Senate Bill 300 was an omnibus criminal justice reform bill passed last year. One of its provisions presumptively decriminalizes most violations of local ordinances. In this post, I’ll address some of the questions that have arisen about that provision.
Tag Archives: overcriminalization
Think you can consult the North Carolina General Statutes to know everything that’s been made criminal in North Carolina? Think again. Under state law, counties, cities, towns, and metropolitan sewerage districts have authority to create crimes through local ordinances. G.S. 14-4(a) (providing that, as a general rule, violation of such an ordinance is a Class 3 misdemeanor). Apparently, some local governments don’t realize that when they write ordinance violations they are creating crimes. What makes me say this? A 2018 law (S.L. 2018-69) required cities and towns that have enacted an ordinance punishable pursuant to G.S. 14‑4(a) to “create a list of applicable ordinances with a description of the conduct subject to criminal punishment in each ordinance” and submit it to certain Committees of the General Assembly by December 2018. At least one town reported that its ordinances don’t create any crimes, but that statement is contradicted by the town’s own Code of Ordinances which creates a host of crimes including curfew violations. (Want to check? The submissions are here). Continue reading →
Have you ever been convicted of or pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to any violation of the law other than minor traffic tickets?
Millions of people, many of whom were convicted of petty crimes, must answer this question (a favorite of employers) in the affirmative. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported in a recent article on the processing of misdemeanor crimes that nearly 1 in 3 Americans has a criminal record. While those records are based on arrests, not convictions, a substantial percentage of people charged with misdemeanor offenses are convicted. North Carolina’s district courts, for example, disposed of more than 450,000 misdemeanor (non-traffic) criminal cases in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. A third of those cases resulted in convictions. Continue reading →
Counting the number of sections in a chapter of the General Statutes is pretty dull work. But doing it over and over again in order to see the growth in a single chapter over time may yield interesting results. In preparation for a panel discussion about overcriminalization this evening, I counted the number of sections in Chapter 14 over time. Here’s what I found:
I’m interested in readers’ reactions to the chart. Worrisome? Surprising? Appropriate? Meaningless without context?
For those in the “meaningless without context” camp, I’ll add two additional observations. First, just counting the number of sections in Chapter 14 almost certainly understates the extent to which the criminal code has grown over the years. Many of the sections themselves have grown, with new subsections defining additional crimes. And of course, many new crimes are not located in Chapter 14 at all, but rather are scattered throughout the General Statutes. Second, the Model Penal Code contains just 114 sections defining crime, by my count, while the federal criminal code contains thousands of offenses.
So, has our criminal code grown too quickly, too slowly, or is it just about right? How fast is too fast? How many crimes are too many? What sort of test can one apply to decide whether overcriminalization is a serious problem or a needless worry? Please weigh in.