What Are Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines?

For most offenses in North Carolina, there are no mandatory sentences. Instead, prosecutors are free to offer plea deals of their choosing and judges generally have discretion when sentencing a defendant to jail or prison.

Drug trafficking, however, is the exception. Here, we discuss North Carolina’s mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking, as well as a new law in the State that offers defendants facing drug trafficking charges more hope. 

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Drug Trafficking 

For many years, North Carolina has imposed harsh, mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of drug trafficking. Instead of following the general sentencing guidelines, those convicted of drug trafficking must be sentenced to a prison term and must pay a fine. Lack of a prior criminal record or other mitigating factors do not matter – the mandatory sentence must be imposed. 

Depending on the amount and type of drug in a defendant’s possession, mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking offenses range from 25 months in prison and a fine of $5,000 to 225 months in prison and a fine of $250,000. 

The First Step Act 

On June 26, 2020, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed into law the First Step Act. Before this law was passed, a judge had absolutely no discretion when it came to sentencing a defendant for drug trafficking. Likewise, a prosecutor could not offer a plea deal below the minimum sentencing guidelines, even if she wanted to.

With the signing of the First Step Act, judges in North Carolina can now bypass mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for some drug offenders. Defendants must meet certain conditions, including completing a substance abuse treatment program and providing reasonable assistance to law enforcement and must not have been convicted of a previous felony. 

If you’ve been charged with a drug trafficking crime, Cotten Law can help. Jeremy has represented tens of thousands of clients charged with offenses such as yours and has hundreds of stellar reviews online. Our offices serve clients in central North Carolina including Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Orange, Sampson, Lee, and Chatham Counties. Give our office a call or click over to our main page to chat live with an assistant 24 hours a day.