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Consecutive sentencing means that when a criminal defendant is convicted on multiple counts, the sentences for each must be served on after the other. This is distinguished from concurrent sentencing, in which sentences for multiple counts are combined into a single period, whichever is the longest of the separate sentences.
States usually mandate consecutive sentencing for certain crimes and leave it to the judge's discretion to impose consecutive sentences for certain other crimes. A court will consider the gravity and circumstances of the offenses and the history, character, and rehabilitative needs of the defendant in determining whether to impose consecutive sentences.
N.C.G.S. § 15A- 1354 deals with concurrent and consecutive terms of imprisonment. Subsection (a) provides:
(a) Authority of Court. - - When multiple sentences of imprisonment are imposed on a person at the same time or when a term of imprisonment is imposed on a person who is already subject to an undischarged term of imprisonment, including a term of imprisonment in another jurisdiction, the sentences may run either concurrently or consecutively, as determined by the court. If not specified or not required by statute to run consecutively, sentences shall run concurrently.