This week, JLF’s Mike Schietzelt reported in a research brief on the state of North Carolina’s criminal code. Schietzelt puts forward an ordinance from Lillington, N.C. as an example of the overcomplexity and disorganization of criminal laws in the state. Lillington Ordinance 90.26 reads:


(A)   It shall be unlawful for any person in the town knowingly and intentionally, unless with consent of the owner, to harbor, feed and keep in their possession by confinement or otherwise allow to remain on their property any animal which does not belong to them unless they notify the County Animal Control within 48 hours from the time such animal came into his or her possession.

(B)   Any person who feeds a stray animal and/or allows the animal to stay on their property for at least two days will be considered the legally responsible for such animal and any violations caused by the animal.

(C)   It shall be unlawful for any person to refuse to surrender any such stray animal to the Police Department or County Animal Control or person duly authorized upon demand.

…(Ord. passed 7-16-2013) Penalty, see § 90.99

The ordinance does not contain the penalty, so Schietzelt flips to § 90.99 as instructed to find the punishment for such a crime:

90.99 PENALTY.

Penalties and remedies shall be in accordance with the county animal control ordinance.

According to Schietzelt, not only do you have to go into a completely separate source to search for these penalties, but once you find them, the specific penalties are not obvious. Schietzelt writes:

So to recap, section 90.26 tells us what we cannot do (if you can translate the ordinance from Legalese to English). But to find the punishment, turn to section 90.99, which tells you the answer is in a completely different book published by a different government entity. To make things worse, section 90.99 doesn’t even tell you where that penalty is in the other book. (It is in Section XIV, by the way.) And when you find the penalty section in the other book, you likely won’t find much clarity because the ordinance allows any combination of criminal charges, civil penalties, and equitable remedies.

According to Schietzelt:

That is not how a criminal code should work… [C]riminal laws should provide fair notice to everyone about what conduct is criminal and what is not. To provide fair notice, these laws should be written in a way that most people can understand.

Read the full brief here. Learn more about how we can clean up our criminal code here.