Press Release

North Carolina’s Unfair and Confusing Criminal Code Needs An Overhaul

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Sometimes the guilty go free, and sometimes the blameless are held criminally accountable. This is the real-world result of North Carolina’s outdated and duplicative web of statutes, regulations, and ordinances that make it impossible for entrepreneurs, property owners, and ordinary citizens to know what is and what is not a crime. It’s time for the confusion and unfairness created by these thousands of crimes to be addressed, according to analysis by John Locke Foundation legal experts.

In a report released this month, author Mike Schietzelt urges the North Carolina General Assembly to review, clarify, and consolidate existing crimes. Those that are unconstitutional should be eliminated, and structural reforms should be adopted to guard against unnecessary growth of the criminal code in the future.

“What constitutes a crime isn’t as obvious as people think, but we can reform and update the code and serve as a model for other states” said Schietzelt, who served a one-year assignment as the John Locke Foundation’s legal fellow, working with Director of Legal Studies Jon Guze.

The report recommends a reform plan based in three core principles: fair notice, culpability, and legislative intentionality.

* Fair notice of prohibited conduct: Overlapping crimes should be consolidated into a single offense, and criminal laws should be published in a single, accessible volume.

* Culpability for actions: A new code should include a “guilty mind” component to distinguish between innocent and blameworthy behavior.

* Legislative intentionality: Lawmakers should act with great care and deliberation when expanding or amending the criminal code, and when delegating authority to create a crime.

The General Assembly has taken steps toward reforming the code.

In 2018, the legislature adopted Session Law 2018-69, which directed administrative bodies and local governments to submit a list of crimes they had created. And, in 2019, the legislature adopted Session Law 2019-198, which created an incentive for local governments to submit their crime reports, subjected any new administrative rules carrying criminal penalties to automatic legislative review, and directed the General Statutes Commission to study the crime reports and recommend any rules or local laws that should be adopted statewide.

“This report offers a legal foundation and tactical steps for moving ahead,” said Guze. “By relying on this research and analysis, the General Assembly can create a modern and fair state criminal code that ensures equal justice and sets out clear guideposts that are necessary for civil society to thrive.”

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To interview Jon Guze, send an email to [email protected]
Or, call 919-828-3876 or 919-375-2021.

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About John Locke Foundation

We are North Carolina’s Most Trusted and Influential Source of Common Sense. The John Locke Foundation was created in 1990 as an independent, nonprofit think tank that would work “for truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina.” The Foundation is named for John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher whose writings inspired Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders.

The John Locke Foundation is a 501(c)(3) research institute and is funded solely from voluntary contributions from individuals, corporations, and charitable foundations.