State v. Howell, 370 N.C. 647 (Apr. 6, 2018)

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 792 S.E.2d 898 (2016), the court held that G.S. 90-95(e)(3), which provides that a Class 1 misdemeanor “shall be punished as a Class I felon[y]” when the misdemeanant has committed a previous offense punishable under the controlled substances act, establishes a separate felony offense rather than merely serving as a sentence enhancement of the underlying misdemeanor. The trial court treated the conviction as a Class I felony because of the prior conviction, and then elevated punishment to a Class E felony because of the defendant’s habitual felon status. The defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed, reasoning that while the Class 1 misdemeanor was punishable as a felony under the circumstances presented, the substantive offense remained a misdemeanor to which habitual felon status could not apply. The State sought discretionary review. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that 90-95(e)(3) creates a substantive felony offense which may be subject to habitual felon status.

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