Structured Sentencing — The Last Word?
Fernando Ortiz-Soto will spend 6 to 17 months in prison for the accidental death of Adam Kempf. Kempf was 12 years old and a seventh grade student at Coats-Erwin Middle School when he died. He was boarding his school bus on Highway 27 when Ortiz-Soto plowed into him with his minivan. Ortiz-Soto reportedly swerved, trying to avoid hitting the boy, but unfortunately was unable to do so. Adam was taken to a local hospital in critical condition and later succumbed to his injuries.
Ortiz-Soto pled guilty to two charges: felony passing a stopped school bus which resulted in a death, and a misdemeanor charge of driving without a driver’s license.
Under North Carolina’s structured sentencing system, the judge was restricted in the sentence he was allowed to impose on Ortiz-Soto. The law was passed in 1993 with the intention of standardizing sentencing throughout the state. Under the law, felons convicted of more serious crimes are generally required to serve time in prison although the judge does have some leeway to impose lighter sentences or community service.
The question of sentencing revolves around three different sets of criteria:
- The severity of the crime. Crimes that generally do not result in death or injury are considered lesser crimes. Felony severity levels range from Class A through Class I. Misdemeanor levels range from Class A1 to Class 3.
- Prior record. There are six prior record levels from Level I through Level VI which are determined by a person’s prior history of criminal convictions. The more serious the prior offense, the more “points” are assigned and the prior record level is set according to haw many “points” the person has accumulated.
- Mitigating or aggravating factors. For each offense category and prior record level, there are three ranges within which the judge must impose punishment:
- The Presumptive Range (which applies if there is nothing unusually good or bad about the case)
- The Aggravated Range (which applies if there are specific aggravating factors which outweigh any mitigating factors)
- The Mitigated Range (which applies if the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors)
If you have been arrested and are facing jail time, it is vital that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to prepare for trial. Your attorney can help you avoid or minimize jail time, depending on your specific situation even if you are convicted or have to admit your guilt. Your attorney can attempt to get the charges reduced or dropped, depending on your individual case.