by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
Writing recently in the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, JLF’s Mike Schietzelt discussed North Carolina’s pressing need for criminal justice reform.
North Carolina’s criminal code is a muddled, archaic monstrosity…. Many of these laws predate the American Revolution. And thanks to years of inattention, these laws are scattered throughout thousands of pages of the N.C. General Statutes, agency regulations, and local ordinances.
…In short, the criminal code needs a systematic overhaul.
While the criminal code has been getting more tangled every year, North Carolina took an important step in untangling itself last year. Schietzelt explains:
The legislature took a step toward revising the criminal code last year with the Criminal Law Recodification Working Group bill (Session Law 2018-69). It required agencies and local governments to produce a list of crimes created under their authority. It also required the Administrative Office of the Courts to provide a comprehensive report on statutory and common law crimes throughout the state.
That law, however, only let us see the extent of the problem. The criminal code is still expanding rapidly, and the next step is to slow the growth. There is currently is an effort to do just that, Schietzelt writes:
Senate Bill 584 is a bill designed to slow the rapid growth of North Carolina’s criminal code. The bill accomplishes this critical task in three ways. First, the bill would stop the automatic criminalization of local ordinances.
…Second, SB 584 requires an automatic review of any new agency rule that may impose criminal sanctions.
…Third, SB 584 creates a “mistake of law” defense for any new statutory crime not codified properly in the General Statutes. (Like local ordinances and agency rules, statutory crimes that already exist are grandfathered in.)… The practical effect of this provision is to ensure no new crimes are “hidden” in obscure corners of the General Statutes.
It is imperative that North Carolina take steps toward reform. SB 584 has good ideas for consideration. Without action, N.C.’s “muddled, archaic monstrosity” of a criminal code will only continue to worsen.