Structured Sentencing Law & Legal Definition


Structured Sentencing is the method of sentencing and punishing criminals. It classifies offenders on the basis of the severity of the crime committed and on the extent and gravity of their prior criminal record. Based on these two factors, structured sentencing provides judges with sentencing options for the type and length of sentences which may be imposed.

For example, in North Carolina structured sentencing is applicable to criminal offenses other than impaired driving, and failure to comply with control measures that occur on or after October 1, 1994. It does not apply to violent habitual felons.[ N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1340.10]

Under Structured Sentencing, there are three types of punishment: active (prison or jail), intermediate and community. Judges must impose active punishments for felons convicted of crimes which fall in high offense classes or for felons who have high prior record levels. Judges must impose intermediate or community punishments for felons who are convicted of crimes which fall in the lowest offense classes and who also have low prior record levels. For offenders who fall somewhere in between, the judge may elect to impose either an active punishment or an intermediate punishment.

An active prison sentence requires that felons be incarcerated in the state prison system. An intermediate punishment requires that the offender be placed on supervised probation with one or more of the following special conditions: split sentence (a term in prison or jail followed by supervised probation), electronic house arrest (confinement to one location and close monitoring through computer technology), intensive supervision (very close supervision and daily monitoring), a residential center (a highly supervised and structured program requiring overnight residence), a day reporting center (a highly supervised and structured day and evening program) and drug treatment court (a judicially monitored treatment program). A community punishment is more like a basic probation. A community punishment may also include fines, restitution, community service and/or substance abuse treatment.