On Monday, Oct. 21, the John Locke Foundation and the Cato Institute co-hosted the “North Carolina Criminal Law Reform Summit” at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina. The event featured four panels and one keynote on criminal law reform in the state. The schedule included:

  • Why Criminal Law Reform?

Jay Schweikert; Policy Analyst, Cato Institute

Jim Copland; Director and Senior Fellow, Legal Policy, The Manhattan Institute

Mike Schietzelt, Legal Fellow, John Locke Foundation

  • Stakeholder Forum

Lorrin Freeman, District Attorney, Wake County

Steven Walker, Chief of Staff and General Counsel to the Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina

Eddie Caldwell, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, North Carolina Sheriff’s Association

  • Keynote Speech

Mark Martin, Dean, Regent University School of Law (Former Chief Justice of North Carolina Supreme Court)

  • Ways to Build A New and Better Criminal Code

Jessie Smith, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government, UNC School of Government

Rose Williams, Associate Executive Director of Public and Government Affairs, North Carolina League of Municipalities

Representative Marcia Morey, North Carolina General Assembly

  • Next Steps and Action Plan for Criminal Law Reform

Representative Sarah Stevens, North Carolina General Assembly

Representative Ted Davis, North Carolina General Assembly

Senator Warren Daniel, North Carolina General Assembly

Jim Copland from The Manhattan Institute covered overcriminalization for the crowd. He cited five problems with overcriminalization. He stated overcriminalization leads to:

  1. Too many crimes on the books
  2. Outmoded and poorly drafted crimes
  3. Confusing codification
  4. The absence of criminal-intent requirements
  5. The delegation of criminal lawmaking authority to unelected and private bodies

JLF’s Mike Schietzelt pointed out further issues with an imbalanced criminal code. In the opening panel, Schietzelt stated:

“In a system of under-criminalization, people think ‘just because it’s NOT illegal, doesn’t mean it ISN’T wrong.” With overcriminalization, people think ‘just because it IS illegal, doesn’t mean it IS wrong,’ and that threatens the rule of law.”

Many of the panelists and participants spoke extensively about recodifying North Carolina’s criminal code. This process would be a large project which, among other things, would require (1) obtaining all the criminal laws in the state statutes, from the counties, municipalities, and state agencies, (2) combing through and searching for duplicates, (3) removing outdated or overridden laws, and (4) rewriting laws to be more useful overall.

Jessie Smith, Distinguished Professor at the UNC School of Government, emphasized that, while this is a large project, it can be done. During her panel, she said:

“This is, in fact, a large project. But how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

You can learn more about recodification in North Carolina here, or you can watch Mike Schietzelt explain the issues with the criminal code on Carolina Journal Radio here.