by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
This week, North State Journal ran an opinion piece by John Locke Foundation’s Mike Schietzelt. Schietzelt’s piece centered on North Carolina’s “poorly drafted criminal laws,” which lead to major inconsistencies in the state’s justice system. Schietzelt explains:
Thousands of crimes are scattered across untold pages of state statutes, regulations and local ordinances. And if you managed to read through all of these laws, you still might not be able to define some basic crimes. For instance, you wouldn’t be able to name the elements of larceny or robbery — “common law” crimes which still receive their definition from court cases rather than statutes. But at least you’d know that it’s a misdemeanor to let your grass grow taller than 12 inches in High Point.
Schietzelt notes that this lack of clarity can create unjust outcomes:
This tangled labyrinth of crimes creates a system that treats people harshly for relatively harmless behavior while sometimes allowing dangerous or violent acts to go unpunished. Pick a flower off the dogwood in the park? You’ve probably committed a misdemeanor under N.C. General Statute 14-129. Break into a home and assault a woman inside to steal back $20 you gave her to buy you drugs? That’s not robbery according to the N.C. Court of Appeals’ opinion in State v. Cox filed in March.
Schietzelt calls for action:
To make things right, North Carolina needs a criminal code that is self-contained, rather than scattered throughout more than 100 chapters of the General Statutes. We need a code that clearly defines criminal behavior and eliminates ambiguities and technicalities. We need a code that gives people fair notice of the law. In short, we need a criminal code that is effective, efficient and fair.
Schietzelt writes that, while North Carolina has made progress in the past few years, there is more to be done:
[T]he ultimate fix is recodification: a complete rewriting of our criminal laws.
It’s a daunting task, but an achievable fix to an overwhelming need for fairness, justice, and clarity. North Carolinians deserve a code that punishes wrongdoers without harassing the blameless.