This week, JLF’s Mike Schietzelt published a research brief on a criminal justice law recently enacted in North Carolina. Schietzelt writes:

Session Law 2019-198: Criminal Law Reform became law this month.  It marks an important step forward for criminal law reform.

The bill builds off of previous reforms, Schietzelt explains:

Last year, the General Assembly passed Session Law 2018-69: An Act to Assist the Criminal Law Recodification Working Group, which required all administrative bodies and local governments to submit reports of all their rules/ordinances that criminalize behavior. The response rate from all groups was underwhelming, likely because S.L. 2018-69 lacked any incentives or enforcement mechanisms. That bill was a simple request. There was no reward for complying with the request. There was no penalty for ignoring the request.

This bill makes significant progress on the criminal justice front.

What the law includes:

  1. The bill creates that incentive for local governments to submit reports. Any local government that fails to report its local crimes by the new deadline will have its power to create new crimes frozen for two years. This pause will allow the legislature to get the requested information from a static code of ordinances.
  2. S.L. 2019-198 subjects any new agency rule carrying criminal penalties to automatic legislative review. Some of these rules, which are often written and enforced by unelected officials, have stifled economic growth and ensnared unwitting entrepreneurs.  Automatic review will ensure more oversight of, and democratic accountability for, the criminal code’s growth.
  3. S.L. 2019-198 directs the General Statutes Commission to study the crimes reports and recommend any rules or local laws that should be adopted statewide. This will promote uniformity in the criminal code, minimizing the variance from town to town.

However, the bill is a far cry from what it once was.

What the bill no longer includes:

  1. Ending the automatic criminalization of local ordinances,
  2. Creating a sunset for existing local crimes,
  3. And requiring the legislature to codify new crimes properly.

Despite its rollbacks, Schietzelt believes this law still does much for criminal justice reform:

S.L. 2019-198 is a victory for proponents of criminal law reform. Hard work and difficult decisions lie ahead. But S.L. 2019-198 moves us another step closer to a criminal code that is tough, fair, and efficient.

Read the full brief here. Read more about criminal justice reform in North Carolina here.