An Overview of 2021 Criminal Law Legislation

Each year the School of Government summarizes legislation enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly affecting criminal law and procedure and motor vehicle laws. We also explore selected legislation in more depth on this blog. Most criminal law legislation has an effective date of December 1 to allow the courts to prepare for the changes. What follows is a brief summary of the criminal law and related legislation with earlier effective dates enacted thus far during the 2021 legislative session. It isn’t everything the legislature has done, and by no means is it everything you need to know.

Laws Effective Now

S.L. 2021-24 (S 69) went into effect on May 24, 2021. This act amends G.S. 20-11 to require a person who is at least 16 years old but less than 18 years old to have held a limited learner’s permit for at least six months to obtain a limited provisional license. Previously, the requirement was twelve months. This law is set to expire on December 31, 2021.

Laws Effective October 1, 2021

The following laws have an effective date of October 1, 2021:

S.L. 2021-33 (S 241) redefines modified utility vehicles, eliminating the requirement in G.S. 20-4.01(27) that they have an engine displacement greater than 2400 cubic centimeters and the requirement that they be equipped with windshields and windshield wipers. The driver of and all passengers on a modified utility vehicle that is not equipped with a windshield and windshield wipers must wear a safety helmet. The law also specifies that modified utility vehicles may only be operated on a roadway with four or more travel lanes if the posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less. My colleague Shea Denning wrote more on this session law here.

S.L. 2021-94 (H 522) regulates the service and release of alternate jurors, amending G.S. 15A-1215(a) to (1) direct courts to ensure that alternate jurors do not discuss the case with anyone until they become a juror or are discharged; (2) permit alternate jurors to become jurors at any time before a verdict is rendered; (3) require that jury deliberations begin anew when an alternate juror becomes a juror; (4) provide that no more than twelve jurors can participate in deliberations; and (5) provide that alternate jurors must be discharged at the same time and in the same manner as the original jury. Shea wrote more about this act here.

S.L. 2021-107 (H 312) amends G.S. 162-2(a) to disqualify any person who has been convicted of any felony from holding the office of sheriff. G.S. 162-2 is further amended to require the disclosure of felony convictions by any candidate for the office of sheriff, by filing a valid disclosure statement verifying that the candidate has no prior felony convictions or expunctions of felony convictions.


Below are some other noteworthy criminal law enactments with effective dates later this year, which I will summarize as those dates approach.

  • S.L. 2021-36 (H 743), providing punishment for the alteration, destruction, or removal of permanent identification marks from personal property
  • S.L. 2021-47 (S 255), modifying several laws governing the administration of justice, such as allowing court proceedings to be conducted by audio and video transmission
  • S.L. 2021-68 (H 238), making the possession, sale, or delivery of a credit card skimming device a Class I felony
  • S.L. 2021-89 (H 297), providing a defense for driving without a license for deployed Armed Forces
  • S.L. 2021-115 (H 84), expanding sex offender premises restrictions
  • S.L. 2021-118 (S 301), expanding expunction eligibility for certain misdemeanors and felonies
  • S.L. 2021-123 (S 207), making various changes to the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (Raise the Age)
  • S.L. 2021-128 (H 692), prohibiting certain modifications to passenger vehicles
  • S.L. 2021-137 (H 536), requiring law enforcement officers to intervene and report excessive use of force
  • S.L. 2021-138 (S 300), modifying several laws related to criminal justice, such as: requiring first appearances for people held in custody on misdemeanor charges; potentially addressing constitutional issues with satellite-based monitoring and creating a process to review eligibility; and creating new resist, delay, and obstruct offenses and penalties


We will continue to let you know about new laws as they are enacted. A document with more detailed summaries of the criminal and motor vehicle laws enacted this session will be available toward the end of the year. In the meantime, please feel free to email my colleagues or me if you have any questions.