Community Service

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Today’s post covers some of the details of community service as a criminal punishment in North Carolina.

The state constitution lists community service as an authorized punishment in North Carolina. N.C. Const. Art XI, sec. 1. It is, generally, work performed for the benefit of the local community, without pay, as a condition of probation. Don’t confuse community service with “community punishment” under Structured Sentencing. Not every community punishment (G.S. 15A-1340.11(2)) includes community service, and community service is permissible as part of an intermediate punishment (G.S. 15A-1340.11(6)) or a sentence imposed under G.S. 20-179, too.

North Carolina’s community service program is described in G.S. 143B-708. The program falls administratively under the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice of the Department of Public Safety, and covers all defendants ordered to perform community service as part of a sentence to supervised or unsupervised probation. The program is managed locally by DACJJ employees called judicial services coordinators.

The program provides appropriate work site placement for defendants sentenced to perform service hours. Recipient agencies vary from district to district, but they typically include things like roadside trash pickup; work at local nonprofits like food pantries and animal shelters; work for religious organizations (so long as the work benefits the community as a whole and does not advance a particular religion); and work in and around government buildings. Program policy (p. 423) prohibits a defendant from, among other things, making donations in lieu of performing service hours, performing hours at his or her place of employment or residence, performing hours under the supervision of a family member, or performing hours in a Community Corrections office without direct staff supervision.

Defendants are required to pay a $250 fee to participate in the community service program, and, with some exceptions, they are required to pay it before their service may begin. G.S. 143B-708(c). I get asked about the fee a lot—specifically, whether it can be waived or otherwise forgiven. I wrote about that here, but let me save you a click: no statute specifically expressly allows the fee to be forgiven, and no statute expressly prohibits a judge from forgiving it. My informal, anecdotal survey suggests that the fee is forgiven as much as half of the time in some districts.

Many statutes require a defendant to complete a certain number of community service hours as punishment for a particular offense. E.g., G.S. 14-399(c) (8–24 hours of community service for noncommercial litter under 15 pounds, with the additional requirement that the specific service be to pick up litter if feasible); G.S. 14-127.1 (24 hours of community service for graffiti vandalism). In the absence of a specific statute the number of hours is in the discretion of the court. I have heard of some cases involving an extremely high numbers of hours—sometimes motivated by a local rule of thumb that requires, for example, an hour of community service for every dollar of unpaid monetary obligations. Judges may wish to talk with local probation officers and judicial services coordinators to get their sense of whether there is a tipping point at which completing additional service hours becomes counterproductive, impractical, or impossible.

The impaired driving law requires an escalating number of community service hours for probationary sentences as you climb into the more serious levels of punishment. G.S. 20-179 (24 hours of service for Level Five, 48 hours for Level Four, and so forth). Until 2009, former G.S. 20-179(n) required the hours to be completed within a particular timeframe—72 hours or more within 90 days, 48 hours within 60 days, and 24 hours within 30 days. The shoplifting law included similar requirements. In an effort to give Community Corrections and the courts more flexibility in scheduling service hours, those laws were repealed in 2009. S.L. 2009-372. Still, probation officers tell me that judges frequently include completion times in their judgments ordering community service hours. There’s nothing legally wrong with setting a deadline, but if judges are doing it out of a sense that it’s required—well, it’s not. If they are doing it to be helpful, again, it may be worth a conversation between the local probation staff and the judges to weigh the pros and cons of a timeline set by the court.

When a defendant has committed a “significant violation” of the terms of probation related to community service, community service staff shall report the violation to the court in which community service was ordered. They must give the defendant notice, either by personal delivery or by U.S. Mail, of a hearing to determine if the violation was willful. If mailed, the notice must be mailed at least 10 days prior to any hearing. If the court determines that there was a willful failure to comply, then it must, in addition to whatever response may be appropriate as a violation of probation, revoke the person’s drivers license until the community service requirement has been met. G.S. 143B-708(e).

8 comments on “Community Service

  1. How many of those districts are “waiving” the $250 fee, as opposed to just letting the person do the Community Service at a non-profit of their choice and provide proof on letterhead as opposed to going through the formal community service program? My experience is that tends to be the preferred alternative to avoid the fee.

    • The total “waiver” figure would be higher if you counted that type of informal service. My survey only included people actually in the formal program.

  2. Punishment is PUNISHMENT, in my opinion, and should be meted out appropriately. The idea is to pay a debt to society for the offense committed and it should “sting” a little, because that’s what “punishment” is, in addition to reform. I realize that not all households have the means in which to make amends, particularly in the cases involving juveniles, but maybe this would be a lesson learned for families to be more involved in the child’s constructive life AND in order to possibly prevent future infractions.

    • Why should a defendant who, say, was caught with a smidgen of personal use cannabis be indebted to ” society” when no member of society was impacted by the ” offense”? if the crime was one in which the public at large was placed in danger, such as drunk driving , I could understand that to a degree, but victimless offenses should not cause a “sting” to the defendant, who is literally a victim of political skullduggery . Political crimes such as gambling and petty drug offenses should not be punished at all and only the dishonest and craven legislators vying for far right wing votes perpetuate the problems. Community service is a form of shaming, like being in the stocks in a public square, and at worst free slave labor for the beneficiaries.Paying the outrageous court costs and fees in punishment enough. I would rather spend a few days in jail rather than a month of labor taking the place of a paid employee. If defendants were to find a sympathetic doctor who was convinced that public shaming and involuntary servitude might very well cause psychological damage or that a pre-existing physical condition, such as a bad back , eliminated them from having to serve such a sentence. Our system in many ways is still in the dark ages and I think either fines of jail or both is enough to satisfy the ” debt ” one somehow owes society at large.

  3. That’s crazy having to pay to do community service so basically you pay them to work for free and get treated like garbage even if you’re there for a offence that’s not even that bad and if you don’t do it well then your in more trouble the system is seriously rigged to make you fail and pull you in deeper and deeper it’s not right at all and it’s all to fatten their pockets

  4. I’m out of state, in Michigan. Will the court in Forsyth County accept out-of-state service?

  5. Looks like my post didn’t get added, so here I go again. I was ordered to complete 24 hrs of CS, and I did up here in MI. Will the NC courts accept the letter of completion from the 501(c)(3) or do I need to complete it thru the Community Service Program? I live in MI, not NC and I did when I took the plea. Michigan is NOT a member state of the Driver’s License Compact so the NC CSP doesn’t have a sister agency to coordinate with.

  6. I need to do my 72 hour community service by i am looking for somethng proffesional that with furthering my experience in IT and Risk Management and Insurance. That’s what my B.S .from college is in. Please, kindly advise.

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