Criminal Code Reform
Who makes the criminal laws in North Carolina? Is it the General Assembly through the NC General Statutes or local municipalities through Criminal Code Violations?
The answer presently is, “both.” That may be about to change, albeit at a glacier-like pace. It seems “Criminal Law Reform,” as Senate Bill 584 entitles the new law on criminal laws, takes time.
On August 14, 2019, Governor Cooper signed into law Senate Bill 584 / House Bill 1010. As a first step, the Legislature has mandated local municipalities provide information about their respective criminal codes, violations of which may carry criminal penalties.
It seems the first step is to ask, “What all is out there?” Not even the people charged with making the criminal laws in North Carolina quite know.
And as such, in 2018, the Legislature asked local cities and towns throughout the Pine State to, “Send us what you’ve got on the books.”
Even in the era of the internet, that process may very well involve sending printed volumes of ordinances and city codes.
SB 584 demands all local municipalities with a population of 1,000 or more, and any counties with populations exceeding 20,000 people, provide the General Assembly information about any criminal ordinances, local ordinances, county codes, and city codes that carry criminal penalties.
Last year, in 2018, the Legislature requested local municipalities disclose their individual, and often unique, criminal ordinances and penalties. It set a deadline of December 2018. That went over with a thud.
Less than 1/2 of the towns and cities responded (236 of 550 complied).
One would be reasonable in surmising even the local municipalities don’t know their own criminal laws or where they can find them. That ain’t good – Bill Powers, Charlotte Criminal Defense Lawyer
Rather than ignore the request for information by the General Assembly, how hard would it have been for the local towns, cities, and counties to send sort of response, letting the set in Raleigh know:
- We don’t have any local laws with criminal penalties; or,
- Here are the local laws we think may have criminal punishments; or,
- Here are all our local laws, you figure out which ones are criminal laws and which ones are not.
The new law amended Chapter 14-4.1 demands compliance by November 1, 2019.
In the world of governance, that deadline is close to the Legislature saying, “Yah, we weren’t kidding, give us the information and that right fast.”
Despite that, some might say even the latest statute coming out of Raleigh will likely be feckless. Failure to comply with the request for information results in a 2-year moratorium on passing new ordinances that could carry a criminal penalty.
A more effectual penalty may have been to outright ban the enforcement of any local criminal ordinance.
The Legislature could have also asserted its law-making primacy, declaring all local criminal codes null and void.
Indeed, a good argument can be made that the NCGA should never have ceded such power and authority to local municipalities, especially when it pertains to the enforcement of criminal laws.
Given local municipalities likely didn’t comply with the first-go around because they don’t even know their own laws, not being able to pass new criminal laws probably isn’t terribly worrisome.
Study Criminal Laws and Make Recommendations
In a process that could easily take a decade or more, the NC General Statutes Commission will “study” the clearly overwhelming patchwork of municipal criminal laws and make recommendations.
Those recommendations may include addressing disparities in local criminal laws, possibility considering whether they are duplicative of or otherwise inconsistent with existing statutes under Chapter 14 and Chapter 15 of the North Carolina Criminal Laws.
Our state is presently “legislated” with more than 2,600 criminal laws, and thousands of significant criminal statutes that may be classified as Class 3 Misdemeanor charges.
Some of the more interesting, but unknown criminal code violations include:
- Huntersville, North Carolina in Mecklenburg County makes it illegal for lawn grass to grow taller than 10″
- Skinny-dipping in Kure Beach is illegal. So are “thong bathing suits.
- Small town Mount Airy in Surry County prohibits even the possession of Silly String, making use and possession a misdemeanor
- Ahoskie in Hertford County makes it illegal to allow chickens and “domestic fowl” to “be at large in the town”
- Beaufort County Aurora mandates screens on windows on homes and buildings
Michael Schietzelt, a fellow with Conservative Locke Foundation, reportedly called the criminal code violations, “An archaic, muddled monstrosity.”
Related Legal Issues
- Criminal Law FAQs
- What are the Top 3 Things to do if Arrested
- What is an Indictment?
- Chapter 15- Charlotte City Code Offenses
Charlotte Criminal Defense Lawyers
For years we handled many criminal charges in Charlotte by way of disposition pursuant to ‘City Code Violations.’ While in large measure that has become a thing in the past, the laws remain on the books – Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Lawyers in Charlotte NC
The Clerk for the City of Charlotte continues to publish an extensive list of City Code Ordinances, some of which qualify as misdemeanor offenses and could also be deemed violations of Chapter 14 of the NC Criminal Laws (and/or Chapter 15).
If you face allegations of failing to maintain your property, noise ordinance violations, or other similar legal matters, it’s important to seek legal representation without delay.
The consequences of a conviction of a “city code ordinance violation” can be long-lasting, and serious in some circumstances.
One of the reasons the General Assembly is seeking to review all such rules, ordinances, codes, and local statutes is because designating certain actions as “criminal” and thereafter subjecting someone to fines and even incarceration (jail) is important stuff.
The NC General Assembly has created a substantial number of new criminal laws in recent years. It also delegated, in some instances inappropriately, law enforcement authority to local counties, cities, boards, and municipalities.
Most have heard the legal maxim, “Ignorance of the law is no defense.” In North Carolina, it should be.
One of the primary aspects of Common Law was common knowledge of the laws and criminal offenses. Indeed, it was referred to as “Common Law” because they were so “common” that everyone in the community knew them.
The network of city ordinances has become a tangled, confusing, and inconsistent legal framework with consequences.
Our Charlotte law firm provides a free, confidential consultation for criminal charges in North Carolina.
You may reach Bill Powers for legal commentary by calling: 704-342-4357
Bill’s email address is: Bill@CarolinaAttorneys.com