Habitual Felon in the News

The second most interesting news story of the past couple of days is a New York Times piece about the looming demise of some of the nation’s biggest law firms. Wait, you mean the business model of paying brand-new law school graduates $160,000 per year to review documents isn’t working?

But the most interesting news story is a News and Observer piece about the habitual felon law, G.S. 14-7.1 et seq. (It ran along with several sidebar pieces, all of which can be found on the News and Observer’s website.) The gist of the article is that the law is very expensive, because it results in long prison terms, and that it doesn’t decrease crime. The full extent of the argument on the latter point is that the crime rate in two counties where the habitual felon law is used frequently hasn’t dropped as much as the crime rate in two counties where the law is used infrequently. The story ignores all the confounding variables that impact crime rates and doesn’t quote a single expert or cite a single study endorsing its conclusion. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the conclusion is wrong, but the story doesn’t provide much reason to accept it.

One interesting tidbit from the News and Observer story is its report that, last month, “law enforcement officials packed a House committee meeting to oppose any change in the law.” That appears to be a reference to HB 1360, which would change the law in three significant ways: (1) it would require that the three previous felonies that make a defendant a habitual felon be Class G or higher, (2) it would require that the substantive felony to which the habitual felon indictment attaches be Class G or higher, and (3) it would result in a sentence one class higher than the substantive felony would otherwise entail, instead of calling for a Class C sentence in all cases. Although the bill passed the Judiciary III committee, it appears to have stalled after a hearing in Ways and Means, presumably the one referenced in the story. Anyone know anything more about that?

I’m familiar with the legal issues concerning the habitual felon law, which I summarized in a sort of user’s guide to the law, available as a free download, but I’d welcome people’s thoughts about some of the policy issues raised in the News and Observer story, as well as experiences from the field with the law’s application.

3 comments on “Habitual Felon in the News

  1. I would like to know when the govner will make a decison on the HB1360.
    With the prison being so over crowed with inmates who have comitted lesser crimes.

  2. I can not believe that we the people accept the habitual felon law in any way shape or form. It is truly illegal and unconstitutional. Once a person has done their time for a crime, that person can not be repunished in any way again for that crime, according to the constitution of the United States of America. The courts and political people say that habitual felon is a status and not a crime. How can you convict and punish someone for their status in life? When do we start convicting people for being poor, or for being ugly or for their race or for what they believe in? Isn’t that their status in life. Why not simply make laws that time fits the crime and throw in some good rehabilitation. Add to that some assistance when a prisoner is released from prison and maybe some of the non violent men and women will make it out here. I know of many prisoners who was just thrown back into society with nothing. $45 won’t get you far. Non violent crimes should carry a sentence that is punishing but reasonable. The sentencing range should be put back into the Judges hands and not those egotistical District Attorneys hands. As far as child molestors, cold blooded murderers, and rapist, they should never be put back into society again anyway. I believe in the death penalty for those three types of people. Look at the laws in Singapore, and they hardly have any crime at all. But truth is we need to stand up and make our politicians correct their mistakes such as the habitual felon law. thank you.

  3. […] over the web recently. The News and Observer’s habitual felon article, which I discussed in a previous post, has made a splash on several of the most-read criminal law blogs — here and here (both links […]