by Mike Schietzelt
In a 2017 white paper on the need to rewrite North Carolina’s criminal code, Jessica Smith, the W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government at the UNC School of Government, observed that “ambiguities, loopholes and inconsistencies in the law drive up the cost of criminal prosecutions by creating opportunities for litigation. Such characteristics also create opportunities for both wrongful convictions and for guilty persons to escape criminal liability.”
Concrete examples of this are easy to find. Last week, I detailed Angela Rankin’s four-and-a-half-year rigmarole with the courts over the littering statute. And earlier this month, the N.C. Court of Appeals filed its opinion in State v. Cox, a case addressing whether or not a person commits robbery when trying to steal back his or her own stuff—in this case, $20 for a drug deal that never happened. This is a common law question. And as the opinion points out, the courts have not handled this question consistently in the past.
These kinds of ambiguities are all over our criminal code. A clear, coherent code would eliminate many of these questions, along with the taxpayer money spent answering them. And re-answering them.