(a) Generally. - The prior conviction level of a misdemeanor offender is determined by calculating the number of the offender's prior convictions that the court finds to have been proven in accordance with this section.
(b) Prior Conviction Levels for Misdemeanor Sentencing. - The prior conviction levels for misdemeanor sentencing are:
(1) Level I - 0 prior convictions.
(2) Level II - At least 1, but not more than 4 prior convictions.
(3) Level III - At least 5 prior convictions.
In determining the prior conviction level, a prior offense may be included if it is either a felony or a misdemeanor at the time the offense for which the offender is being sentenced is committed.
(c) Proof of Prior Convictions. - A prior conviction shall be proved by any of the following methods:
(1) Stipulation of the parties.
(2) An original or copy of the court record of the prior conviction.
(3) A copy of records maintained by the Division of Criminal Information, the Division of Motor Vehicles, or of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
(4) Any other method found by the court to be reliable.
The State bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a prior conviction exists and that the offender before the court is the same person as the offender named in the prior conviction. The original or a copy of the court records or a copy of the records maintained by the Division of Criminal Information, the Division of Motor Vehicles, or of the Administrative Office of the Courts, bearing the same name as that by which the offender is charged, is prima facie evidence that the offender named is the same person as the offender before the court, and that the facts set out in the record are true. For purposes of this subsection, "copy" includes a paper writing containing a reproduction of a record maintained electronically on a computer or other data processing equipment, and a document produced by a facsimile machine. Evidence presented by either party at trial may be utilized to prove prior convictions. Suppression of prior convictions is pursuant to G.S. 15A-980. If a motion is made pursuant to that section during the sentencing stage of the criminal action, the court may grant a continuance of the sentencing hearing.
(d) Multiple Prior Convictions Obtained in One Court Week. - For purposes of this section, if an offender is convicted of more than one offense in a single session of district court, or in a single week of superior court or of a court in another jurisdiction, only one of the convictions may be used to determine the prior conviction level. (1993, c. 538, s. 1; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(b); 1993 (Reg. Sess., 1994), c. 767, s. 13.1; 1997-80, s. 8.)