By Bill Moore

Giving credit where it is due, I have attended several sessions at the John Locke Foundation dealing with aspects of Criminal Justice. There presentations starting me thinking as what might work to improve our Criminal Justice system. I am not talking about Liberal suggestions to change laws that would make drugs free as well as similar suggestions.

However there are things that would do wonders to improve people’s perception of our criminal justice system. For example one item discussed was to clean up the laws that are spread out over the many parts of the laws and regulations of North Carolina. To explain: Chapter 14 of the North Carolina General Statutes is supposed to list all the felonies or misdemeanors. That is true except for the literal 150 to 200 felonies and misdemeanors scattered by Regulations though out the General Statues. For example Chapter 14 lists felonies and misdemeanors and their punishment. As demonstrated at the presentation, why is there a need to have special felony law for stealing a porta- potty? Larceny is larceny! Is there something special in stealing a porta potty that that requires a separate punishment? I Think Not!!

Another example given was local laws that many people have no idea exists often until after they break the ordinance. Among the examples that were given was a city that has a law banning the use of Silly String. Another town bans loose chickens in town. A third bans thongs on the Beach. It would be helpful if all the local laws could be could be consolidated into one place so visitors to North Carolina could check what laws or ordinances are in effect where ever they travel.

A third suggestion would be to limit choices of prosecutors.  I have mixed reactions to this. A prosecutor can select the level of the charges being prosecuted. The example given was writing a bad check for $50.00. The prosecutor can charge you with a felony for purposely taking merchandise knowing you could not pay for it. The other choice would be a misdemeanor for simply writing a check without the funds to cover it. You could understand why minorities in the system think there are two levels of justice. On the other hand is it fair to take a person who made a thoughtless mistake as to his/her checking balances and give them a felony record?

Selection of Judges is also in need of reform. Until recently, Judges were on the ballot without political label. There was no way to know the political beliefs of a candidate. An interesting thought was surfaced at the Locke Conference. Someone suggested we modify our procedures for selecting judges. It was pointed out Judges at the lower level are basically case judges who must settle cases or issues brought to them. It was suggested those Judges could be appointed by the Governor with consent of the State Senate or the General Assembly. Judges at our States highest levels are really policy makers as they decide if laws are Constitutional. In addition, they make policy by explaining or interpreting laws or parts of laws that are vague. I agree with the suggestion these positions need to be elected by the people. They also need to give the voters as much information about them as possible in order to make an informed choice. One piece of information is Party affiliation. By knowing the Party that supports their election, voters will get an idea of the Judges personal belief system. The fact remains that no matter how impartial a judge tries to be, his/her personal beliefs will ultimately be involved in making a ruling. Therefore the more information the voters have referencing a candidate’s beliefs, the better decision they make while voting.

I believe these suggestions to revamp our Justice system will help make that system not only fairer but appear to be fairer to those who have lost faith in the system. In addition, it would allow voters informed choices when they vote. These are Conservative ideas that will work if tried.