Let’s take a closer look at some new N.C. laws
By Darrin D. Jordan
For the Salisbury Post
As 2011 draws to a close, the effective dates for laws passed during the 2011 North Carolina Legislative Session are arriving or, in some cases, have already past. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the 2011 North Carolina Legislature was historic in terms of changes made to our judicial system, many of which are not readily apparent simply by reading the legislation.
This is the first in a series of articles by local attorneys who will try to explain the good and the bad of this new legislation which consist of laws that could affect an injured party in a car accident or work related accident as well as laws that affect a person accused of a crime or the victim of a crime. It should not be read as a criticism of our state Legislature. Certainly, the reasoning behind the legislation is apparent; however, it is important that we understand the price that we are paying for the implementation of this legislation and measure whether we can afford its cost during these tough economic times.
The first piece of legislation that I will examine was signed into law by Gov.r Beverly Perdue on June 27 and became effective on Oct. 1. Known as Senate Bill 636, this new law requires a law enforcement officer to arrest an individual under the age of 18 who commits a ěcriminal moving violation.î And he must then transport that individual to the magistrateís office, where a magistrate is required to immediately revoke the individualís license for 30 days. A ěcriminal moving violationî can range from something as serious as reckless driving to less serious offenses that we see ordinary people commit every day, like speeding 71 mph (or more) in a 55 mph zone, driving with an expired driverís license or not carrying a license or having an expired registration (license plate).
So, you may be asking yourself, what could possibly be the problem with this law that is designed to make our roads safer by emphasizing the importance of responsible driving to young people? The answer comes when we conduct a closer examination into how this new law affects law enforcement, the judicial system and the individual being punished or their family.
It goes without saying that law enforcement cannot do their job of enforcing our motor vehicle laws when they are not patrolling the highways. Recently, a local trooper with the State Highway Patrol estimated that it can take as little as 45 minutes and as much as 1[0xbd] hours to transport an individual to the magistrateís office and to process the paperwork required to comply with this new law. Every minute a law enforcement officer is engaged in processing an individual for a ěcriminal moving violationî under this new law is another minute that he isnít patrolling the road for possible impaired drivers or individuals who are creating greater danger to the public. Does the benefit of revoking the license of a 16- or 17-year-old for what amounts many times to a minor traffic violation outweigh the cost of taking a law enforcement officer from our highways to patrol for more serious offenses? The answer you get from an individual or family member of someone who has been injured by an impaired driver would probably be a resounding ěno,î and I think common sense would come up with the same answer.
Just about every law passed during the 2011 legislative session increased the workload of the Rowan County Clerk of Courtís Office, which continues to be overburdened and grossly underfunded. The requirements of Senate Bill 636 create additional tasks that seem to be simple, such as computer entries and mailing forms to the Department of Motor Vehicle; however, when added to the list of tasks that the Rowan County Clerk of Courtís office is already required to accomplish, it represents the proverbial ěstraw that [could] break the camelís backî.
The last group affected by this new law is the group for whom there is little sympathy; the lawbreaker and his family. It is becoming more of an accepted practice within our judicial system to take away something as precious as a personís license without the benefit of a finding of guilt or a hearing prior to this loss. There is no way to repay an individual whose license is revoked when the charges are subsequently dismissed or he is found not guilty. Further, with the necessity in some households for two incomes, the ability of a 16- or 17-year-old to provide his or her own transportation is not only important, but a necessity. Senate Bill 636 punishes not only the young person who loses their license, but it places an unfair burden on the family.
It is important that we have laws that protect the general public. However, before putting these laws into effect, it is just as important that we analyze whether the cost to the general public is worth the benefits we receive in enforcing the laws.
Jordan is an attorney in Salisbury.