Slowing the Growth of N.C.’s Criminal Code | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's note: This post appears here courtesy of the Carolina Journal, and written by Mike Schietzelt, Criminal Justice Fellow.

    North Carolina's criminal code is a muddled, archaic monstrosity. The laws that govern criminal behavior are often unclear, encouraging senseless litigation and allowing bad actors to slip through the cracks. Many of these laws predate the American Revolution. And thanks to years of inattention, these laws are scattered throughout thousands of pages of the N.C. General Statutes, agency regulations, and local ordinances.

    In short, the criminal code needs a systematic overhaul. A streamlined, self-contained code would make the criminal justice system more effective, efficient, and fair. And it would greatly improve the impact of other criminal justice reforms, such as those impacting the bail system or occupational licensing.

    The legislature took a significant step toward revising the criminal code last year with the Criminal Law Recodification Working Group bill (Session Law 2018-69). That act required agencies and local governments to produce a list of crimes created under their authority. Additionally, the act required the Administrative Office of the Courts to provide a comprehensive report on statutory and common law crimes in effect throughout the state.

    The resulting reports, though incomplete, have been invaluable in assessing the scope of the issues with our criminal code. But they provide only a snapshot, a picture of criminal laws in place at the time the reports were submitted. Since then, new crimes have been created by regulatory agencies, local governments, and the General Assembly. As we amass information about the problem, the problem continues to grow.

    Senate Bill 584 is a bill designed to slow the rapid growth of North Carolina's criminal code. The bill accomplishes this critical task in three ways. First, the bill would stop the automatic criminalization of local ordinances. At present, nearly all local ordinances are criminalized by default. Local governments must "opt-out" of this default rule by providing a different penalty for violation of the ordinance. SB 584 ends this automatic criminalization, while also maintaining criminal punishments for ordinances already in place. In short, this bill preserves the status quo while preventing the issue from getting worse.

    Second, SB 584 would require an automatic review of any new agency rule that may impose criminal sanctions. Many statutes authorizing agencies to regulate in a given area contain a catch-all provision that makes the violation of those rules criminal. By requiring a legislative review of these rules before criminalizing them, SB 584 introduces more accountability into the creation of new regulatory crimes.

    Third, SB 584 creates a "mistake of law" defense for any new statutory crime not codified properly in the General Statutes. (Like local ordinances and agency rules, statutory crimes that already exist are grandfathered in.) Thus, if a new crime is not codified in the proper chapter of the General Statutes, i.e., Chapter 20 for motor vehicle offenses, Chapter 90 for drug offenses, or Chapter 14 for all other offenses, a defendant could claim ignorance of the law as a viable defense. The practical effect of this provision is to ensure no new crimes are "hidden" in obscure corners of the General Statutes. By centralizing the location of new crimes, SB 584 provides better notice to the public of new crimes and allows for easier supervision of the growth of the criminal code.

    Thanks to the 2018 Recodification Working Group bill, we have much of the information we need to begin the Herculean task of revising the criminal code. But rapid changes in the criminal code make that data obsolete, requiring legislators and criminal law experts to hit a swiftly moving target. SB 584 keeps that information relevant by tapping the brakes on the creation of new crimes. In this way, SB 584 is another major step toward creating a criminal justice system that is more effective, more efficient, and fairer.

    Mike Schietzelt is a criminal justice fellow at the John Locke Foundation.
Go Back

Leave a Guest Comment

Your Name or Alias
Your Email Address ( your email address will not be published)
Enter Your Comment ( no code or urls allowed, text only please )

Distillery Reform ‘Game-Changer’ Passes Key Senate Committee Carolina Journal, Editorials, Op-Ed & Politics Administrative Bloat: Where Does It Come From and What Is It Doing?


Latest Op-Ed & Politics

The infamous unsolved murder of rapper Tupac Shakur on the streets of Las Vegas, once thought to be a hit by the Southside Crips, is now believed to be the work of none other than former President Donald J. Trump, who authorities believe acted alone.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signaled during a press conference this week that he will stay off the campaign trail for as long as it takes to get his state through Hurricane Idalia.
Former President Donald Trump has announced that he will make Vivek Ramaswamy head of Tech Support in his next administration.
Gold Star father Mark Schmitz held nothing back during his Tuesday testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, taking direct aim at military leadership in addition to President Joe Biden and former Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
Major Business and Education Leaders Joined Governor Cooper at Central Piedmont Community College to Celebrate North Carolina’s Top Spot Ranking and World-Class Workforce
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan demanded on Tuesday that the Biden Administration disclose details about its meeting with Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office and an FBI agent two months before Smith indicted former President Donald Trump in the classified documents case.


document obtained by FOI request asserts "Ministry of Truth" powers
North Carolinians deserve better oversight than they’re getting.North Carolinians deserve better oversight than they’re getting.
A border patrol sector chief has been reinstated to his previous position after he was reassigned following an interview with congressional lawmakers, according to House Republicans.
Black box recordings have confirmed that as United Flight 452 hurtled towards the earth in a giant fireball, flight attendant Alice Turner smugly derided the passengers who had failed to listen to her pre-flight safety presentation.
If it wasn’t evident that Lady Justice might possibly be peeking through her blindfold in the federal case of former President Donald J. Trump and his alleged crimes surrounding the events of January 6, 2021, this latest story certainly could remove all doubts.
According to a new report, the Associated Press, which has been accused of having a leftist bias, is working with leftist organizations aplenty, including the Ida B. Wells Society, founded by “1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah-Jones.


According to sources, a local labrador retriever is being cruelly neglected by his humans as they haven't even played with him in over 10 minutes.


Back to Top