by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
North Carolina is taking its overcriminalization problem seriously.
With overwhelming bipartisan support, the state last month enacted Senate Bill 584, which allows the legislature to rein in runaway regulatory crimes.
Like the federal government, North Carolina’s regulatory agencies are overzealously creating regulatory crimes. These are crimes defined by executive branch agencies pursuant to authority delegated to them by the legislature.
Most criminal regulations do not cover things we typically consider “criminal” like murder or burglary. Instead, they’re things like providing criminal penalties for violating complex rules for selling bedding or transferring money.
Such activities may seem less serious than traditional crimes, but they can result in equally serious jail time.
As Heritage Foundation scholars have said time and time again, regulatory crimes are a problem. It’s all but impossible for the public to know them all, and yet, as the maxim goes, ignorance of the law is no excuse. You will pay a fine and may go to jail if you accidentally mislabel bedding.
In the case of the federal government, experts estimate that there are more than 300,000 regulatory offenses carrying potential criminal penalties. Americans have been sent to prison for breaking laws they didn’t even know existed and which did not involve inherently blameworthy conduct.
Taking note of this problem, North Carolina passed a law in 2018 that required state and local agencies to report to the legislature all of their rules that carried criminal penalties. Many agencies failed to comply, and so, last month, the state enacted SB 584.