Today’s post is the last for the week since the School of Government is closed Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday. In honor of the occasion, I want to recognize five criminal-law-related institutions, programs, and people for which I am particularly grateful.
- District Court
A few weeks ago, I attended a dinner hosted by the North Carolina Supreme Court Historical Society to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the North Carolina district courts. The room was chock-full of people I admire: most of them district court judges from districts across the state. One judge joked that he figured he should come since he wouldn’t be around for the 100-year celebration. It’s easy to see why I like these people.
North Carolina’s district courts opened in 1966 in six districts and 23 counties, replacing what my former colleague Michael Crowell described in a recent State Bar Journal article as “a scramble of county courts, recorders courts, justices of the peace, and the like.” Over the next four years, district courts opened in the rest of North Carolina. Crowell explains that district courts were part of the then-new statewide unified General Court of Justice, a system that was nearly two decades in the making.
My colleague Jim Drennan followed Crowell’s article with his perspective on the evolution of the district court over the past fifty years. Drennan describes the ways in which the court’s jurisdiction has expanded, cases have become more complex, and societal issues addressed in the courts have grown more challenging.
I am constantly impressed by the men and women who serve on the district court bench. They are wise, dedicated public servants who deal daily with some of society’s most intractable problems, including crime, mental illness, substance abuse, and intergenerational poverty.
- The North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law Justice
Chief North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin launched the NCCALJ last year to comprehensively evaluate the operation of the court system with an eye toward strengthening the courts. The Commission has not shied away from tough issues, particularly in the criminal law arena. Case in point: the interim report of the Criminal Investigation and Adjudication Committee recommends that North Carolina raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include youthful offenders aged 16 and 17 years old for all crimes except Class A through E felonies and traffic offenses.
The Commission’s work follows in the tradition of the historic Bell Commission, whose recommendations led to the aforementioned creation of a unified General Court of Justice, by seeking input from a broad group of stakeholders. Other issues studied by the criminal committee are indigent defense, pretrial release, and criminal case management. The way in which the Commission has gone about its work is admirable. In a short period of time, the committees have delved deeply into substantive issues and are preparing reports that may be the subject of a future Jubilee.
- The North Carolina Court of Appeals
North Carolina’s intermediate appellate court judges disposed of more than 1,000 appeals in 2015, and they haven’t slowed down since. Just last week, the court of appeals issued 67 opinions, 21 of them published. The court provides essential guidance to trial court judges in every area of law, and both its productivity and analysis are noteworthy.
- The criminal justice professionals who will spend Thursday at work
Thanks to those of you who keep us safe and who carry out due process on holidays. That’s you, law enforcement officers and magistrates. We all benefit from your 24-hour service, and we are grateful.
- The privilege of working at the School of Government
This last thank you is personal. I came to work at the SOG thirteen years ago, and I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m awake. It’s an amazing job. My colleagues are brilliant, and they are committed to public service. And the people we have the privilege of serving are the face of criminal justice in North Carolina. The judges, magistrates, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement officers with whom I interact thank me regularly for the work I and others at the SOG do. But it’s y’all I’d like to thank. It is an honor to help you carry out justice.