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2020 Criminal Law Legislation

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Each year the School of Government summarizes legislation enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly affecting criminal law and procedure. If you would like to receive periodic summaries of enacted legislation (as well as summaries of appellate decisions), subscribe at no charge to the School’s criminal law listserv here. We also explore selected legislation in more depth on this blog. So far in 2020, one bill has been enacted that affects criminal law and procedure.

S.L. 2020-3 (S 704): COVID-19 measures. This act addresses various matters relating to COVID-19, including the following criminal law provisions, which are effective May 4, 2020 and expire August 1, 2020 unless otherwise noted.

Wearing mask for health purpose. New G.S. 14-12.11(a)(6) creates an exception to G.S. 14-12.7, 14-12.8, 14-12.9, 14-12.10, and 14-12.14, which prohibit wearing a mask on public ways, public property, and other settings unless an exception applies. The new provision allows a person to wear a mask “for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others.” New G.S. 14-12.11(c) requires the person to remove the mask during a traffic stop, including a checkpoint or roadblock under G.S. 20.16.3A, or when approached by a law-enforcement officer with reasonable suspicion or probable cause during a criminal investigation.

Electronic signatures on search warrants and court orders. Section 4.4 of the act provides that any signature required for the issuance of a search warrant pursuant to Article 11 (Search Warrants) of G.S. Chapter 15A, or for any judicial order issued following a court hearing conducted by remote audio or visual transmission in a civil or criminal case, may be signed by use of an electronic signature.

Extension of credentials issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Section 4.7 of the act extends for five months the validity of any “credential” issued by DMV that expires on or after March 1, 2020 and before August 1, 2020. The act contains a list of 27 credentials, including driver’s licenses, commercial driver’s licenses, and vehicle registrations, and provides that the extension applies notwithstanding renewal, duration, or expiration provisions in various Ch. 20 statutes or any other provision of law. The act requires DMV to notify individuals affected by an extension, including information on new expiration dates and how the extension affects subsequent renewal and expiration dates. The act provides that a person may not be convicted or found responsible for any offense resulting from the failure to renew a credential issued by DMV if the person shows that the offense occurred during the period of the extension; however, if a credential expires after the extension, the expiration is treated as occurring on the date prescribed by law without regard to the extension.

Security services at state prisons. New G.S. 74C-3(a)(6)e. includes in the definition of security guards providing services subject to G.S. Chapter 74C, Article 1 (Private Protective Services Board) “security services related to entry and exit, direction and movement of individuals at entry and exit, security working towers, and perimeter security patrols at State prison facilities.” New G.S. 148-5.5 requires that these security guards receive training on State prison policies, including policies on the use of force, before providing security services at a State prison; and it authorizes personnel who receive such training “to detain and use necessary force pursuant to State prison policies to prevent contraband entry or inmate escape.”

Release of communicable disease information to law enforcement. Effective May 4, 2020, revised G.S. 130A-143(7a) allows the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and local health departments to release otherwise confidential information subject to G.S. Chapter 130A, Article 6 (Communicable Diseases) “to prevent or lessen a serious or imminent threat to the health or safety of a person or the public, to the extent that disclosure is permitted under 45 Code of Federal Regulations § 164.512(j).”

Extension of training and certification of law enforcement officers by Forensic Tests for Alcohol Branch of DHHS. Effective March 10, 2020 and expiring January 1, 2021, Section 4.39 of the act authorizes the Forensic Tests for Alcohol Branch to delay or modify educational or examination requirements for recertification of law enforcement officers and, for any certification issued before March 10, 2020, to extend that certification until December 31, 2020 if education or examination requirements are delayed.

Modification of sentence of imprisonment in local jail. Section 4.41 of the act, entitled “Authorize Modification of Criminal Judgments Requiring Intermittent Active Time,” allows the chief district court judge where the judgment was entered to modify any criminal judgment requirement that a defendant serve periods of confinement or imprisonment in a local confinement facility if the chief judge finds all of the following: “(1)The defendant is unable to serve one or more ordered periods of confinement or imprisonment due to the local confinement facility’s restrictions on inmates during the COVID-19 state of emergency. (2) Without modification, the defendant will be in violation of the criminal judgment. (3) The District Attorney consents to modification of the criminal judgment.” The act states that any modification should be as minimal as possible to allow the defendant to comply with the requirements of the criminal judgment.

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