is considered a violent habitual felon and must be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.


A felony conviction carries a permanent stigma and the potential loss of some civil rights—something called collateral consequences. The effects that result from a felony conviction can be wide-ranging, including:

  • A felon may not vote while serving his sentence (including probation), but may regain his voting rights after his sentence is completed.
  • North Carolina bars felons from owning firearms.
  • Employers are free to ask job applicants if they have been convicted of felonies and may choose to discriminate against felons in hiring decisions.
  • A felon may not enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • A felony conviction may mean deportation to his home country for a resident alien seeking to immigrate to the United States.
  • A felony conviction may be considered as part of the admissions process for college in North Carolina.
  • Persons convicted of felonies for sexual offenses may be required to join the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry and will forever lose a significant portion of their privacy.

Avoiding a Felony Conviction

Because of the direct and indirect consequences of a felony conviction in North Carolina, criminal defendants are strongly urged to seek the advice of experienced legal counsel. At Speaks Law Firm, we have had significant success both in winning cases directly and in negotiating with prosecutors to reduce the gravity of the charges our clients face. If you are looking for a Wilmington criminal defense lawyer to represent you in a pending criminal case, call us today at 910-341-7570 (locally) or 877-593-4233 (statewide toll-free). We are ready to give you the vigorous representation you need.


R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.
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