Drug trafficking is not sentenced using the regular Structured Sentencing grid. Instead, a person convicted of drug trafficking must be sentenced as set out below, including the mandatory fine, regardless of his or her prior criminal record. A person sentenced for trafficking may not be placed on probation unless the judge finds that the person has provided substantial assistance, as described below. Trafficking sentences must run consecutively with any other sentence being served by the defendant. However, when a trafficking offense is disposed of in the same proceeding as another conviction the court may impose concurrent sentences. State v. Walston, 193 N.C. App. 134, 141–42 (2008).
Conspiracy to commit trafficking. Conspiracies to commit trafficking offenses are punishable the same as the target offense. G.S. 90-95(i).
Attempted trafficking. Attempts to commit trafficking are the same offense class as the target offense, but they are sentenced under the ordinary Structured Sentencing grid, not the special mandatory sentences for completed trafficking offenses. G.S. 90-98.
Substantial assistance. The judge sentencing a defendant for trafficking may reduce the fine, or impose a prison term less than the applicable minimum, or suspend the prison term and place the defendant on probation when the defendant has provided substantial assistance in the identification, arrest, or conviction of any accomplices, accessories, co-conspirators, or principals, if the sentencing judge enters in the record a finding that the defendant has rendered such substantial assistance. G.S. 90-95(h)(5). The assistance offered need not be limited to accomplices, etc., involved in the defendant’s individual case; the court is permitted to consider the defendant’s assistance in the prosecution of other cases. State v. Baldwin, 66 N.C. App. 156 (1984).
The determination of whether or not the defendant has provided substantial assistance is within the discretion of the trial court. State v. Hamad, 92 N.C. App. 282 (1988). Even when the court finds substantial assistance, the decision to reduce the defendant’s sentence is in the court’s discretion. State v. Wells, 104 N.C. App. 274 (1991).
When substantial assistance applies, the court may select a minimum sentence of its choosing; it is not bound by the regular sentencing grid. State v. Saunders, 131 N.C. App. 551 (1998). However, to aid in the administration of the sentence, the court should probably order a maximum that is 120% of the imposed minimum plus additional time for post-release supervision, as appropriate.
Post-release supervision. The applicability of the post-release supervision law to drug trafficking sentences has changed over time in response to the Justice Reinvestment Act and related legislation. See G.S. 15A-1368.1.
Offenses committed before 12/1/11:
- – Class C–E trafficking offenses receive 9 months of PRS;
- – Class F–H trafficking offenses receive no PRS.
Offenses committed on/after 12/1/11 to 11/30/12: PRS applicability unclear. See Jamie Markham, Revised Drug Trafficking Chart, N.C. Criminal Law Blog (Aug. 1, 2012), for a detailed discussion.
Offenses committed on/after 12/1/12:
– Class C–E trafficking offenses receive 12-month PRS; – Class F–H trafficking offenses receive 9-month PRS.
**A “dosage unit” is 3 grams of synthetic cannabinoid or any mixture containing such substance.
* Offenses committed on or after June 1, 2011. S.L. 2011-12.
***Information published by the UNC School of Government***